|All Photos © Jaime Permuth|
“Yonkeros,’ a Spanglish derivative of ‘junk,’ is a term for the people and businesses that strip wrecked cars and sell them for parts or scrap metal. Jaime Permuth’s recent body of work Yonkeros, shot over the course of one year, examines the landscape of the junkyards in the Willets Point section of Queens, New York. “In fair weather, this is strenuous, backbreaking work; when the frost sets in it becomes downright monumental”, Permuth says, noting that most of the mechanics grew up in tropical climates of Latin American.
For Permuth, Yonkeros became a lyrical exploration of first world consumerism, waste, and obsolescence as they intersect with third world ingenuity and survivalist strategies in this no-man’s-land of Queens. Now, the days of the Yonkeros are numbered. The City of New York has cleared the last hurdles to redevelop the area for commercial and residential use, and Mayor Mayor Bloomberg himself recently broke ground for the project. “What will become of these 250 businesses, the men who make their livelihoods there and the working-class families who depend on them for the affordable and fast service they provide? No answers are forthcoming yet,” Permuth says. “Willets Point is destined to become another urban legend, one which future generations of our glossy metropolis will have a hard time accepting was ever true.” Permuth’s work is on view in an exhibition at Pregones Gallery in the Bronx, through April 28th.
Yonkeros will be published as a book by La Fabrica Editorial in Madrid and distributed worldwide. Permuth is a Guatemalan photographer based in New York City. He teaches in the Master of Professional Studies in Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts.