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 the Withney Museum 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 its limitations to depict and represent complex social issues and the relationship between image and text.
Years later in 2013, I lived for a short period of time at 158 Bowery. Walking through the street daily gave me a new first-hand impression: the street and the neighborhood were heavily gentrified. Luxury hotels, contemporary art museums, and fancy shops live together with some of the missions that remain open and sub-standard housing. The alcohol was still a brand of the street but despite homeless and disadvantaged people, it was sold by an image of luxury at elegant restaurants and endless parties in exclusive hotels where celebrities attended. How consumerism depicts alcohol, social issues, and gentrification became for me a clear signature of the Bowery.
After coming back to Spain for some time, I visited a variety of websites and blogs over the years in an attempt to identify the Bowery I experienced. Finally, a working methodology came out: I used the words that Rosler introduced in her panels, followed by the word "Bowery". I was close to finding what I was looking for, an eclectic and massive depiction of the Bowery, forever incomplete as The Bowery was unrepresentable, but broad enough to depict the Bowery I remembered.
After having an archive of 5,000 photos downloaded from approximately 1,000 web pages, I decided to collage the selected images on panels as artwork. The final pieces reflect 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, creating an indissoluble reading where image and text merge just as their digital counterparts.
Photography and text