From Kill City, images by Ash Thayer, published by Powerhouse Books
I had moved to New York by the early 90s, when Mayor Guiliani finally decided to evict the squatters, who were mainly living down on the lower east side of Manhattan. It was big news at the time. My parents don't read my blog so I can confess that I spent a fair amount of time in squats in London in the mid-80s. I don't know how else I would ever have learned to cook lentils or stomach hash. Ash Thayer moved to a squat in 1992, and began documenting "New York's legendary LES squatters." As Luc Sante writes: "Anyone wondering about the end of bohemia can consult this book, which documents its last incarnation, at least in New York City. Few bohemians can ever have worked as hard as the squatters, who earned their homes and their lives; they were rewarded with forcible and violent eviction. Ash Thayer's remarkable pictures chronicle a time, only two decades ago, that seems impossibly distant now." (b-t-w Sante's book, Low Life, about the seedy history of NYC is a great read.)
This is a fabulous photography book; large, and packed with double-page spreads, it includes stories of learning how to build and repair, plant gardens, stay warm, and how some of these kids came to be squatting in the first place.
The press release is as usual a great read so here it is in its entirety:
After being kicked out of her apartment in Brooklyn in 1992, and unable to afford rent anywhere near her school, young art student Ash Thayer found herself with few options. Luckily she was welcomed as a guest into See Skwat.
New York City in the '90s saw the streets of the Lower East Side overun with derelict buildings, junkies huddled in dark corners, and dealers packing guns. People in desperate need of housing, worn down from waiting for years in line on the low-income housing lists, had been moving in and fixing up city-abandoned buildings since the mid-80s in the LES.
Squatters took over entire buildings, but these structures were barely habitable. They were overrun with vermin, lacking plumbing, electricity, and even walls, floors, and a roof. Punks and outcasts joined the squatter movement and tackled an epic rebuilding project to create homes for themselves.
The squatters were forced to be secretive and exclusive as a result of their poor legal standing in the buildings. Few outsiders were welcome and fewer photographers or journalists. Thayer's camera accompanied her everywhere as she lived at the squats and worked alongside other residents. Ash observed them training each other in these necessary crafts and finding much of their materials in the overflowing bounty that is New York City's refuse and trash. The trust earned from her subjects was unique and her access intimate. Kill City is a true untold story of New York's legendary LES squatters. - Luc Sante