Author Tom Slater describes gentrification as a “spatial expression of economic inequality.” It is, in short, the process by which middle- and upper-class residents and investors take over a predominantly working and lower-middle-class neighborhood, displacing former residents and altering the social fabric of the community. Processes of gentrification have often been conflated with terms such as “urban renewal” and “revitalization” while invoking devastating consequences for the less well-off residents of major cities.

“The Original New Yorkers” is an ongoing portrait series of New York natives who have been affected by gentrification. Subjects are photographed in their homes or workplaces and asked to submit a handwritten note, either depicting the way gentrification has affected them personally or an “open letter” addressing newcomers to New York City. The unedited note is then positioned next to the portrait, in diptych format.

Though gentrification is hardly a new concept in New York City, recent developments—such as Extell Development’s implementation of a 80-story luxury tower among low-income housing and US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson’s criticism of Section 8 housing programs as a “socialist experiment”—make this a timely issue.

This portrait series is conducted in partnership with Perfect City, a Lower East Side-based community group co-commissioned by Abrons Arts Center and Henry Street Settlement.

—Haruka Sakaguchi

Editor’s Note: Sakaguchi’s project was recognized by the jury of the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2017—don’t miss the work from all 44 of the outstanding, international talents! You can follow Sakaguchi’s work on her personal website or Instagram account.

If you’re interested in seeing more work on topics like this, we’d recommend the following articles: Daughters of the King, Federica Valabrega’s series on Ashkenazi and Sephardic women living in New York, Paris, and Jerusalem; Young New Yorkers, portraits that capture the vibrancy of young people in the city; and Sixteen, Craig Easton’s series—with a similar diptych format—that gives voices to the youth of Britain.