Image Above: ©Tema Stauffer (Jhozali, Straight Street, Paterson, New Jersey, 2014) All Images Courtesy of Baxter St CCNY
BAXTER ST at CCNY presented a solo exhibition by artist and 2014 Workspace Resident, Tema Stauffer titled Paterson (2009 –2014). Paterson is a series of documentary street portraits depicting residents of a post-industrial city in New Jersey during the years following the American economic crisis. Paterson is a historic city near the Great Falls of the Passaic River, once prosperous from its mills and silk manufacturing industry.
Founded in 1791 by Alexander Hamilton and others and envisioned as the nation’s first planned industrial city, Paterson offered jobs and opportunity to an immigrant labor force in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The city is the setting of novels by Junot Diaz and John Updike, and has inspired the poetry of William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, as well as photography by George Tice. The third largest city in New Jersey, Paterson began to decline economically during the 1960s and 70s, and has continued to face high rates of unemployment since the recession.
©Tema Stauffer (Left:Alexis, Alley, Paterson, New Jersey, 2014; Right:Michael, Straight Street, Paterson, New Jersey, 2011) All Images Courtesy of Baxter St CCNY
Downtown Paterson is lined with dollar stores, barbershops, beauty salons, bakeries, bars, churches, temples, and other small businesses. While its downtown streets are bustling, these streets are also a place of visible struggle.
The portraits of this community focus on the self-expression of working-class and economically marginalized Americans of the diverse racial and ethnic groups comprising Paterson’s population. Shot in natural light on the streets with a medium-format camera, each image explores the psychology of an individual who reveals him or herself willingly to the camera’s gaze.
©Tema Stauffer (Left: Cathy, Market Street, Paterson, New Jersey, 2011; Right: Andrew, Straight Street, Paterson, New Jersey, 2013) All Images Courtesy of Baxter St CCNY
The minimal backgrounds suggest the urban environments these subjects occupy; however, these straightforward, realist, and classically composed photographs concentrate on faces and the depth of human experience that is spoken through them. These portraits contribute to a contemporary dialogue about the current economic reality and the experiences of Americans who exist on our ever-widening margins.
(Artist: Tema Stauffer)
(Ali Hendra & Theo Guillemot)