Hi. I'm Liz and I'm really glad you came to look at my pictures. I hope you see images here that inspire you to get out and shoot. Over the many years, photography has been a consistent source of pleasure in my life. For all the solitary hours I've spent shooting and editing, I also see photography as inherently social. I've met amazing people and without fail, after every photo excursion I come home better for it. I've learned something, or seen something, or heard something that illuminated my world and made it a place I understand just a bit more.
As you look through these pictures you'll undoubtedly see certain themes emerge. I love shooting people in semi-candid ways. I love walking up to someone and saying (or gesturing) "would it be OK if I took a picture?" Even in a time when every photo finds its way into the gladiatorial ring of the internet, people will still say yes to photos if you are sincere and polite. Candids are great, but shooting candids of kids is mainly off-limits for me. I try to avoid obviously exploitative pictures (i.e. people who would likely not give consent). There are some early photos that may cross that line. I hope the pictures still have merit and I hope I've evolved over the years to be more mindful.
I wouldn't say I gravitate to the "seamy underbelly" of society, but I am drawn to places others avoid. In a location filled with gorgeous landscapes and sunsets, I will see a deserted alleyway and know, intuitively, that this is where "my picture" will be. I think I like the surprise of it, or the stories it tells, or the secrets. Same with abandoned places. Lots of surprises. Lots of stories. Lots of secrets. And yes, a huge dopamine rush.
The earliest photos in this collection were shot in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I was a student at The Evergreen State College when my dear friend and lifelong collaborator, Annelise Orleck, and I received a Youthgrant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create an oral history of the enormous changes taking place in our childhood neighborhood of Brighton Beach. We interviewed and photographed Holocaust survivors and recent Soviet emigres. We went door to door on Brighton Beach Avenue asking if we could take a "quick pic" (a phrase I still use!) of shopkeepers. We went into homes and parks and synagogues. We interviewed Bob Arak, who fed the stray cats behind Club 28 and Elsie, a legendary dancer at the Brighton Beach Baths. We fell in love with everyone we interviewed and are deeply honored to have been trusted with their stories. To see more of this work, see The Soviet Jewish Americans and the Brighton Beach chapter of The Jews of Brooklyn.
Flip the calendar pages forward to 2015 and you will see photographs I shot to accompany Annelise's book We Are All Fast Food Workers Now. This book traces a new labor movement and is told through the eyes of low wage workers across the globe. From New York City where we met McDonald's workers protesting for a living wage, to Phnom Penh where we met garment workers, sex workers, and day laborers, to Oxnard, California, where we sat with farm workers and to Los Angeles, where we met the brave women fighting for a living wage and decent working conditions at Wal-Mart... the stories were all different but the goals were all the same. Dignity, respect and a living wage. I hope the photos capture how incredibly brave and impressive these people are.
As you look through the pictures you will also see shots taken in abandoned places in the Hudson Valley and beyond (shoutout to Andy Milford and John Madden among others for artistic inspiration, partnership and safety patrol). If you want to know more about the locations, be in touch with me or visit Abandoned Hudson Valley on Facebook and Instagram.
You will also see lots of more recent photographs from Brooklyn, my hometown. Since the COVID pandemic I've been staying pretty local. My favorite pastime now is to hop on a city bus and explore Brooklyn. The Hudson Valley (my second home and primary residence) is also endlessly inspiring. I see now why the Hudson Valley School painters were so moved by the light. There is never a bad time to go out shooting but golden hour in the Hudson Valley is magical. I never tire of the play of light on trees, faces and even the sides of old barns. I encourage you to find the beauty and the magic in your hometown!
I hope my words and images inspire you to get out and shoot. Please be in touch if you want more information or to make a plan to go out shooting.
All photographs are available for purchase. To inquire about usage, shooting, or location scouting, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photographs are © Elizabeth M. Cooke.