Basement Sanctuaries explores the ways in which superintendents decorate the basements of apartment buildings in the Northern Manhattan by illuminating the process of migrant adaptation to the metropolis from an intimate perspective.
In many ways, basements are special sanctuaries for supers and their families. Supers often live in basements that are hidden from the public and from visitors, which creates a form of privacy. However, the basement is also a space of work for supers and their environment is on display for the residents of the building. Under these circumstances, the supers’ decorations function as a territorial claim over the basement’s semi-public/private space.
Most of the supers in Northern Manhattan are migrants from Latin America or the Caribbean, and images from their home countries might connect their new home to a past they have left behind. This can be especially important given the grueling nature of their work and the difficulty of establishing themselves in NYC.
When photographing the basements I was interested in what decoration I would encounter, how the supers would curate the space by using found objects (in fact, most of the objects were discarded by tenants) and what references I would find to each super’s culture and/or dreamscape. The images encourage viewers to think in new ways about how space functions in New York City apartment buildings and broaden our understanding of the relationship among migration, semi-public/private space, and the everyday landscape.
Basement Sanctuaries was published by Schilt Publishing in Spring 2014 and has been initially supported with grants form the Northern Manhattan Arts
Alliance (NoMAA) and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC). The images were shot on film with medium format cameras. Only available light was used to show the conditions the supers work and live in.