Image © John Delaney.
This project by John Delaney was first published in BJP's print edition in November 2012. In light of what happened in Hoboken when the city was hit by Hurricane Sandy, we asked Delaney to discuss the aftermath.
"For the past year, I've been documenting the few remaining family businesses left in my working class city of Hoboken, New Jersey. Hoboken sits in the shadow of NYC across the Hudson River.
"In the early morning hours of Monday 29 October, Hurricane Sandy swept through Hoboken, flooding most of the struggling city. Over 20,000 of its residents and small businesses were left stranded under water for days without heat or electricity.
"Sandy dealt a devastating blow to Hoboken and its economy. Many of the businesses that I've photographed have been directly affected, and it's still too early to know the long-term results. This has always been meant as a portrait series in progress and I will continue to document this city of Hoboken as it struggles to return to normal."
Original article published in BJP this month:
John Delaney auspiciously began his career in photography in 1989 as an assistant to Richard Avedon, doing everything from studio work to assisting on camera and delivering groceries to Avedon's mum. He was soon promoted to become Avedon's printer and eventually started his own printing business, working with other photographic icons such as Irving Penn, Bruce Davidson and Annie Leibovitz. As traditional printing methods began to lose favour, Delaney returned to studying and completed a masters in digital photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York last year.
Hoboken, New Jersey - just over the Hudson River from Manhattan - has been Delaney's home for the past seven years. Inspired by the old-world feel the area has retained, Delaney began to shoot its residents and what he observed as the gentrification of the area. "Hoboken was full of multi-generational, Ma-and-Pa businesses, but they began closing at a really quick rate history is being replaced by cell phone and yogurt shops. I wanted to reflect the roots of this city before it was too late."
Image © John Delaney
The project began with Delaney wandering the streets of Hoboken, speaking to shop owners and trying to get a feel for their environments. "People would tell me, ‘Go and check out the butcher over on that street, he's been there 70 years.' But it quickly became evident how few of these establishments were left and I couldn't help but feel I should have started five or 10 years ago."
The resulting body of work is a series of almost timeless portraits depicting shop owners and workers in their bakeries, workshops and diners. Delaney found that the majority of people were willing to be photographed but soon realised that the more enthusiastic the sitters, the less interesting the portraits, and eventually these were excluded from the final selection. One thing that really emerges from the images is the dense texture and detail in the backgrounds, which are just as captivating as the characters. "I enjoy this type of environmental portraiture in which the background is as much of a portrait as they are. I love the feel of the textures and colours, and how the people fit into that. I was careful not to direct people too much. And what I like to do when taking pictures is to let them present themselves, whether with confidence or awkwardly."
One of the most important aspects of this story for Delaney is making sure the community is involved and is part of the debate. The series of portraits is going to be exhibited at Hoboken Historical Museum next year for six months. "It will be good for the general community to celebrate their history," says Delaney. "Especially in getting people to come who generally wouldn't go to a photo opening."
Delaney plans to continue working in his local area, expanding the project to examine the character and rich history of Hoboken, of which sadly only a little bit is left.
Image © John Delaney
Image © John Delaney
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