|Jaime Permuth, untitled from the series "Yonkeros"|
As a photographer, any given day might bring the start of your next big project. Inspiration is a sudden quickening of the soul, like a spark flashing in the darkness of the world. You glimpse it and try to kindle it into a brighter light that allows you to see deeper into reality. Literature and photography have always been intertwined for me; life is an endlessly fascinating manuscript that needs to be pored over and examined carefully to piece its meaning.
On a lark, one day in May of 2010 I hopped a train to Willets Point, Queens. Also known as "The Iron Triangle", Willets Point is a small and often overlooked enclave of New York City, which is home to junkyards and scrap metal businesses.
It is also the kind of place that makes you doubt your own perceptions.
To arrive in Willets Point, is to be overwhelmed by its improbable landscape: the broken down streets interrupted by stagnating pools of water and raw sewage; scattered heaps of scrap metal and the rusting, gutted shells of automobiles; a billion dollar stadium rising above it all; and in the sky overhead the constant traffic of airplanes beginning their descent into La Guardia Airport.
On the day of my initial visit, I felt like I had awakened inside of a Walker Evans photograph of the Great Depression. This epiphany accompanied me throughout the year in which I undertook this project. It helped me frame the work conceptually and stylistically, and it made me contemplate the changing character of my adoptive country and - in particular - of the city where I live.
Mirage or hallucination would be an apt way to describe its effect upon the senses. "Espejismo" which comes from the Spanish for "mirror" would be even more fitting. The first photograph of the series evokes that for me. The landscape doubles on itself and in so doing reveals a deep fault line, a fracture reaching back to another era and another American Dream. What you see in this photograph is the lunar landscape of Willets Point Boulevard, which the locals refer to as the Road to Nowhere. In the deep background of the photograph are the bleachers of Citi Field Stadium. Next is a giant Pepsi Cola sign. The typeface for the sign is magical for me because it is not a 21st Century font but rather an old-fashioned one, which evokes a bygone era, and confirms my intuition that it is necessary to think of the 1930’s, The Great Depression and the ever-changing notion of the American Dream as subtext for this exploration. Significantly, the sign itself is inverted. Meant for the paying audience at the ball game it turns its back on the anonymous mechanics that work across the street. The overall impression is surreal, ghostly and deeply unsettling: time itself has collapsed and I find myself cast into the future, gazing back at the vanishing moment of a place that ceased to exist long ago.