The Urban Lens: Photographer Bob Estremera captures vestiges of the Lower East Side’s early days

September 30, 2016

6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, photographer Bob Estremera documents the historic buildings and businesses of the Lower East Side. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

When Bob lived briefly on the Lower East Side in 2011, he loved “walking its crumbling sidewalks and admiring it’s equally crumbling architecture.” But the neighborhood’s gentrification was already underway: “Tucked away among the little stores, restaurants, apartments and barber shops, upscale boutique restaurants were making themselves felt with prices and menus that could only be supported from clientele outside the neighborhood,” he describes. So he decided to return to the LES and capture what he feels is the area’s essence. In this resulting black-and-white series, he turns our attention to vestiges of the early days, “the decayed store fronts and once proud architecture and businesses that have vanished and others still clinging barely to life.”

How long have you been a New Yorker?
For the last 15 years.

Tell us about the series you chose.
I chose the LES because, like so many New Yorkers, I lament the loss of the sights and people that made New York in the first place. I wanted to make a small chronicle, a slight contribution, to preserving the memory, sights and emotional connection to one of New York’s most vibrant and significant neighborhoods.

What types of subjects tend to catch your eye?
I love to photograph the built environment. Often, the photos are devoid of people. But other times, it’s important to include people in the photos for a sense of scale and the living communal context between people and the physical environment in which they move.

How do you decide when to work in black and white?
Almost everything I do is in black and white. For us older photographers, black and white was how we learned. But on a deeper, artistic level, I find that I am drawn to shape, texture, geometry and tonal values, devoid of color.

What else are you working on right now?
Oddly enough, I’m working on street portraiture, a radical departure from my established architectural series. It’s a great compliment to the previous work. But I still approach the face very compositionally as I would an architectural element. But with faces, there is the added element of life and emotion to which we can all connect.

Instagram: @bobestremera

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All photos © Bob Estremera

More: Places
Location: Lower East Side

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