“Okay everyone, repeat: When did you go to New York?”
“When did you go to New York?” my class of 30 Korean students chimed, looking at the title of chapter 13. I then clicked on an animation where a blond character named Jenny skypes with her friend Jimin, and tells her about visiting the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State Building and watching “Cats” on Broadway. After asking a few comprehension questions, I showed the students photos of the famous landmarks online and located each one on Google Maps.
I shifted the map towards Brooklyn. “Hey, here’s where I went to college!” I told the students, zooming in on Pratt. Coincidentally, this chapter rolled in at the same time as Sandy, and I had been thinking about my own relationship with New York, my four years living in this diverse city, and how different my perception is compared to the Korean textbook’s.
Sure, I’ve seen all those famous landmarks, but I vividly remember living on the fourth floor of a apartment on Bedford Avenue with four roommates and a refrigerator stuffed with too many jars of jam. On my way to school, I would pass Crown Fried Chicken and rows of brownstones with old African American men sitting on their stoops smoking cigarettes and talking so loudly you could hear them halfway down the block. I would find solace in the darkroom, developing photographs in bins of chemicals under dim lighting, as well as the florescent-lit painting studio, where I would carry a bin of oil paints and turpentine and work until the hallways were completely silent. Sometimes, I would sit on a bench in Fort Greene Park and write in my journal, observing soccer games, tennis matches and white children in strollers led by foreign nannies.
I remember eating slices of pizza at Luigi’s, and meeting friends who got me. We would sit in the Pie Shop, talking for hours about art and boys we met at parties and fill soda bottles with vodka before going out at night. I remember climbing out the window of the fine arts building, stepping on rickety ladders, and entering a hidden cavern filled with graffiti. We watched students walk across campus and lights glittered in the distance as we hid in our secret dwelling. I posed, and my friend shot a roll of film, but the negatives came out black and opaque, as if we never entered.
I shot my own series of photographs for a traditional photography class junior year, capturing my friends and my surroundings four years ago at this exact same time. It was Halloween, or the days leading up to Halloween, and New York was not flooded and eerily dark. The streets were bright and the air was cool. We were 20 years old, and we were thinking about Halloween parties and art.
-Text and photography by Sarah Shaw @ www.mappingwords.com. All rights reserved.