by Guest Blogger - Larry Racioppo
Apr 16, 2019

Our guest blogger Larry Racioppo is a lifelong Brooklynite and photographer who has documented Brooklyn and New York City for over 40 years. The Brooklyn Collection holds a collection of Racioppo's work and recently hosted a retrospective exhibition devoted to his career in conjunction with the release of his book Brooklyn Before. Racioppo was raised in a Catholic Italian-American family and has been documenting Good Friday ceremonies since 1974. Here, he shares some of that work and muses on Catholic iconography and community in general.

We did not have art in our home. But we did have an oversized, richly illustrated and rarely opened family bible. The Last Supper was one of the illustrations. I didn’t learn until much later that the original work was a mural painted by the famous artist Leonardo da Vinci for the Sforza family mausoleum in Milan, Italy. I had no idea that Leonardo began the mural in 1495 and didn’t finish until 1498.

I was, however, quite familiar with paint-by-number kits and jigsaw puzzle versions of the Last Supper.

Last Supper paint-by-numbers painting, 2018
Last Supper paint-by-numbers painting, 2018
The Last Supper 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, 2018
The Last Supper 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, 2018
Last Supper reproduction and garbage cans, Queens, 1993
Last Supper reproduction and garbage cans, Queens, 1993

 An internet search shows that both high and low end reproductions are still in demand. Sears alone offers over 500.

Last Supper reproductions at Sears (Screen shot), 2019
Last Supper reproductions at Sears (Screen shot), 2019

Over the years, I‘ve found depictions of the Last Supper on building walls, in kitchens and living rooms, as components of home altars and on the floors of abandoned apartments.

Wall painting, Pacific Street, Brooklyn, 1995
Wall painting, Pacific Street, Brooklyn, 1995
Daniel’s flower shop, Brooklyn, 1978
Daniel’s flower shop, Brooklyn, 1978
Kitchen, Bronx, 1990
Kitchen, Bronx, 1990
East 111th Street, Manhattan, 1991
East 111th Street, Manhattan, 1991
Bedroom dresser, Bronx, 1994
Bedroom dresser, Bronx, 1994
L: Corner altar, Bronx, 1994; R: Abandoned apartment, West 111th Street, Manhattan, 2004
L: Corner altar, Bronx, 1994; R: Abandoned apartment, West 111th Street, Manhattan, 2004
Bedroom dresser, Brooklyn, 1996
Bedroom dresser, Brooklyn, 1996

But I’ve found only one church—St. Joseph Patron in Bushwick—that has included a scene of the Last Supper as part of its Good Friday ceremonies.

St. Joseph Patron, Suydam Street, Brooklyn, 2013
St. Joseph Patron, Suydam Street, Brooklyn, 2013

I’ve been photographing Good Friday processions and related ceremonies since 1974. My Aunt Angie (Angelina) Piccolo called that year to tell me that her parish St. John the Evangelist, 21st Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, Brooklyn, was staging its first reenactment of ‘The Way of the Cross’.  The Church’s newer and more active Latino parishioners were the driving force behind this procession. But the community at large eagerly participated, or at the very least came out to watch. [Editor's note: the New York Times wrote about this procession, and Racioppo's documentation of religious ceremonies in general, in 2013.]

Jesus carrying his cross, 21st Street, Brooklyn, 1974
Jesus carrying his cross, 21st Street, Brooklyn, 1974
People watching the Procession, 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, 1974
People watching the Procession, 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, 1974

I have not photographed on Good Friday for the last several years, but have been working on a book of photographs combining official Catholic rituals and sacraments with personal and vernacular religious expression. This work connects me to my family – the departed generation of my parents, aunts, uncles and to a Brooklyn neighborhood long gone. Everything was simple for a Catholic child in the 1950’s. All the answers to life were contained in a few books, and reinforced by our families and schools.

L: God’s Story Book for Little Catholics, 2015; R: Little Child of God Handbook, 2015
L: God’s Story Book for Little Catholics, 2015; R: Little Child of God Handbook, 2015
The 14th Station, Little Child of God Handbook, 2015
The 14th Station, Little Child of God Handbook, 2015

Easter season began on Ash Wednesday and lasted 40 days, including Palm Sunday. My cousins and I made our own simple crosses from the palm distributed at mass that morning. Sometimes our parents purchased more elaborate ones from local street vendors.

Palm Crosses for Sale, 10th Avenue, Brooklyn, 1979
Palm Crosses for Sale, 10th Avenue, Brooklyn, 1979

Only Christmas rivaled Easter Sunday as a glorious day for Italian-American Catholics in Brooklyn. We wore our new clothes to Church and afterwards to celebrate at my grandmother’s apartment on 6th Avenue and 18th Street. Somehow 30+ adults and children squeezed in for an all day feast.

I relived some of this warm feeling on Good Friday in 1980. On the way home after photographing the Procession at St. John’s, I stopped for a cup of coffee with my Aunt Kitty (Concetta) who still lived on 6th Avenue. My Aunt Angie, her husband Dom and brother Nick were there along with my Uncle Nick’s best friend ’Ski’ whom I’d known since childhood. I realize now that I never learned his first name or full last name. When Nick was a boy, South Brooklyn had a large Polish-American population. As folks moved away, one Polish specialty store - Eagle Provisions - remained until 2015.

Always a ‘live wire’ Ski told old stories that day punctuated with animated gestures and he eventually broke into an old song that my aunts and uncles knew well. I miss these people and those emotionally connected times more than I ever thought I would.

Nick, ‘Ski’ and his son, 6th Avenue, Brooklyn, 1980
Nick, ‘Ski’ and his son, 6th Avenue, Brooklyn, 1980
Dom, Angie, ‘Ski’ and Nick, 6th Avenue, Brooklyn, 1980
Dom, Angie, ‘Ski’ and Nick, 6th Avenue, Brooklyn, 1980

This post is dedicated to my mother’s youngest sister Angie, a loving wife, mother, grandmother and aunt, who ‘walked the walk’ as a devout Catholic with a social conscience.

Angie and First Communion girl, 21st Street, Brooklyn, 1997
Angie and First Communion girl, 21st Street, Brooklyn, 1997

 

Comments

Comments

This is so beautiful! These are special memories.
This was wonderful to see, great stories and Angie and Dom Piccolo, we miss them and Larry you are very talented. Happy Easter from Ken and I
So once again Holy Week has arrived the final days of Jesus with the Last Supper, Passover, and Easter falling in a back-to-back cluster this weekend, just like they did in the time of Jesus.  Just about everything about this week is controversial. Did Jesus eat his last Supper on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday night? Was that last meal a Passover or a meal the night before Passover? What day of the week was Jesus crucifixion Wed, Thursday, or Friday. What day was the tomb found empty Saturday night or early Sunday morning. I think all these questions can be answered clearly and rather definitely as well as the

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