” Photographer Alex Harsley and his 4th Street Photo Gallery, in New York’s East Village, are having their long-overdue moment – one for which Harsley has prepared for decades. Curators and collectors are stopping by; so are TV channels and podcast producers.
” For years, Harsley, 81, sat in the sunbathed storefront of his word-of-mouth wunderkammer. Now you can find him in the back, still nudging the photo and art worlds forward, just as he has done for the past 47 years since he founded the nonprofit gallery that he has single-handedly sustained…
” Draped among the photographer’s prints today are his bellows, analog and digital cameras, each representing an era of photo technology, along with a wooden camera reflecting Harsley’s sense of humour. There are canisters of 777 developer, GE flashcubes and bins of prints to leaf through and purchase. The darkroom now accommodates digital printers…
” His observational, often narrative images straddle without contradiction fine-art and street photography. They capture the lyricism and humanity of urban life, and black urban life in particular – visual love poems in which the threshold between photographer and subject seems to dissolve. He is a master printer. He is also a noted experimental video and multimedia maker who shot the seminal video “Phat Free” for artist David Hammons, capturing him kicking a metal bucket down East Village streets. (The video was the highlight of the 1997 Whitney Biennial.) If Harsley’s photos mirror his heart, his complex videos mirror his “elastic” mind.
I know I was there at least once in the 1970’s. Didn’t meet Alex Harsley…as well as I remember. I remember loving his photos – especially scenes in the city [yes, the Mingus set, as well]. Never lived in New York. Never wanted to. Still, I spent a fair piece of erratic time there from the middle 1950’s on.
I remember his photo of Lewis Michaux’s National Memorial African Bookstore because that was someplace I visited probably every 3rd or 4th trip to The City. A street corner right by that shop was where I first heard Malcolm X all natty dread on a step ladder telling a lot of truth to folks. Standing there with my friend, Daniel, he picked us out, black-and-white, signifying nothing special but what still could be. Even then.
RTFA, Truly enjoyment knowing something that touched me briefly in passing so long ago – stayed around and grew like a tree standing by the water.