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Relive 1980s Bushwick, Where Arson Turned Streets to Rubble

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Using just a point-and-shoot camera, Meryl Meisler documented Bushwick, the neighborhood to which she commuted for her job as an art teacher at I.S. 291 (and, later, I.S. 300) from 1981 to 1994. Her striking, honest street photography, which captures an area beset by arson, poverty, and other afflictions, is newly compiled in a book. Available at the Strand courtesy of Bizarre Publishing, A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick juxtaposes Meisler's shots of burned-out buildings and area residents with images from the city's hopping dance halls. Meisler purposely avoided capturing drug paraphernalia, or all-too-common sights like massive murals in memory of locals who tragically died too young, in favor of small slices of seemingly humdrum humanity. "After I got over the fact that it was desolate—the buildings that you saw, the destruction—I think I was looking for things that were uplifting, to keep me teaching and to keep me joyful. The first picture I took was kids putting a makeshift hoop on a shuttered-up building surrounded by tires," she said. "And then things changed. I photographed things coming down and housing going up."

As for Bushwick today, Meisler said many things have changed, but some things haven't:

I was just there yesterday. I would say there's a lot of things that seem familiar, but the empty lots full of garbage are cleaned up and it's livelier. [In the 80s] I saw acres and acres of lots, and nobody was living there. It's inhabited now. ... The neighborhood now appears more ethnically and economically diverse. You see people wearing clothing that says 'Bushwick' on it. Years ago, they'd be ashamed to say it. Or at least you wouldn't see it. Check out a sampling of her work above; many, many more are on view at the Bizarre Black Box Gallery in Bushwick till September 10.
· Meryl Meisler [official]
· A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick [Strand]
· A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick Exhibit [Arts in Bushwick]
· Stayin' Alive [NYT]