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New Lebanon, New York
Fiction/Memoir | Local culture
15 April 2015 09:53AM

On Sunday April 19 at 3:45 pm, photographer Ash Thayer will give a slide presentation and sign copies of her book Kill City: Lower East Side Squatters 1992-2000 (Powerhouse Books, 2015). The event, a collaboration between TSL and Karen Schoemer, Bookseller, will take place at TSL, 434 Columbia Street, Hudson NY 12534. Information: (518) 822-8448. It is free and open to the public.

After being kicked out of her apartment in Brooklyn in 1992, and unable to afford rent anywhere near her school, young art student Ash Thayer found herself with few options. Luckily she was welcomed as a guest into See Skwat. New York City in the ‘90s saw the streets of the Lower East Side overun with derelict buildings, junkies huddled in dark corners, and dealers packing guns. People in desperate need of housing, worn down from waiting for years in line on the low-income housing lists, had been moving in and fixing up city-abandoned buildings since the mid-80s in the LES. Squatters took over entire buildings, but these structures were barely habitable. They were overrun with vermin, lacking plumbing, electricity, and even walls, floors, and a roof. Punks and outcasts joined the squatter movement and tackled an epic rebuilding project to create homes for themselves.

The squatters were forced to be secretive and exclusive as a result of their poor legal standing in the buildings. Few outsiders were welcome and fewer photographers or journalists. Thayer’s camera accompanied her everywhere as she lived at the squats and worked alongside other residents. Ash observed them training each other in these necessary crafts and finding much of their materials in the overflowing bounty that is New York City’s refuse and trash. The trust earned from her subjects was unique and her access intimate. Kill City is a true untold story of New York’s legendary LES squatters.

Ash Thayer began taking pictures of the punk community at the age of 17, while in high school. She continued photographing this subject matter when she moved to NYC to attend The School of Visual Arts. Thayer discovered the squatting community on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and lived in several of these buildings throughout the 90s. She focused solely on photographing her community for the duration of college. Thayer has since continued making work in her native city, Memphis, TN, NYC, and Los Angeles, CA.

Thayer’s work is held in several art collections including the Saatchi Gallery in London, The Chicago Art Institute, and The Museum of the City of New York. She has taught as an adjunct professor at New York University, Columbia University, and The New York Institute of Photography. Thayer received her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from The School of Visual Arts, and a Masters of Fine Art from Columbia University in New York.

Her early work (Kill City and M-Town) addresses geographic and class issues within specific demographics while highlighting concerns regarding the photographers subjective vs. objective intent within the documentary tradition. Love Letter (1999-2001) is a nod to Walter Benjamin’s essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” by way of exposing, enlarging, and replicating these unique objects. It is also an elegy, lamenting the death of hand-written messages of intimacy at the advent of electronic media. The photographs are accompanied by a short film.

The later work (Shadow Life, Bitter Pill, and Fracture) explores the active vs. passive fabrication of identity, within personal and cultural contexts. Fracture is the most recent series and is a departure in that includes aspects of pop culture (the horror genre specifically) as a driving force in both demonizing and celebrating “otherness.”

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