by Guest Blogger-Larry Racioppo
Nov 9, 2017

In this post, guest blogger, photographer Larry Racioppo shares with us a glimpse of his work photographing "Trash" in Brooklyn and NYC.

His photos will also be on exhibit at the City Reliquary in their show "NYC Trash: Past, Present and Future" and will "present the stories behind New York City’s solid waste, from “one man’s garbage is another man’s gold” to the inventive ways New Yorkers are reusing and recycling."

To view more of Larry's portfolio and his photos of trash in Brooklyn, visit us at the Brooklyn Collection!

Natiba Guy-Clement, Manager of Special Collections-Brooklyn Collection. 

 

I didn’t think much about trash or scrap until the early 1980’s when I began working with a group of artist-carpenters in Park Slope. As we demolished brownstone interiors, I noticed some plumbers setting aside ‘mongo’ - pieces of metal and copper to sell later.

(See MONGO: My Adventures in Trash by Ted Botha.)

‘Mongo’ – valves, faucets
‘Mongo’ – valves, faucets

 

My co-workers also were saving stuff to use in their sculptures. Soon I was bringing things home to photograph…

Fuse box
Fuse box

 

Piece of a broken broom
Piece of a broken broom

 

In the same way that an injured person using a cane suddenly notices all the other people with canes that he had never noticed before, I began to see objects of great beauty and importance in dumpsters and on streets everywhere.

Lamp base found on the street
Lamp base found on the street

 

I also became aware of people who supported themselves finding, picking up, transporting – by any means necessary – and selling junk or scrap. Super market wagons are a favorite but any cart with wheels will do. Brooklyn’s Third Avenue leading to Hamilton Avenue is filled with these particular commuters.

Scrapper on Third Avenue, Brooklyn
Scrapper on Third Avenue, Brooklyn

 

Scrapper #2 on Third Avenue, Brooklyn
Scrapper #2 on Third Avenue, Brooklyn

 

Doyle, Third Avenue, Brooklyn
Doyle, Third Avenue, Brooklyn

 

Scrapper on Ninth Avenue, Brooklyn
Scrapper on Ninth Avenue, Brooklyn

 

9th Avenue Scrapper up close, Brooklyn
9th Avenue Scrapper up close, Brooklyn

 

Pete, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
Pete, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

 

 

Roberto, Third Avenue, Brooklyn
Roberto, Third Avenue, Brooklyn

 

In 1989, I began photographing for the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development and saw large vacant sites and demolished buildings become sources for scrap. Metal from the Schaeffer Brewery and the Thunderbolt was cut by welders, put in dumpsters and hauled to scrapyards.

 

Unearthed trash, East New York, Brooklyn
Unearthed trash, East New York, Brooklyn

 

Cutting tanks, Schaefer site, Kent Avenue, Brooklyn
Cutting tanks, Schaefer site, Kent Avenue, Brooklyn

 

Demolition of the Thunderbolt roller coaster, Coney Island, Brooklyn
Demolition of the Thunderbolt roller coaster, Coney Island, Brooklyn

 

Looking for a de-mapped street, I got lost in Staten Island along Kill Van Kull and drove into a scrapyard to ask for directions. I was amazed by the strange beauty of this industrial landscape and began an ongoing project of photographing these yards with a panoramic camera. Because scrap metal is often transported on barges, many yards are right on the city’s waterfront: Kill Van Kull, the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.

 

Unknown Scrapyard on Newtown Creek, Brooklyn
Unknown Scrapyard on Newtown Creek, Brooklyn

 

The next step was getting into the yards to photograph. No easy task, but I was determined and eventually had some luck. At Newtown Scrap on Morgan Avenue, Mr. Toon, who said that his daughter was an artist, gave me carte blanche to photograph his yard. This became the pattern that emerged: either I was strongly refused any entry or access, or I could come and go as I pleased. Once at a very large yard, when I asked if I had to be worried about stray dogs, the foreman stood up from behind his desk, laughingly pointed to himself and a worker and responded “We’re the dogs. You’re OK.”

Mr. Toon in his office, Newtown Scrap, Morgan Avenue, Brooklyn
Mr. Toon in his office, Newtown Scrap, Morgan Avenue, Brooklyn

 

Welders, Newtown Scrap
Welders, Newtown Scrap

 

Workers and fire barrel, Newtown Scrap
Workers and fire barrel, Newtown Scrap

 

Scale, Newtown Scrap
Scale, Newtown Scrap

 

I began to photograph seriously – using my panoramic camera for the landscape and my medium format cameras and digital SLR for the people. At the yards, the scrappers came rain or shine, in all seasons. They came pushing carts and makeshift wagons, driving beat up cars, overflowing pickups and sagging vans.

TNT Scrap, Maspeth Avenue, Brooklyn
TNT Scrap, Maspeth Avenue, Brooklyn

 

Scrappers unloading, TNT Scrap
Scrappers unloading, TNT Scrap

 

Rosa emptying her van, TNT Scrap
Rosa emptying her van, TNT Scrap

 

Breaking up metal, TNT Scrap
Breaking up metal, TNT Scrap

 

On site everything had to be unloaded, cut or chopped as needed, sorted by metal type, lifted, carried, dragged or pushed to the scale. As one man, holding a long metal drive shaft in the rain, told me “ I work hard for my beans.”

Clay, TNT Scrap
Clay, TNT Scrap

 

Anthony, TNT Scrap
Anthony, TNT Scrap

 

Worker at the metal crusher, TNT Scrap
Worker at the metal crusher, TNT Scrap

 

Scale, 3rd Avenue Scrap. Brooklyn
Scale, 3rd Avenue Scrap. Brooklyn

 

I sometimes felt dizzy with excitement, fortunate to meet and photograph such a diverse group of resourceful, hard-working men and women. I photographed often at TNT Scrap on Maspeth Avenue, and returned with 8x10 color prints for the scrappers and yard workers who graciously let a stranger photograph them.

Comments

Comments

Incredible photographs — compelling and nuanced

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