For photographer Arlene Gottfried, the New York she grew up in is rapidly disappearing. “Most of it is gone,” she told Lightbox, citing sky-high (and still rising) rents pushing out “the most colorful, different and unique” people she used to photograph in the 1970s and ’80s.
Born in Brooklyn, Gottfried has always been drawn to the diverse communities she knew when growing up. Her photographs are deeply personal portraits of New Yorkers who seemed to operate within a different set of rules and assumptions, from nude bodybuilders posing next to a Hassidic Jew at Jacob Riis Beach to elderly women jumping rope.
“These photos came about just from interest in places and people,” said Gottfried, who would wander New York, from Coney Island to Crown Heights, Brighton Beach and Harlem, photographing the characters who caught her eye. “I don’t know why [I photographed them], except maybe because I was drawn to them. They stood out.”
Until 2008, most of these pictures sat in boxes. “I never much thought about a book at all,” she said. “And then I met designer Maria Mayer Feng. She loved the black-and-white images and she wanted to do a book from these.” PowerHouse published Something Overwhelming in 2008. “People really liked the book–the humor, the strangeness.”
From Coney Island’s eccentric denizens to a Hasid at Riis Beach’s nude bay to the disco nights of sexual abandon and the children in the original Village Halloween parade, Sometimes Overwhelming is a delightfully lighthearted look at the most outrageous people, in the most original milieu, you might ever see.