The Brooklynites A Project by Anthony LaSala and Seth Kushner

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Arnold L. Lehman
Director of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, 60
“While a lot of people call New York and Brooklyn itself a “Melting Pot,” I think of it more as a “Freshly Tossed Salad.” A “Melting Pot” is really one big stew that melds all the ingredients into one thing whereas Brooklynites, in a healthier way, maintain their character and characteristics and a sense of who they are rather than becoming a homogenous entity.

I became the director of this museum—The Brooklyn Museum of Art—because this is the museum of my childhood. I also enjoy the enormous challenge of working in the borough of Brooklyn—a place where you can go from one world to another world in a just a few blocks—and creating a cultural base for this extraordinary community.”
Photographed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
James May
Martial artist, 32
“I've been living in Brooklyn for nine years now. I came to here from Dublin, Ireland. Basically I needed a change. I landed in Red Hook by chance. I got off the plane, searched around and ended up here, which was good. In Dublin I was promoting clubs and DJing. We had a techno night going in U2's nightclub. I came here and started DJing and promoting, but it didn't get off the ground—there is too much stuff going on in New York. Dublin was a lot smaller. You could run a techno night and the whole city would show up. When I got here I also did construction to make money. When you are illegal you do construction. Then I got into bartending in Brooklyn. I like Brooklyn because it's quiet. It's an escape from the city. You wake up here on a Sunday and there is no noise. That reminds me of Ireland. It's a nice neighborhood. You have waterfront property and I love the water—there are some piers that I go down and just chill out. It's very peaceful. I also love the old buildings and the cobblestone streets. It's a unique place to say the least. I probably will never move from here. It has changed an awful lot though. A lot of the industrial buildings have shut down and turned into loft spaces that are pushing some of the original people from the neighborhood out. It's got its good and bad things. There are a lot of new businesses, restaurants, and boutiques opening up. I got into martial arts when I was young in Ireland—I studied Kempo that was more street fighting. When I came over I wanted to study something different. There were no Kung—Fu schools in Ireland and I was always drawn towards Kung Fu, so it was a chance for me to go and check it out and it's one of the things that I got to do here.”
Photographed on the Waterfront in Red Hook.
Craig Finn, 33
Tad Kubler, 32
Franz Nicolay, 27
Galen Polivka, 35
Bobby Drake, 29
The Hold Steady
Tad—“I moved away from Boreum Hill, which was a great place to live, because I constantly found myself drunk on the G train after visiting my friends here in Greenpoint. I thought it would be easier, safer and a lot less hassle if I moved up here.”
Franz —“There's this Bar down here called the Blue Lady Lounge that none of us can figure out what the fuck is going on in. But, besides this place, it's our favorite neighborhood bar. They were doing this thing for a while where if you bought three drinks you would get a free t—shirt. And they had these random old Miller Lite t—shirts hanging up everywhere. They stopped doing it because we were going to have our whole summer wardrobe provided by that place. But it's things like that that make this neighborhood great. There's also a lot of musicians that live and hang out right around here. So it's a real neighborhood vibe if you are in the arts community. Depending on where you go you always seem to run into someone you know from a band.”
Franz— “There's very few other places in the world where you can play all kinds of music like here. Jazz, hip—hop, country. Brooklyn invites everybody. And you can play with the best of everybody if you want to. There are a certain amount of people who move here—they are basically the cream of the crop from every small town and city across the country. This really driven, Type A personality that raises the level of competition. And this area of Brooklyn houses a lot of those people in a music sense and it has helped us as musicians. Plus, if you have success here it is on a whole other level.”
Craig —“ In a lot of ways, lyrically, our latest record has a lot to do with myself growing up in Minneapolis and being in a different place enabled me to see the forest for the trees and actually think back and compare the two experiences. And while the cost of living is high here, it's sort of like the cover charge. You pay $40 bucks to get into a great theater or a great club. You pay $800 a month to get into Brooklyn. Membership has its privileges.”
Photographed at the Pour House Bar in Williamsburg.
Mike Smollar, 59
“Brooklyn is Brooklyn. There's no place like it in the world. And when you travel to other places in the world you really realize that. They got nothin'.”
Photographed in his home in Bensonhurst.
Jonathan Ames
Author, 40
“When I walk down to the waterfront of Brooklyn, I am always struck anew. The water views are amazing. This place is quieter than Manhattan—there is slightly less vibration here. But there is everything you could ever want here, yet it still has some places that remain undiscovered.”
Photographed near his home in Carroll Gardens.
Garnett Thompson, 32
“Growing up in Bed—Stuy prepared me to live anywhere in the world. I can go to fucking Palestine right now. Seriously. Growing up here in the middle 80's to middle 90's was a crucible. Crack hit Brooklyn in 1985. By 1987 Bed—Stuy was the murder capital of New York. I used to have conversations with my friends on the phone were I was saying 'Let me crawl across the floor and turn off the lights. Someone outside is shooting.'

I have been all over Europe and whenever someone asks me where I'm from I say 'Brooklyn.' And they say 'Ohh.' And when they ask what part, I say 'Bed Stuy.' And they say 'Ohhhhhhh.' You get that extra long 'Ohhhhh' when you say Bed—Stuy.

The neighborhood motto of Bed—Stuy is 'Do or Die.' And that is the pervasive mentality. I love that. This place is Darwinism in action. If you can live here you can live anywhere. You have to always be on point. Every hard part of living in every neighborhood in New York is in Bed—Stuy. We have taken all of the hardest of the hard and put it in action here. And if you don't survive, you don't belong. It's that simple.”
Photographed near his home in Bed Sty.
Melissa Hinkley, 28
Kalil Justin, 8
“I spent my whole life in Sunset Park. I had a blast growing up here. There were a lot of kids in the street and I was out in the streets all day playing. A real city childhood. We played mostly bad games - we made zips guns and pegged people in the ass. This was also the block were people came off the train so we would put trip wires and nails sticking out of the ground. We were bad kids. We used to sell things like cookies and ice tea and lemonade. We did puppet shows. Anything to hustle some money for candy. We had Woolworth's on the corner—the five and dime place. Good neighborhood, though a lot of shit went down here. A lot of gangs in the early 80's, people that just ran the neighborhood. There were the Assassinators, with this guy named Hicky Wicky as the gang leader. He used to wear this bullet belt everywhere, even to the community pool here. I'll never forget, I must have been around 9 or 10—and I was with some girls from the block and here is this gang leader buffed out, long hair and goatee, bullet belt and leopard skin bikini. Bam!

We had a lot of block parties. It was always live here. This block was poppin'. We have ones now but they're just wack. The neighbors don't really know each other now. When I was growing up on this block everyone knew each other. There was the block association, brownstone walking tours, my mother was part of a restoration committee. We did a lot of murals—there is a big one on the corner that the whole block got together and painted back in 1981. It decayed and recently this guy got Citibank to fund a new one.

I'm moving to Hawaii soon, but I'm really gonna miss it here. I hear people's languages and it sounds like music. All the strangers on the train look great. I'm absorbing it all because I'm leaving. I'm moving to a really quiet place in the mountains. No friends! I'm also realizing how many friends I have here. How many people I run into just walking around. But my plan is to come back once every summer.”
Photographed near their home in Sunset Park.
Etya Rubenstein
Holocaust survivor, 84
“Everyday I open my eyes and say ‘God Bless this place.”
Photographed on the Brighton Beach Boardwalk.
Seymour Shepetin
Hardware store owner, 78
“I like it here so much I don’t even know what I like about it. I grew up here and I’ll probably be here for the rest of my life. I took over this shop in 1948. Harry Truman was president. My brothers were electricians and after World War II took them, I got the shop. Bay Ridge is such a nice place. Everyone knows me here. They come here for all the odds and ends and I’m happy to help them out. I feel like I keep the neighborhood together with my shop.”
Photographed in front of his store in Bay Ridge.
Dick Zigun
Owner and founder of the Coney Island Sideshow Circus, 51
“I grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut—home of P.T. Barnum. So he was a big influence on my life—I saw midgets and elephants as patriotic. When I came to New York with two degrees in theater I didn't go to Broadway, I came to Coney Island. A lot of people saw this place as a paradise doomed—a place from their childhood that burned to the ground. I had no personal sorrow connected to this place. I had more objective eyes. I saw Coney Island as a staging ground—something we could turn into the National Center of Americano Bizarro. A place of culture and influence. I was probably half brave and half stupid.”
Photographed at the Coney Island Sideshow Circus.
Linda Kushner, 59
“I grew up in Borough Park. I loved growing up here because my whole family lived in one building. I had my grandmother, my aunt, my uncle, my cousin all in one building. It was family all the time and it was wonderful. My best memories from then were having my brother home and dancing to American Bandstand. All of his friends and all of my friends would hang out and dance and it was great. It was a wonderful childhood.

I got married in 1969. All of my friends were moving out to the Island and I knew I didn't want to go out to Long Island. My family was here, I couldn't leave.

Now Brooklyn feels secure. I feel very secure and safe living here. I love Brighton Beach and Ocean Parkway. I pass down by where my parents used to live and I love it. It's my whole life here.”
Photographed near her home in Sheepshead Bay