The Brooklynites A Project by Anthony LaSala and Seth Kushner

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Jonathan Lethem
Author, 41
“Brooklyn is the conscience of New York. While Manhattan tears everything down and changes everything, Brooklyn does a similar thing, but fails miserably at it. It is a crazy quilt of a place. A mongrel place of sorts. It mixes old and modern in a haphazard way. It represents a tiny microcosm of the world—a functional utopia. There is also a weakness for nostalgia here, but it is a flinty and cold-eyed nostalgia. Brooklynites sort of have a built in shrug about nostalgia while still caring about it.”
Photographed near his home in Boerum Hill.
Yana Toyber
Artist, 27
“There is a difference between the people in Brooklyn and everywhere else. A difference you always feel. Especially when you grow up here. This place is all about “the deals”—especially here in Brighton. You can find things here for less money—things you wouldn't find anywhere else.”
Photographed on the Brighton Beach Boardwalk.
Marty Markowitz
Brooklyn Borough President
“If I could pick three things that make Brooklyn special I would say they are the ethnic and religious diversity, the fact that Brooklyn residents live on the edge—there are no introverts here, and the Brooklyn attitude. We know that we are special and that everywhere else is just, well, not as equal.”
Photographed at Junior's restaurant.
Spike Lee
Filmmaker, 48
“I was born in Atlanta, Georgia—came here when I was a year old—and it's been my home ever since. We no longer live in Brooklyn, but we have 2 offices here, we continue to shoot in Brooklyn so I'm still in Fort Greene. When we first moved here I lived in Crown Heights and we were basically the first black family to move into Cobble Hill. Then my mother had the vision to buy a brownstone in Fort Green when the prices were really affordable—that was around 1968 and 1969.

Brooklyn is basically the same except now property values have gone up, and certain complexions of the neighborhoods have changed. You know, when I was growing up there were no white linen tablecloth restaurants on Myrtle and Dekalb Avenue. But the place is basically the same.

My childhood here was very memorable, especially in the summertime—it seemed like we didn't have to come inside forever—or at least until it got dark—which, on a perfect Brooklyn night, seemed like forever. That was also a time when parents didn't have to worry about their kids playing outside.”
Photographed outside his office in Fort Greene.
Kenan Juska
Artist, 28
“One time when I was younger, about 17, I was going to live in California for a while and I was very nervous. My Godfather could see that and I remember he told me one thing to make me feel better—he said 'Hey, you're from Brooklyn. You're already two steps ahead of everything and everybody.' I always think that way—even today—wherever I go. When I first built this room it was never supposed to be this big. It sort of got out of control. It's really an analysis of where I'm from and the environment that made me who I am. It was my way to reflect on this place and a way to record my experiences here.”
Photographed in his parent's home in Park Slope.
Billy T. Thomas

“I'm older than cold water and sweeter than salt. The thing about Brooklyn is the economy. I can get a cup of fruit in the store on the corner for $1.00 here. In Queens it would cost me $2.50. I can get a room for $75 a week here. In Queens it would cost me $100. That's the difference here. You can survive.”

Photographed in Bed Sty.
Louise Ciminieri
Owner of Totonno's pizzeria
“There are lots of other places to go, but there really is no place like Brooklyn. You can leave here, but you usually end up going nuts when you do. My son went to live in Las Vegas for a while and he just wasn't happy and didn't know why. I knew exactly why. It was because he was homesick. People just miss this place. We've had this pizzeria for 81 years. My grandparents and my family used to live in the back—in the apartment inside this place. And trust me on this one—they are still here…they are still here. You wanna know the second best pizza place in New York? My other locations.”
Photographed at Totonno's pizzeria in Coney Island.
Matisyahu
Hasidic Reggae performer, 25
“Brooklyn is a real place. Crown Heights has Blacks and Hasidic living door to door, in the same apartment building—nowhere else is like that. It's such a mix. As a religious man, the neighborhood has everything I need: kosher food, rabbis, and friends to study Torah with. On Rosh Hashanah, people walk. I decided to walk from Crown Heights to Williamsburg. I went through Bed Stuy, through the Satmar community in old Williamsburg and finally I ended up where all the hipsters and Internet cafe's were. When you walk through Brooklyn, it's like crossing every country in the world.”
Photographed near his home in Crown Heights.
Paul Georgoulakos
Coney Island food vendor, 75
“I'm originally from Greece. I've been here for over 50 years and owned this place for 35. My family came here because it is the Land of Opportunity. My father lived in Newark, N.J. and worked as a milkman. He had to change jobs and then we ended up in Brooklyn. I came to Coney Island originally for a type writing job as an apprentice—with a weekend job and here I am. I like this place because it is something that you own and built from scratch and used my hands to make a living. Of course the fresh air, the ocean, the people. I will never leave here—I'll go to my old country as a vacation—but Brooklyn is my country now.”
Photographed in front of his business on the Coney Island Boardwalk.
Grace Villamil, 27
“I was born in Orange County, California, I used to live in Fort Greene, then eventually I found myself here in Greenpoint.

If I leave my apartment anytime early in the morning, any day of the week, the street corners and bodegas are lightly filled with Dominican, Puerto Rican and a few Cubano elderly. All of them speaking Spanish softly to each other. It's 100 degrees out, they still have long pants, and their guayaberas on, and all the while they are greeting 'Buenos dias' to one another from across the street.

I love riding my bike around, and cruising with Belice—that's what I call this 73' Valiant—on hot summer nights, with the yellowish tint of the street lamps shining down. Dodging the open fire hydrants spraying, passing the streets with men playing dominoes at fold—up tables, the women yelling at their kids to get out of the street—then running into friends sitting out having a cold beer. Wow. I never stopped to think that I DO consider Brooklyn home.”


Jennifer Monzon, 27
“I was born in Manila, Philippines, and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey. I moved to Brooklyn four years ago because I wanted to be closer to New York City. Brooklyn has a great mix of characters and each area has a different vibe. I feel very much at home here, but I am still conveniently close to everything. My Laundromat is across the street...I love that! And the best scones are around the corner. Hanging out on my friend's roof on a really hot summer day and having the city as my backdrop. I really love Brooklyn.”
Photographed on the waterfront in Williamsburg.
Zab “Super” Judah
World Welterweight Champion, 27
“Brooklyn is a great place. If you can live here, you can live anywhere in the world because you have to struggle in Brooklyn. But it's a good struggle. It makes you stronger. It made me a tougher boxer.”
Photographed at Gleason's Gym in D.U.M.B.O.
Sam Rodriguez
Bartender at Ruby's Old Thyme Tavern, 78
“I have been here in Coney Island for 55 years—I'm from Puerto Rico. When I got to the New York employment office, they sent me to Coney Island. I was a porter for a while and eventually a bartender here. The ocean, the boardwalk and the friends I have met have kept me here. The people in this bar treat me like a human being and part of the family—which I like.”
Photographed at Ruby's Old Thyme Tavern on the Coney Island Boardwalk.