For photographer John Milisenda, the Lower East Side in the 1960’s was a neighborhood of “stark contrasts, a place that could easily be romanticized or quickly become mean streets.” It was populated with a diverse mix of working class families all living in close proximity. Milisenda witnessed a lot of violence growing up. He says, “ My Mother and I were walking along the street when a man suddenly hit the sidewalk in front of us. We found out later that he had been thrown off a roof by the local mob.” He also recalls the lively social milieu of the streets, where neighborhood kids formed alliances and passed the days. They played dodgeball at one of the settlement houses, and invented games throughout the seasons: building scooters with plywood, playing Skellsie with metal bottle caps, and stoop ball. In the late 1960’s the arrival of hard drugs like heroin changed the neighborhood. Milisenda and his friends were drafted into the Vietnam War, while others enlisted as a way to escape the neighborhood. At the same time, urban renewal and gentrification took hold. The neighborhood Milisenda knew so well had disappeared.
John Milisenda’s series of photographs taken on the Lower East side of Manhattan during the 1960’s is now on display at Grand Central Library. Many of these images were made when he was a teenager and before he studied art at Pratt Institute. His work is in the collections of the Museum Of Modern Art, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition will be on view until April 20th.
On April 14th, Milisenda will speak about the photographs and recollections of the Lower East Side from 10:30AM to 12:00 noon.