Last year, when Gail Quagliata was studying art education at Pratt, she would walk from the subway to her teaching gig in Alphabet City, altering her route daily to suss out which of the area's myriad bodegas served up the best cup of coffee. Noting the signs protesting the apocalyptic coming of the 7-Eleven franchise, she realized that New York City's iconic corner stores might not be long for this world, and set out to capture them?yes, every single bodega in Manhattan?on camera. (Jeremiah Moss over at Vanishing New York first spotted her work.) Tracking her progress on an impressive Google map, as well as on Tumblr and Facebook, Quagliata has systematically traversed the city in chunks since December, walking about 15 miles a day as she criss-crossed streets and avenues while shooting over 13,000 photos with her Nikon D800E. A torn ligament, some blisters, a few downpours, and a new GPS-enabled phone later, she has saved the best for last: East and Central Harlem, two neighborhoods with a boatload of bodegas that she hopes to shoot in the next two weeks to finish up this comprehensive, all-consuming documentary project.
From their awnings and neon signs to the particular goods that line the shelves, Quagliata believes that bodegas represent New York City to a T. To name a few reasons, because of their entrepreneurial owners and the way their stock sheds light on a hyper-local clientele:
When you think of New York, it's a city that was built by immigrants coming here to make a better life, from the beginning. When I first started, I thought of it as a microcosm of New York, because you think of the bodega as something that is always open, and New York is the city that never sleeps?that cliche. There's something different in every store... each bodega is a reflection of what a person in each neighborhood needs. If it gets homogenized, everyone will sell the same thing. At 130 Eldridge [Street], there's one called the Chinese-Hispanic Market. It tells you what you're going to find inside the store. They know who their demographic is. Quagliata conservatively estimates the number of bodegas in Manhattan at 4,000. And when she's done shooting them all, and finished the intensive color correction and post-production processing work, she's not sure what's next. A coffee table book, or an exhibition, perhaps. Probably some withdrawal from the caffeine high, and some healthy distance from her in-depth knowledge of an NYC phenomenon that, to outsiders, consists of lookalikes. "I'm looking at them so much that they're starting to look different," Quagliata says. "It's like someone who has 19 kids would say, 'No, I can totally tell them apart.'"
· Every Bodega [Jeremiah's Vanishing New York]
· Gail Victoria Braddock Quagliata: Every Bodega In Manhattan [official]
· The Bodegas of Manhattan [Tumblr]
· Every Bodega In Manhattan [Facebook]
· Bodega Week 2012 [Curbed]