In her project Freedom Towers, Ali Kate Cherkis juxtaposes New York's One World Trade Center building with the men who sunbathe in freedom
Returning to New York after a three-year stint living and working in Buenos Aires, photographer Ali Kate Cherkis embarked on an unlikely series of images – Speedos-clad men sunbathing on Christopher Street Pier, also known as Pier 45 – alongside the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan.
In the background of the images lies the 1776ft, 104-storey One World Trade Center, also known as the Freedom Tower, built on the site of the former World Trade Center. The juxtaposition between the bronzed bodies and the building, which is America’s tallest, instantly captivated Cherkis.
“As summer approached I began to notice the men of the neighbourhood gathering on the pier to sunbathe and strut with a magnificent backdrop of the Financial District and the rising One World Trade Center,” she explains. “Their Speedos revealed a different kind of freedom tower. They were also showing off, asserting their own power.”
The project became a response to readjusting to life in the United States, explains Cherkis, who says she finds humour a helpful way to work through personal difficulties. “In this period of transition I found myself suddenly confronted with this giant phallus saying, ‘look at me, I am powerful, I am proud, you cannot defeat me.’ Dominating the Manhattan skyline, the Freedom Tower is the middle finger, the massive cock of America, and a tremendously profitable real estate venture. I wanted to convey the irony in the juxtaposition of these men showing off and asserting their power in front of the tallest building in the Western hemisphere.”
Cherkis used her iPhone to take the images as this allowed her to be discreet and non-disruptive, she says, although she still had to judge how far she could go before getting caught. “Sometimes I got a little cheeky and more bold by shooting from below and lining-up the tower just so…” she says.
“The project is a documentary story in that it conveys a particular moment in my life and the life of New York City [but] it’s also a portrait of these men and of the tower as it neared completion. This series was unique for me in that I was able to tie my personal alienation to a collective experience as well as use humour to explore questions of sexuality, self-expression, and hubris.”
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