East Village survivors and history buffs should plan to head over to Dumbo on April 2, to celebrate the publication of Ash Thayer’s Kill City: Lower East Side Squatters 1992-2000. The book is a visual time capsule, catching a time when the streets of Alphabet City teemed with junkies and crawled with criminal activity. At the same time, “there was a sense of openness and possibility about the East Village then,” Thayer tells the New York Times.
In 1992, Thayer was a photography student at the School of Visual Arts. Unable to pay the bills in her Brooklyn apartment, she began squatting in buildings like the Fifth Street Squat. As she developed a sense of kinship with the squatting community, she began to photograph her existence. The result was a collection of photos that captured the essence of life among the artists, free spirits and broken souls of ’90s New York City.
The images are profoundly intimate. The ceilings of the building are barren and peeling and empty bottles filled with miscellaneous liquids line graffitied walls. The detritus-filled backdrop adds to the raw and candid depictions of relationships within the ramshackle community. They show how existence can literally be crafted out of nothing.
Thayer initially began taking photos of her life so that she had proof that the abandoned buildings had been inhabited for a long period of time. If it could be shown they had been converted into low-income housing, their tenants would be less likely to be evicted, she tells the Guardian. Ownership of a few actually ended up in the hands of their inhabitants but the majority were eventually razed by the city. The memories contained by these buildings are preserved in Thayer’s photographs.
The book release party for “Kill City” at Powerhouse Arena, 37 Main Street, Dumbo, begins sharply at 6 p.m on April 2. A presentation of Thayer’s previously unseen work will be shown. An exhibition of the project in its entirety will follow, ending at 9 p.m.