_ The Nobodies _
When I first moved to New York City in late winter of 2006, things were much different here than they are now. My rent for a generously-sized (relatively speaking, of course) one bedroom apartment in Upper Manhattan was a semi-reasonable $1k a month, a metro card was $76 for a 30-day pass, and my favourite breakfast — bacon-egg-and-cheese on a roll — was a buck-seventy-five. Doable, yet still extremely tight financially, for a publishing employee by day and visual artist by night. Remnants of old New York were still to be found: the supremely divy, yet ultimately hip, Mars Bar; graffiti laden PS1 in Queens; and Brooklyn was a haven for the struggling artist of this city. There was a prevalent homeless population (let’s face it, there’ll always be one in New York City), but not one that caused any type of concern. After all, that was just one of the many aspects of what made the gritty city so gritty and prompted me to set up shop here in the first place.
In only ten short years, I’ve seen my city split in half by a rising cost of living and jobs that can’t sustain that standard of living. Minimum wage has increased by a paltry $1.85 since January 2007, yet rents, transportation, and a general cost of living have shot up exponentially. A monthly subway pass has gone from $76 to $116 — a 65% increase since I first became a straphanger. Rents in Manhattan have risen steadily for years and the construction of luxury residences have exploded. According to one report*, there are more apartments available in New York City renting for over $15,000 per month than there are apartments renting for under $2,000, with the vast majority of rentals in the $2,000-$4,000 range. My bacon-egg-and-cheese? Practically doubled in price. The only upside is the quality has remained the same — which ain’t sayin’ much. It’s hard to make a bad bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich. Old New York is slowly, but surely being cleared away. Both Mars Bar and PS1 are gone; razed to make room for luxury high-rises. And Brooklyn? The rent there has gone on to surpass that of Manhattan. Not surprisingly, the homeless population has exploded in recent years. Street dwellers and panhandlers are ubiquitous, makeshift encampments scatter the streets, and the subway is almost a public housing complex unto itself. It’s not quite an epidemic these days, but it’s not exactly just another accoutrement of city life anymore, either.
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These photos are part of an ongoing project focusing on New York City and the marginalised residents of this metropolis. Disenchanted and disenfranchised, the average city dweller is becoming overwhelmed by these astronomical rents and the rising cost of living; many driven to the streets where they now “reside.” Loneliness and isolation permeates the faces of these unfortunates who struggle through an abyss of financial hardship now that the middle class is slowly dying and minimum wage is less than a living one. This harsh reality is a direct contrast to what New York has now become: a haven for billionaires and the super rich who drop tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars on top tier real estate, while those in the streets lay their heads on concrete and cardboard each night. This series of photos offers a glimpse into their lives through a select few faces that represent the entirety of those struggling through contemporary New York City.
Joseph Patrick Conroy
Joseph Patrick Conroy is an award-winning narrative filmmaker, music video director, and photographer. His work has been screened at various film festivals, and has garnered praise for its highly-stylized cinematography and unique approach to visual storytelling. Joseph’s thirst for cinematic knowledge and technical mastery of his craft has led him to shoot projects on widely varying formats, including Super 8mm, VHS, digital video, iPhones, HDSLR, and digital cinema cameras. This knowledge has led him to speaking engagements on the process of filmmaking at high schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as film festival Q&A panels. In addition to working on his own projects, he currently freelances as a director/cinematographer/editor.