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Interview

Gregoire Alessandrini p2

Photographer Gregoire Alessandrini talks about the neighbourhoods of New York that he liked to photograph the most when he lived in Manhattan in the 1990s…

READERSVOICE.COM: What places did you live in during the eight years you were in New York?

GREGOIRE ALESSANDRINI: I truly can say that I experienced all types of neighborhoods in Manhattan. The Upper East Side and Yorkville when I first arrived, then Harlem (137th street and Amsterdam), which I really loved. Then the East Village (Avenue A and 12th St.) where I found out that my neighbors were Richard Hell and Allen Ginsberg! And finally Chelsea, where I could see the back of the Chelsea Hotel from my living room window and roof top.

RV: How often would you head out with your camera and photograph neighborhoods and streetscapes and people in New York in the 1990s?

GA: I used to carry my camera at all times with me. My only limitation was the price of the rolls of film and processing. I guess this is not an issue anymore for photographers who now use digital cameras. You had to be much more selective with film photography. Today I wish I had taken many more photographs. Especially of the club scene, but I rarely took my camera with me when partying since I never really knew how and where the party would end…

RV: What sort of camera did you have and where did you process the photos?

GA: When I arrived in NYC in early 1991, I only had a small Canon autofocus camera (the AF50), which my mother had given me. It was a nice little autofocus camera with a very sharp lens but I was longing for a better and more professional camera, especially as I was starting film school and discovering how to play with f-stops, depth of field and film speeds. As soon as I had a little money I bought a Nikon FM2 with a 35mm and a 50mm lens. And later on a F3 Nikon, which I really loved, especially with its removable viewfinder which made it a great camera for street photography.

RV: You took a lot of pictures of the Meatpacking district and the East Village, like the ones of the 1960s and 70s cars; and Coney Island, and the 42nd Street area in Midtown. But what were your favorite places or neighborhoods to visit and photograph?

GA: I really enjoyed taking pictures in the East Village and the Lower East side, which I found fascinating and they were indeed my favorite neighborhoods. The Meatpacking district (which everybody used to call the Meat Market at the time) was also incredibly photogenic. As a film student, I shot several films in this area. It was deserted, dirty and smelly but so graphic and with an incredible atmosphere. A strange world where butchers were crossing paths with transsexual prostitutes and young people like me hanging out in hidden clubs. I remember the nights at Jackie 60 and at Nell’s, which was a bit further east on 14th street. There was also Florent, an old coffee shop where drag queens would serve breakfast in the early morning. It was almost a miracle that such a strange neighborhood could still exist and I’m not surprised that it has now become one of the most touristic areas of downtown.

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-copyright Simon Sandall