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Our proudly diverse country includes an abundance of distinctive micro cultures, some of which are nearly tucked out of public view. One such enclave thrived, until very recently, in Willets Point, Queens, a bustling Latino community that was home to a clutter of car lots and shops devoted to converting wrecks into saleable parts. It is a rare talent who can distill a complex microcosm into its essence, but Jaime Permuth has brought both clarity and empathy to this neighborhood in his solo show, Yonkeros, on view in the Garner Center at New England School of Photography (NESOP) in Boston’s Kenmore Square through March 17th, 2017.
A Spanglish derivative of “junk”, Yonkeros refers to the businesses that strip wrecked cars and sell them for parts or as scrap metal. Just as the term Yonkeros is a linguistic blend, the Willets Point community became a flourishing commercial center at the intersection of first world consumerism and third world resourcefulness. On the brink of its demise to make way for an enormous redevelopment project by the City of New York, Permuth took a classical documentary approach in timeless B&W images with a potent sense of lyricism and compassion to create a project that unwittingly became a eulogy.
The range of people and businesses in Yonkeros is mirrored in the variety of Permuth’s images. Soaring wide-angle neighborhood vistas, deftly framed visual exposés and frank, soulful portraits draw attention to emblematic snatches of the yards and the lives of the people who maintain them. Despite the variation in viewpoint and subject matter, Permuth’s lyricism is manifest in images whose compositional elements unite the frame with emotional grace.
Permuth’s use of natural light and reflections, his crisp compositional lines, clever framing, and rich B&W tonal range combine to imbue an ageless, clairvoyant quality to his reverential observations, from an antiquated Pepsi Cola sign reflected in a street puddle to a garage door whose slats create an optical illusion with harmonies between a sweep of graffiti across its surface and the stacked cars beyond. Permuth comments, “I knew Willets Point as a vast inventory of parts and, like all catalogs, it was also a poem.” Under Permuth’s gaze, a jumble of junkyards is transformed into a series of eloquent, poignant, and surprisingly humane revelations.
For hours, directions and more information about this exhibit, go to: http://www.nesop.edu/events/the-garner-center/jaime-permuth/
Feature image: From the series Yonkeros (detail) by Jaime Permuth (courtesy of the artist).