– Autumn/Winter 2010

Events, Works, Exhibitions

The Archivist of Urban Waste: Zoe Leonard, Photographer as Rag-Picker

Tom McDonough

Zoe Leonard, Analogue, 1998-2009, 412 C-prints and gelatin silver prints, each print 28 × 28cm. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Analogue (1998-2009), Zoe Leonard's decade-long survey of the landscape of small-scale commerce and urban services in New York and other cities around the globe, began with the simple choice to photograph the streets around her apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As she recently recalled: 'I began this project in an attempt to understand by observing and recording the very humble everyday surroundings of my everyday life.'1 What would grow into an archive of more than 400 images, displayed in serial grids organised in loosely thematic groupings, originated with this impulse to document the changing texture of her traditionally working-class and ethnically diverse district as it was being overtaken by the deterritorialising force of capital: 'My own neighbourhood is filled with the signs of a local economy being replaced by a global one,' Leonard remarked, 'small businesses being replaced by large corporations, multinationals taking over.'2 A relatively early photograph from the series (from 1999), depicts a small storefront, seen straight on, in a square-format black-and-white print. The address - on Ludlow just above Delancey Street - was occupied in the late 1990s by the Active Services Corporation, which performed a variety of functions for its primarily Spanish-speaking clientele, from income tax preparation to rapid divorces, all of which was spelled out in a patchwork of signage posted in its windows and hand-painted on the awning above. The visitor to this address today will find instead itsasickness, a boutique selling gifts and accessories loosely themed on addiction (the shop's website encourages users to indulge their 'obsessive behavior'). The transformation is indicative of the disappearing social

  1. Zoe Leonard, quoted in Drusilla Beyfus, 'Zoe Leonard: Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2010',
    The Daily Telegraph, 11 February 2010; see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/7205995/
    Zoe-Leonard-Deutsche-Borse-Photography-Prize-2010.html (last accessed on 24 May 2010).

  2. Z. Leonard, quoted in 'Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City', at the New York Public
    Library, 2008; see http://exhibitions.nypl.org/exhibits/eminent/leonard (last accessed on 24 May 2010).

  3. Rosalyn Deutsche, 'Property Values: Hans Haacke, Real Estate and the Museum', in Brian Wallis (ed.),
    Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business, New York, Cambridge, MA and London: The New Museum of
    Contemporary Art and The MIT Press, 1986, p.23.

  4. Ibid., p.24.

  5. For a complementary reading of this work, see Jenni Sorkin, 'Finding the Right Darkness', frieze,
    issue 113, March 2008; also available at http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/finding_the_right_
    darkness (last accessed on 24 May 2010).

  6. See Clive Scott, Street Photography: From Atget to Cartier-Bresson, London and New York: I.B. Tauris,
    2007, p.74, for a useful discussion of Atget's images of Parisian commerce. Leonard's primary
    reference was to Molly Nesbit, Atget's Seven Albums, New Haven and London: Yale University Press,

  7. Charles Baudelaire, 'On Wine and Hashish', Artificial Paradises (ed. and trans. Stacy Diamond),
    New York: Citadel Press, 1996, p.7. Translation modified by the author.

  8. These terms are derived from Ewa Lajer-Burcharth's outstanding discussion of this Baudelaire essay,
    found in her 'Modernity and the Condition of Disguise: Manet's "Absinthe Drinker"', Art Journal,
    vol.44, no.1, Spring 1985, pp.21-22.

  9. Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism (trans. Harry Zohn),
    London: New Left Books, 1973, p.80. Translation modified by the author.

  10. The best account of this trade is found in Karen Tranberg Hansen, Salaula: The World of Secondhand
    Clothing and Zambia, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000, although its focus on
    identity formation and consumer choice obscures the broader political dynamic. A good, journalistic
    account may be found in George Packer, 'How Susie Bayer's T-Shirt Ended Up on Yusuf Mama's Back',
    The New York Times Magazine, 31 March 2002. For the context of post-1989 trade liberalisation,
    see Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, New York: Picador, 2007.

  11. See Arjun Appadurai, 'Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value', in A. Appadurai (ed.),
    The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge
    University Press, 1986, p.13.

  12. Z. Leonard, quoted in 'Zoe Leonard Interviewed by Anna Blume', in Kathrin Rhomberg (ed.),
    Zoe Leonard (exh. cat.), Vienna: Secession, 1997, p.12.

  13. A. Appadurai, 'Introduction', op. cit., p.28.

  14. See Irving Wohlfarth, 'Et Cetera? The Historian as Chiffonnier', in Beatrice Hanssen (ed.), Walter
    Benjamin and The Arcades Project, London and New York: Continuum, 2006, p.15. For the Adorno quote,
    see Theodor Adorno and W. Benjamin, The Complete Correspondence, 1928-1940 (ed. Henri Lonitz,
    trans. Nicholas Walker), Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1999, p.284.

  15. The classic analysis remains Janet Wolff, 'The Invisible Flâneuse: Women and the Literature of
    Modernity', Theory, Culture & Society, vol.2, no.3, 1985, pp.37-46.

  16. Ann Cvetkovich, 'In the Archives of Lesbian Feelings: Documentary and Popular Culture',
    Camera Obscura, no.49, 2002, pp.109-10.

  17. Z. Leonard, quoted in 'Zoe Leonard Interviewed by Anna Blume', op. cit., p.17.

  18. Z. Leonard, quoted in Beyfus, 'Zoe Leonard', op. cit.

  19. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith), New York: Zone Books, 1994,