Saturday, July 20, 2013

Images of a Forgotten Borough

Fresh out of high school and headed for New York, we piled in Glynn’s yellow and white 1957 Plymouth Belvedere with the push button transmission and “Flite Sweep” styling, ecstatic with visions of The Big City and getting away from home. Not too sure where we would be sleeping for the two weeks of our time there, we planned on spending at least the first couple of nights at our friend Dee’s house on Staten Island, thirty minutes across the bay from Manhattan. Arriving in New York just after sunrise, we found our way to the South Street ferry that makes regular crossings to Staten Island. Once on the island, after some wrong turns and confused meandering, it was a surprise to finally to look up and see our friend’s name on a mailbox in front of a large old two-story blue Victorian house. None of us had imagined such a house only a few miles from the concrete canyons of Manhattan. 

Two days later we ended up finding a cheap hotel off Times Square and spending most of our two weeks in the Manhattan district, but we did have the chance on a few days to get a good look at Staten Island with friend Dee playing tour guide. 

Some years later, after I had begun calling New York home, I went back to Staten Island on more than a few occasions, day trips intended for the purpose of nothing more than exploration. It was still at that time a place ‘far removed’ from the tone and textures of life in Manhattan, and never failed to surprise me with sights or faces unexpected. It has been years since those visits to New York’s “forgotten borough” but much of it was brought back recently when I stumbled upon the photographs of Christine Osinski.

Originally from Chicago, Osinski studied first at the Art Institute of Chicago and later received an MFA from Yale. She lives in New York and has for many years taught at the Cooper Union. Her photographs have been exhibited at The Portland Art Museum, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, La Casa Encendida in Madrid, The New York Public Library and The Museum of the City of New York. In the late 1970s Osinski and her husband lived for a while in Soho but then lost their lease. Soon after that the couple moved to Staten Island and ended up staying sixteen years.

Something about the Staten Island environment excited Osinski and in 1983 and ’84 she began a series of black and white photographs documenting the ordinary life around her. Reminded of her Chicago childhood, she found the people of Staten Island both familiar and exotic at the same time, focusing her camera’s eye on children, people at the beach, houses and block parties. In her own words she admits to “liking all of the crazy people and places.” Something at the edge of Osinski’s work hints at the photography of Diane Arbus, but in the end stands apart as an individual vision of the American condition. 


  1. Exactly why I got so into photography and with a friend had a professional studio. But it was those trips outside on photographic journeys to see what we could see that thrilled us the most. Nothing like the stillness of lively images. Nothing.

  2. Boy, those were the days. Big cars, big hair, the old barber shop. Neat photos.
    Not sure the couple on the beach appreciated being caught on camera, though.

  3. I for one was very jealous of you getting to go to New York. Great post!!! Karen

  4. I was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Queens, worked in Manhattan for many years but only made it once to Staten Island. It wasn't so much the Forgotten Borough as the "who wants to go there" borough. But then again, in 37 years in NY, I never made it to the Statue of Liberty either. Great post.

  5. Loved the pictures of long ago. They always amuse me because probably when they are taken those in the photos imagine that they are "the cat's meow".


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America