Christine Osinski photographed the New York borough during the 1980s, capturing a forgotten chapter in the city’s history.

Christine Osinski photographed the New York borough during the 1980s, capturing a forgotten chapter in the city’s history.

In 1982, photographer Christine Osinski and her husband experienced the first wave of gentrification that would come to destroy New York. A real estate developer bought the downtown Manhattan building that they called home and priced them out, forcing them to move to Staten Island – a place which has long been considered the city’s “forgotten borough.”

“When you take the ferry, it’s like you are leaving the city behind,” Osinski says. “Staten Island was a place you weren’t noticed and people left you alone. There was a sense of being surrounded by water and being far away from things.”

To acclimate to her new environment, Osinski set out to take photographs of locals on the streets during the summers of 1983 and ’84. The photographs, now on view in Summer Days Staten Island, capture a chapter in New York history that has all but disappeared.

Young Man Pulling a Go-Kart

“It was a time in New York City cars were set on fire. You would see burned out or stripped cars, rusted cars with the windows broken everywhere,” Osinski remembers. 

“A lot of the neighbourhoods I photographed were poor and working class. Kids were out of school, roaming around trying to find things of interest. There wasn’t much to play with. They didn’t live near playgrounds or have toys, but they would climb trees, throw a rope, and swing back and forth. There was a certain inventiveness back then. Everything was analogue.”

Osinski set out every day with a large format 4 x 5 camera, telling herself, “All I need is one good picture.” She succeeded despite the anxiety she often felt interacting with strangers. 

“I didn’t know any of these people and they didn’t know me,” she says. “I felt nervous but because I was carrying a big camera. I didn’t talk that much. Our interactions were relatively quick. I was concentrating on making the photographs and was working alone.”

Two Girls with Big Wheels

“It was a goldmine. I found the people and the situations really interesting. There was so much pressure in Manhattan to be cool. Not that these kids didn’t try to be cool, but it surprised me that it was such a time warp. Everyone seemed fascinating to me. There were a group of children in South Beach that I photographed more than once. Everyone else I photographed once and never saw again.”

Hailing from the South Side of Chicago, Osinski felt at home among the kids she encountered in the blue-collar neighbourhoods: “For me, it was like reclaiming my own childhood. There were people I photographed who were definitely types of people I knew growing up.”

Staten Island, it has often been said, is more like the rest of the United States than it is like New York. Osinski’s photographs highlight those differences, and remind us that the boroughs have always had their own style outside of Manhattan’s cultural hegemony. 

Two Boys with Automobile

Girl Holding a Paper Bag

Boy Leaning over a Bike

Three Women with a Bat

Boy Flexing

Boy Pointing Rifle at a Car

Preteen

Boy on a Bike

Christine Osinski: Summer Days Staten Island is on view at Joseph Bellows Gallery in La Jolla, California, now through August 23.

Follow Miss Rosen on Twitter.

Enjoyed this article? Like Huck on Facebook or follow us on Twitter