Meryl Meisler turned heads last year with her photographs of Bushwick in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when the neighborhood was racked by arson, economic crisis, and crime, epitomized in the chaos of the 1977 blackout. Nevertheless, her photos were filled with as much liveliness as the dance floor at Studio 54 (which the photographer also documented). As a local school teacher, Meisler saw beyond the blight, connecting with the community in spite of the neighborhood’s troubles. But her photos are just as much a conduit for nostalgia as they are a memo for the present and seem as relevant as ever for the neighborhood as it continues to go through immense change. Now our initial obsession the photographer’s work has been rewarded with a new book, Purgatory & Paradise: Sassy ’70s Suburbia & the City.
The ’70s were a wild time to be in Bushwick: following a major blackout in 1977, shops and homes were devastated in a wave of riots and looting. Meryl Meisler began teaching art at a public school there in 1981 and spent her early adulthood capturing both the hedonistic disco scene of Manhattan and the bombed-out streets of de-industrializing North Brooklyn. The native New Yorker’s snapshots, taken during the height of the city’s crack epidemic, will go on display Friday as part of Bushwick Open Studios.