“Nassau [Avenue] spans so much cultural space in a few short blocks,” says Greenpoint resident and photographer Daniel Arnold. “Between Manhattan Avenue and Varick Street, you go from ground zero hipster overdrive, into full-blown Poland, past the best park for miles [McGolrick], through neighborhood-y old school Brooklyn, and end up in an eerie industrial no-man’s-land.” At the end of all of that, Arnold adds, there’s a stoneyard, a “sprawling Hollywood set-construction studio, and a parking lot with 200 school buses.”
In short, the 18-block stretch of Nassau Avenue in Central Greenpoint, that runs East-West, abounds in aesthetic goldmines, especially for a photographer. “It’s like Williamsburg’s junk drawer,” says Arnold. “It’s the best.” Which is why, this week, Arnold and Greenpoint-based book publishers Pau Wau Publications release Nassau Ave, a compilation of 48 of Arnold’s color and black and white images, culled from a “billion” (his estimation) shots of Arnold’s walks up and down Nassau Avenue, over years. The images are in Arnold’s identifiable, candid street-photography style—which has earned him more than 121 thousand Instagram followers, and guest-helmed Instagram accounts at the New Yorker, Vogue, and New York Magazine—and capture the wondrous, off-beat, and off-the-cuff moments of Greenpoint pedestrians. All told, they provide an intimate view into the every day rhythms of a pocket of New York City that manages to be quietly self-contained (for the time being) and yet totally remarkable, at once.
Milwaukee native Arnold went from being a photographer who struggled to make ends meet, to one who does significantly better than that after conducting an Instagram flash sale in 2014. Within a day, Arnold was $15,000 richer. People, it turned out, really liked what he did. His ability to capture in-the-moment facial expressions, stumbles, run-ins, snoozers, synchronicities, skewed perspectives, and bizarre coincidences, mid-act, of random city dwellers is prodigious and uncanny; and the results are almost operatic: When his subjects are pitted against cityscapes that are oblivious to and unmoved by their experiences, the subjects are imbued with an extra, and comparatively weighty drama.
The Greenpoint residents in Nassau Ave are no exception; kids are caught mid-leap, mouths mid-bite, nappers slack-jawed, kids peek-a-booing, a nun grocery lugging, pedestrians in the rain, shoppers sun-blinded, and many more unrehearsed moments of Greenpointers lives, partitioned into milliseconds. Arnold’s favorite? One woman, tending to hair that reaches ungodly lengths: “It’s kind of a nothing picture: a bus stop at night, and a woman; if she doesn’t pick up her hair, it drags on the ground,” Arnold says. “The picture is from behind of her holding it out in two pieces, in two directions, and it’s just too good to be real.”
But of course therein lies its beauty; it is real. And the book itself, a collaboration with Andreas Laszlo Konrath and Brian Paul Lamotte, behind Pau Wau Publications, gets an additional artistic injection through Nassau Ave‘s construction: the images fold out like one big long accordion, as opposed to being spine-bound, kind of like Nassau Avenue itself.
All told, I wondered: Did Arnold make a time-capsule portrait of Nassau Avenue, and therefore of Greenpoint, in the early 2000s? Unsurprisingly, Arnold’s answer is more interesting than yes or no.
“I think more than a portrait of Nassau, it’s very much a product of Nassau,” says Arnold. “Whether directly or indirectly, it has the hands of a very wide range of creative people in the neighborhood, and of an authentic, long-tied population. I don’t feel like I made some official document of the Avenue, I feel more like Nassau Avenue made this, and that implies a lot.”
A book signing for Nassau Ave will be held on Tuesday, April 5 from 6pm – 8pm at Greenpoint photo developer Kubus (102A, Nassau Ave); after party at Irene’s Pub on the corner of Nassau Ave and Manhattan Ave.