The Hole story: Photo exhibit focuses on derelict section of Brooklyn

The Hole story: Photo exhibit focuses on derelict section of Brooklyn
Photo by Josiah Shelton

It is a hole ’nother world.

A photographer who embedded himself in a derelict Brooklyn sub-district offers a glimpse of life in “the Hole” with an exhibit at Boerum Hill’s Invisible Dog art center, opening on June 25.

Initially the picture-maker went to the Hole — a small section of East New York bordering Queens with dirt roads, no sewers, and more than a few dicey denizens — for a one-day project, but his interest was piqued after a local family invited him to follow them for an evening.

“That night, the husband and nephew broke into neighbor’s basement to steal power for their RV,” said Allen Agostino. “I said ‘holy s—, this is something I’m going to work on for a while.’”

The Hole sits 30 feet below sea level and is best known as a body dumping ground for the Mafia, he said.

Agostino’s art captures life on the margins of society, but it also captures the circumstances that can drive people to those margins.

“A lot of the people have a sordid history,” he said.

But the Hole is also a place for rebirth — many folks living there came to escape their past and reinvent themselves, and the attempts are sincere, Agostino said.

Down in a hole: Allen Agostino’s subjects live in a trailer in an undeveloped section of East New York called “The Hole” that has no sewers and few paved streets. The Linden Plaza Apartments loom in the distance.
Allen Agostino

“I always felt like I could trust them — right from the beginning,” he said of his host “Bam” — a former heroin dealer and avowed murderer — and his family.

And finding humanity in the city’s seedier spots is the goal of the “Rear Windows” exhibition goal, an organizer said.

“It’s not even the photographer that matters, it’s the people that are being photographed,” said curator Pauline Vermare,

Other Rear Windows exhibitors followed members of the Latin Kings, drug addicts in a tent city, and compulsive gamblers at the Aquaduct Race Track. And Brooklyn Paper contributor Cate Dingley documented Times Square’s last surviving peep show.

In each instance, the photographers had to gain their subject’s trust. Agostino found a fixer in the first person he met in the Hole, because — despite their disparate backgrounds — they shared similar dispositions.

“I’m sort of fat and Canadian and funny, and she’s fat and Puerto Rican and funny,” Agostino said. “At first, she called me an idiot and said I was gonna get robbed. We ended insulting each other and then getting along.”

“Rear Windows” at the Invisible Dog (51 Bergen St. between Smith Street and Boerum Place in Boerum Hill, www.theinvisibledog.org). June 25–27, 1 pm–7 pm; June 28, 1 pm–5 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Picture and choose: Curator Pauline Vermare (right) helped the photographers boil a year of work down into one hard-hitting gallery show.
Photo by Josiah Shelton