Artist Kristy Chatelain’s newest photo project, Brooklyn Changing, documents the physical changes gentrification has brought to North Brooklyn over the past decade. Chatelain uses a series of before-and-after shots taken in Greenpoint and Williamsburg to illustrate the visual signs of commercial development, and, tangentially, to hint at the widening rift between Brooklyn’s working and moneyed classes. In effect, Chatelain’s project is a visual timeline of gentrification in progress, and leaves very little to the imagination in terms how the phenomenon changes neighborhoods and lives.
We talked to Chatelain, a former Greenpoint resident, about Brooklyn Changing in the Q&A below.
What are your thoughts on gentrification as a whole?
Kristy Chatelain: It is feeling at home in a place. Then seeing that home change for the better in some ways. And one day realizing you no longer fit in and can’t pay your increasing rent. If you can profit or benefit, then gentrification is good. If not, then you are fighting a losing battle and your time is eventually up.
Many people blame gentrification on “the hipsters.” When I look at Brooklyn Changing though, I think of it as a representation of Brooklyn before a yuppie invasion. Do you think there’s truth to that? Do you think Hipsters and Yuppies are mutually exclusive when it comes to BK gentrification? Why or why not?
The artists or early gentrifiers were present in Williamsburg long before I moved to Greenpoint. Without making Williamsburg hip, safe and the waterfront rezoning in 2005, the wealthy/foreign investors wouldn’t have had a place to buy/invest. The 2008 financial crisis slowed many projects and it wasn’t until 2010 I noticed things really developing as was intended with the rezoning. It would be more accurate to say my project began in the late hipster era and continues into the post-yuppie invasion, if you want to frame it with stereotypes. (I’d rather you didn’t!) It is less artisanal doughnuts these days and more $10 a bottle juice shops. The same stuff sold the Upper East Side. That store might as well be a vacant lot to someone who isn’t able to spend that kind of money on one beverage.
What do you feel when thinking about the changing landscape of your old neighborhood? What emotions, specifically?
On the whole, it makes me sad because that Greenpoint, my Greenpoint for 8 years, is almost gone. The Polish chocolate shop Wedel, the clothing store Dalaga (one of the early shops on Franklin Street), and more are gone and with them the people who worked there and shopped there. I am one of them because we had to move due to rising rents in 2013. (The two-bedroom we moved into in 2010 now goes for about $1,000 more a month and it wasn’t renovated.) I miss my friends who also had to move and the regular characters I’d see on the street and in shops. But our moving wasn’t tragic because we had the means to go somewhere else, just not enough to stay in Greenpoint. I am not bitter, just nostalgic for a time and a place that was fleeting and knowing that was what made me start documenting it. A few of my favorite places like Cookie Road, owned by a Polish couple, are still there. You can still walk around the park at Dupont and Franklin and see the Empire State Building, but soon that whole area will be developed. It is still fairly quiet on the Greenpoint waterfront, but it won’t be for long.
Why did you decide to undertake this project?
I started to photograph Franklin Street in Greenpoint as a project while I was getting my master’s in digital photography at SVA starting in 2007. It was becoming a retail destination again, and that fascinated me. It evolved over time, I ventured to Williamsburg and Dumbo, and I am still shooting. I love exploring and walking around different neighborhoods in New York.
What exactly is the endgame of the project? Historical preservation? Some kind of social commentary?
I’m not sure. I’d like to make a book one day. I love shooting this project, but if that changes or I feel pressure to do it in a way that doesn’t make me enjoy it, then I guess it will be over.
Photos from Brooklyn Changing are below:
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