Gregoire Alessandrini p1

READERSVOICE.COM aims to collect a few interesting reading tips. This issue features Gregoire Alessandrini, who took many fascinating pictures of people and streetscapes in New York from 1991 to 1998. In this interview he talks about living in New York. He also mentions some of his favorite authors, including a Japanese writer, as well as a British crime writer who sets his novels in Thailand and a French symbolist poet...

Gregoire Alessandrini left Paris for New York to study film and ended up staying in Manhattan for eight years. He often took a camera when he walked around places like the East Village, the Lower East Side, Coney Island and the Meat Packing District. Now his website features his archive of New York photos: A woman walks a pig down the street; firemen hose down a burning car; a guy plays saxophone on a street corner; kids splash around in water from a fire hydrant. There’s a nice picture of a Madonna on a balcony in Houston Street; abandoned art deco diners; an old guy with a giant cigar on the Upper East Side; hookers; taxi depots; a tiny old West Side Tire Shop, flats fixed, and some nice night shots, of people, cars and bars. Many of the locations he photographed have gone or changed dramatically since the 1990s, like Times Square red light cinemas and the Meat Packing District. But some places, thankfully, have survived, like the Strand Book Store in Greenwich Village and the Grace and Hope Mission in 3rd Avenue. Check out galessandrini.blogspot.com.

READERSVOICE.COM: When you were photographing streetscapes and shops, and diners and bars, and advertising on walls, did you look at it like a location scout might look for a movie location?

GREGOIRE ALESSANDRINI: New York City felt indeed like a giant movie set to me and walking around the city was an incredible experience for a film lover. I was able to recognize some famous locations that I had seen in classic films (Taxi Driver, Midnight cowboy, etc.). The city had this really amazing cinematic quality, whether gritty as the lower east side was still at the time or more spectacular like the buildings and crowds of midtown Manhattan. But taking photos was a really instinctive process for me and I would just shoot things and places that appealed to me: neon signs, murals, old shops and buildings which seem to be charged with NY history, remains of an old New York that I didn’t get to experience but that you could still kind of feel everywhere. I guess I had this intuition that a lot of these places were about to change and it seemed important to me to record what I was seeing and feeling. Especially in downtown Manhattan, in the East Village and the Lower East side which were the areas where I was hanging out the most and seemed the most interesting to me. There was a great feeling of freedom in these neighborhoods with people from everywhere around the world mixing in with the historical residents of the area.

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-copyright Simon Sandall