The Bowery in
One Thousand Undescriptive Sites -
Between 1974 and 1975 Martha Rosler created the Iconic series "The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems".
As said on Withney Musuem webpage the project address "photographic conventions in ways that examine the authenticity associated with documentary photography and the unbalanced relationship between disenfranchised communities and their visual representations. Here, Rosler uses a combination of images and texts to respond to earlier documentary photographs of vagrants and alcoholics in Manhattan’s run-down Bowery neighborhood. ( ...) The resulting disjunction—between words that refer to an all-too-human state and images devoid of people—suggests the inherent limitations of both photography and language as “descriptive systems” to address a complex social problem.
This installation was a project that had a great impact on me, making me reflect deeply on photography and it´s limitations to depict and represent complex social issues and the relationship between image and text.
Years later on 2013 I lived for a short period of time at 158 Bowery. Walking daily through the Street give me on first hand a new impression: the street and the Neighborhood was heavily gentrified, luxury hotels, contemporary art Museums and fancy shops live together with some of the Missions that still remain open and sub-standard housing. The alcohol was still a brand of the street but despite homeless and disadvantage people, it was selling by a image of fun and luxury at elegant restaurants and endless parties in exclusive hotels where celebrities attended. How consumerism depict alcohol, social issues and gentrification became for me a clear signature of the Bowery.
After coming back to Spain for a period of time, I visited during years a variety of websites, blogs and sites trying to identify the Bowery I was at. Finally a working methodology came out: I used the words that Rosler introduced in her panels and google them followed by the word "Bowery": I was close to find what a was looking for, an eclectic and massive depiction of the Bowery, also incomplete in the sense that The Bowery was unrepresentable, but broad enough to depict the Bowery I remembered.
After having an archive of 5000 photos downloaded from approximately 1000 webpages, I decided to layout the selected images on panels and create an art work reflecting locally on The Bowery but generally on the new relationship between images and text in the era of algorithms and internet.
Thus over each of the images selected, the name of the file was printed on the glass floating over the photographs and creating an indissoluble reading where image and text merge as it happens on digital files.
Photography and text