Image copyright Erica McDonald
A tender study of the long-term residents of Park Slope in Brooklyn, Erica McDonald's series The Dark Light of this Nothing is meant as a tribute to the remnants of a community undergoing gentrification. “The place has become full of fashionistas and boutiques, so I wanted to show the nostalgic side,” she explains.
It started a year ago when Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey challenged her to take on a more long-term assignment and see what she could come up with. “I very much wanted to photograph my neighbourhood,” she says, but it was hard to find the old in the new. “There was so little of it left, I felt I was on an adventure to unearth something that was residual.”
Gritty, monochrome, and combining square and 35mm format, the images mix formal portraits with street shots. “I originally just wanted to make white-background portraits as an homage to Avedon,” she explains.
The original idea done, McDonald went away to process and scan the pictures. “I spent two months on the portraits, July and August. Come September, I realised I could keep going with those, but that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell.” She decided to take to the streets again and shoot vertical shots using her Leica M7 and Kodak Tri-X film pushed to ISO 1600, which accentuates the grain structure and contrast.
Recording interviews was also an integral part of her approach from the beginning. “During the first two months on the street corner we would ask a person already photographed to do audio. But towards the end, I got a more emotional feel. Birds, people’s feet on the pavement, a gate opening, neighbours talking among themselves.” It adds up to a haunting, whimsical soundtrack, and the multimedia piece can be seen on Harvey’s influential webzine, Burn.
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