Cobble Hill photographer captures a disappearing Brooklyn • Brooklyn Paper

Cobble Hill photographer captures a disappearing Brooklyn

Old school: Photographer Sergio Purtell sticks to more traditional equipment in his effort to document Brooklyn.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Take a look now — before it is gone.

A Brooklyn photographer will show off images of a borough that is fading in front of his lens at Bushwick’s Art 3 gallery on April 8. The exhibit “In Brooklyn: Architectures of Disappearance” is an attempt to create a portrait of the changing cityscape, the roving cameraman said.

“I’m interested in how we lose things,” said Sergio Purtell, who lives in Cobble Hill. “I’m interested in levels of reality, things that we see every day or have to live with every day.”

Many the black and white images in “In Brooklyn” catch fleeting glimpses of scenes that are already lost. In one, canoers traverse the murky waters of the Gowanus Canal while the late, great Kentile Floors sign looms large in the distance. Another shows the historic Coignet Building standing alone before the Gowanus Whole Foods rose on the empty lot behind it. Purtell said he is not an anti-development zealot — he just sees value in documenting a changing city.

“It’s not like I’m walking around with a cross trying to tell people that the end of the world is coming, but it is good to be reminded of beautiful things around us that lasted so long,” he said. “When they’re gone they’re gone. I’m not judging, but it is sad.”

Purtell was born in Chile, and fled for the United States in the wake of the 1973 military coup, eventually landing in New York in the 1980s. His Manhattan apartment and studio were damaged in the aftermath of 9–11, so Purtell and his wife moved to Brooklyn in 2002, and the shutterbug said he has not looked back since. He praised the block of Ingraham Street in Bushwick where his studio is located, and where he was able to turn to a hyper-local economy of metalworkers and furniture builders to furnish his workspace.

He said he often starts his photo-snapping at the door of his studio and works outwards, so the majority of his images are from the blocks around Ingraham Street and extend outward in waning frequency.

Purtell said the creative scene in Bushwick reminds him of Manhattan in 1985.

“Brooklyn is just more alive,” said Purtell, who has been working on “In Brooklyn” since 2008. “Manhattan is a great place to visit, but it has sort of lost its character. There are a lot more people in Brooklyn actually making things.”

“In Brooklyn: Architectures of Disappearance,” at Art 3 (109 Ingraham St. between Porter and Knickerbocker avenues in Bushwick, www.art-3gallery.com). Opening reception April 8 at 7 pm. Free. Exhibit runs through May 17.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz

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