The images in Harlem: The People and Harlem: The Place show streetscapes that the photographer visited repeatedly over the course of thirty-eight years, so he could create a composite, time-lapse portrait of a vibrant, world-famous neighborhood seen as a place of ongoing transformation. The series has become a living historical record of Harlem. Vergara has been photographing this vital neighborhood of New York City since 1970, and in doing so he demonstrates, with powerful “before” and “after” images, how one of New York City’s most important neighborhoods has been redefined. As such, Vergara also captures the social and cultural changes in Harlem as he returns to photograph the same street corners and storefronts year after year. He continues to photograph these locations today and writes about his process:
“For a long time I have thought of myself as more a city builder than as a photographer. I think of my images as bricks which when placed next to each other give shape and meaning to a place. I see the images of neighborhoods arranged according to time and location, each one … linking the hundreds of stories that are a place’s history. This is how photographs tell how Harlem evolved and what it gained and lost in the process.”
Selected from the artist’s archive on the Invincible Cities
All of these historically compelling photographs were donated to the New-York Historical Society by Camilo Jose Vergara in 2009.