A Decade with the Forgotten People of Rockaway Park, N.Y.

Behold
The Photo Blog
Oct. 18 2013 11:57 AM

A Decade With the Forgotten People of Rockaway Park, Queens

Left: Last Stop Diner, 2002. This image is from my very first trip shooting photographs in the Rockaways, in the summer of 2002. I returned to the diner with a print to give to the woman and asked the owner and wait staff if they knew how I might find her, but I never saw her again. Over the years, I became used to subjects who would come into my life and suddenly disappear without a trace. Right: Hiding, 2002. When I photographed this man at the Sand Bar at the beginning of my project, he covered his face. Soon after, I realized that some of the bar's patrons were living next door at the Park Inn, an adult residency for the mentally ill.
Left: Last Stop Diner, 2002. This image is from Beasley's first trip to photograph the Rockaways in summer 2002. She says returned to the diner with a print to give to the woman but was never able to locate her. Beasley says she's became used to subjects who suddenly disappear without a trace. Right: Hiding, 2002. Soon after Beasley photographed this man covering his face at the Sand Bar, she realized that some of the bar's patrons were living next door at the Park Inn, an adult residency for the mentally ill.

Juliana Beasley/Contact for Creative Time Reports

In 2002, photographer Juliana Beasley began a decadelong book project documenting Rockaway Park, what was then a somewhat forgotten section of Queens, N.Y. Making the long journey from her home in Jersey City, N.J., and feeling as if she had gone back in time (not a Starbucks in sight), Beasley described her visits to Rockaway Park in an essay for the artists’ publication Creative Time Reports. During that first visit to the area, Beasley said she “stood outside the Sand Bar and was instantly mesmerized when I witnessed a bartender jump over a bar with a baseball bat in his hands, chasing a disruptive and unruly customer off the premises.”

Beasley fell in love with the area, began to get to know people, and made friends, many of whom she photographed and will appear in her book, Last Stop: Rockaway Park. She said her work is “very emotional and semi-autobiographical.” She felt a kinship to the area that boasts large populations of mentally ill and elderly people. “At times it felt very therapeutic to be amongst people whom I felt I shared a similar story,” Beasley said, referencing her experience growing up around alcoholism and mental illness.

Left: Leopard Lady, 2003. Right: Charlie Cowboy, 2004 I took this photograph on July 4th, after I hadn't seen Charlie for many months. He had stopped drinking and was doing well in his new, sober life.
Left: Leopard Lady, 2003. Right: Charlie Cowboy, 2004. Beasley said she took this photograph after not seeing Charlie for many months. He had stopped drinking and was doing well.

Juliana Beasley/Contact for Creative Time Reports

Left: Isabelle, 2006. I became friends with Isabelle in 2006, when she was living in a local adult home in a room shared with another resident. Isabelle's side of the room was covered in American flags and photographs of Jesus. She desperately wanted to leave. Several years later, one of her fellow residents told me that Isabelle had died in her sleep. Right: Frieda, 2003. Frieda lives in one of the many nursing homes in the Rockaways. I took this photograph of her one evening at the now-defunct bar Palm Gardens, where she was known for her good humor and for smoking in defiance of the recently passed law prohibiting it in public places.
Left: Isabelle, 2006. Beasley and Isabelle became friends in 2006, when she was living in a local adult home in a room shared with another resident. Isabelle's side of the room was covered in American flags and photographs of Jesus. She desperately wanted to leave. Several years later, one of the home's residents said Isabelle died in her sleep. Right: Frieda, 2003. Frieda lives in one of the many nursing homes in the Rockaways. Beasley photographed her at the now-defunct bar Palm Gardens, where she was known for her good humor and for smoking in defiance of the law banning it in public places.

Juliana Beasley/Contact for Creative Time Reports

The title of the book is a nod to the people who are often considered outcasts of society. She wrote about them in her essay:

Many were a forgotten lot, society’s outcasts deposited here years ago by a social system that pushed them far away from the glitz of Manhattan. Many of my subjects have died untimely deaths due to self-destructive lives ridden with alcoholism and addiction. They lived in [single-room occupancies] and boardinghouses subsisting on meager disability and Social Security checks. Others struggled with debilitating mental illnesses, residing in adult homes alongside the elderly. Some just disappeared, moved on or moved away. Their cell phones had been disconnected. Time passed and I made new friends and photographed different subjects.
Advertisement

Beasley said that when she first started taking the portraits and showing them around to friends and photo editors, many were surprised to learn that the area was so close to Manhattan. Most people felt the images were too depressing to see. “Perhaps it was too painful to look at or even consider the level of poverty and despondency in a predominately white community that was only 20 miles from Manhattan, the center of the universe,” Beasley said.

Left: Butchie Under Covers, 2003. I took this photograph of Butch McBride one evening in the room he rented in a boarding house. After learning of the death from pneumonia of a dear friend, Butch went on a drinking binge, fell and cut his forehad. I found out last year that Butch is now dead, too. Right: Charlie Praying, 2003. Charlie lived in a boarding house on the boulevard. One night, I went back to his room and asked him if he could show me how he prayed.
Left: Butchie Under Covers, 2003. Beasley photographed Butch McBride in the room he rented in a boarding house. After learning of his friend's death from pneumonia, Butch went on a drinking binge, fell, and cut his forehad. Beasley said Butch died a few years later. Right: Charlie Praying, 2003. Charlie lived in a boarding house, and Beasley went to his room and asked him if he could show her how he prayed.

Juliana Beasley/Contact for Creative Time Reports

Left: Fishbowl, 2006. I photographed this young woman in front of Pickles and Pies, the corner deli in the neighborhood she was moving into with her mother. She was transferring her fish from the bowl to a tank in the new apartment. Right: Bryan and Bernadette, 2008. I took this photograph while spending time with Bryan and some of his friends on the boardwalk. I asked the woman, Bernadette, if she would let me photograph her with Bryan. Later I found out that Bryan had died in his sleep of a drug overdose.
Left: Fishbowl, 2006. Beasley said she photographed this young woman in front of Pickles and Pies, the corner deli in the neighborhood she was moving into with her mother. She was transferring her fish from the bowl to a tank in the new apartment. Right: Bryan and Bernadette, 2008. Beasley said she took this photograph while spending time with Bryan and some of his friends on the boardwalk. She said she asked the woman, Bernadette, if she would be photographed with Bryan. Beasley later found out that Bryan had died in his sleep of a drug overdose.

Juliana Beasley/Contact for Creative Time Reports

Although Beasley hadn’t planned on ending her book project, Hurricane Sandy forced her to put down her camera when the deadly storm devastated the area, which is gentrifying and becoming a kind of Hamptons for hipsters. (There is even a bus that departs from Williamsburg, N.Y., to the beaches.) Beasley said many of the people in her photographs by 2010 had died an early death from addictions or other complications from leading difficult lives. Hurricane Sandy was essentially the sign that the book project was done.

“I must admit that it’s hard to cut the cord and move on. I simply got very attached to the Rockaway Park neighborhood and to the people I met out there,” Beasley said. “They felt like a second family or kindred spirits … A time in history had passed, and I knew in my heart that after so many trips on the subway out to the Rockaways over so many years and the deaths of so many friends, it was time to write my final chapter.”

Left: Stephanie and Her New Kitten, 2012. Stephanie lived in a small bungalow apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Joel, and their baby. The bungalows were flooded during Hurrican Sandy and the family has since relocated. Right: Mae and Mattress, 2006. I had met Mae early in teh project, but had not seen her for several years. On this hot summer day, I found her standing in the front yard of Lulu's boarding house on 113th, where she had been living.
Left: Stephanie and Her New Kitten, 2012. Stephanie lived in a small bungalow apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Joel, and their baby. The bungalows were flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and the family has since relocated. Right: Mae and Mattress, 2006. Beasley said she met Mae early in the project but had not seen her for several years when she found her standing in the front yard of Lulu's boarding house on 113th, where she had been living.

Juliana Beasley/Contact for Creative Time Reports

7
Boardwalk at Beach 115th, 2012. Three weeks after Hurricane Sandy, the battered boardwalk became a symbol of the storm's devastation and its inhabitants, as well as a symbol of hope.

Juliana Beasley/Contact for Creative Time Reports

  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 29 2014 3:45 PM The Great Writing Vs. Talking Debate Is it harder to be a good writer or a good talker?