Carte Blanche



Sergio Purtell shot this photo, used by a REAL Editorial , on 3rd St. and 3rd Ave.,  in 2008

Putrell had a point to make when he shot his series in noir; or, maybe, he had only a feeling. His shot of Gowanus, Brooklyn, looks like a treasure from a generation past. It looks like a time before ethnic marginalization; a time before brownstone; a time, even, before micro-brews. All four corners of the intersection are sparse, spacious, open. One building overlooks the handful of stolid passersby. There is room to breathe here; traffic is almost absent. The photo is not only calm, but also disparagingly wistful. There is a sense of longing and—maybe, for some, one of—regret. 

Gowanus was never an idyllic place. It was,  however briefly, a quiet one, before the 1.8 mile long Gowanus canal would slice through the area and its neighborsCarroll Gardens, Park Slope, Red Hook and others. These neighborhoods would become transformed by the canal’s industry and commerce and sludge into Brooklyn’s industrial innards.


lifetimes after the canal’s construction: the water celebrates Carnival. Watch it shimmer and dance when the sun hits it, most vivaciously, around noon.

Three years after Putrell’s 2008 shot on the corner: the Gowanus canal is declared a federal Superfund site . Investigations, still underway, look for the polluters to pay reparations. Non-profits blossom. Journalists craft narratives to explain and to blame. Yet, people keep moving there. One of the most polluted waterways in the United States has borne a booming residential area. Rents rose; long time residents left.

Gentrification is not a new narrative. Residents of neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bushwick have been displaced by upper-middle class artists, workers and families looking for housing they could afford. And for a time, they could. But rents are rising again. Whose fault is it, if not the bohemians? Is it a fault? Teresa Brennan helps reframe the issue in The Transmission of Affect. Brennan notes that our environment, like us, is alive. She writes “there is no secure distinction between the ‘individual’ and the ‘environment,'” (6). There is intra-action and inter-action. There is constant change. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari are also no strangers to constant change. According to them, Gowanus canal is  rhizomatic. It is a rhizome in and of itself. Bridges, barges, and boats come and go, making and re-making “lines of flight,” ceaselessly networking. Deleuze and Guattari write that “the line of flight is part of the rhizome. These lines always tie back to one another. That is why one can never posit a dualism or a dichotomy, even in the rudimentary form of the good and the bad,” (9). So is it your fault, the bohemian, the “creative,” looking for cheaper rent? Absolutely, yet absolutely not. Maybe we are not the only ones who allowed this to happen.



Sergio’s corner, about 6 years later. The antique building is gone; a Whole Foods remains.


~ by maybenick on September 20, 2016.

3 Responses to “Carte Blanche”

  1. Best overall: I thought your article had a really clear understanding of the constant change involved in the making and breaking of ecologies. I also thought you posted about something really interesting and relevant to many NYU students + you chose a great image to express your idea!

  2. Great post! Best overall for me, you had a great story for a hook, good images, and some theory to tie it all together and offer an explanation. It was short, word-wise, to boot, which is good in this format. Nice!

  3. Best engagement: first this blog is not too long to read or too hard to understand. You give three images that could match ideas gained from readings and also raise questions for the readers. I thing in limited words you did a good job making me think.

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