New York is constantly changing and there’s arguments to be made for that both as a positive and a negative. Visual artist Randy Hage has spent years recreating miniature models of storefronts and other areas of the city which are disappearing due to the relentless march of so-called progress. Having painstakingly recreated seven shops he hopes to create enough for a show in due course, and we caught up with him to find out more.
Hi Randy – tell us about how this project came about…
I have always been fascinated by the character and often overlooked beauty of old structures. In the late ‘90s, I was spending much of my time photographing the cast iron facades in the SoHo area but I soon found that I was much more interested in the street level, mom-and-pop storefronts.
Hand painted signs, layers of architecture, and wonderful patinas create a colorful mosaic which is amazing to me. Not only do they convey a wealth of visual interest and character, but there is also a social and community component which gives them a sort of soul.
These neighborhood storefronts were closing at an alarming rate, falling victim to large scale redevelopment that was visibly exceeding the normal pace of neighborhood change. My storefront project reflects a love for these iconic structures as well as my passionate interest in the communities that they serve.
Why do you feel it’s so important to document their disappearance?
Documenting these iconic New York storefronts is my way of preserving the past and calling attention to the unique qualities that they possess. The loss of a local business is like losing part of what defines “home” in New York. These shops are places that we rely upon and many of these shops have served area families for generations.
While the loss of these businesses is indeed unfortunate, the greater concern is the parallel loss of the established and diverse communities that they serve.
We are experiencing a period in time when the old is easily discarded for the new. My work isolates and highlights the value and importance of these beautiful and iconic structures. We live in a disposable society and I fear that in time, society itself may become disposable.
What are the biggest challenges in recreating the stores?
The biggest challenge is creating photorealistic works that are truly indistinguishable from the real structures. Success is dependent on making sure that I have not left any visual clues which might destroy the illusion. This sets the bar very high for detail and complexity. The security gate on Nick’s Luncheonette is comprised of over 500 pieces. The brick storefront contains over 1,000 bricks and its cornice is made up of 90 individually carved parts.
Where do you see this project going?
This project is a rewarding labor of love and I believe that I will continue to work through my list of storefronts for quite some time. I’m really enjoying the creative elements of this project, and I am also thankful for the chance to learn more about community, culture, and the complex nature of political/social dynamics.
How quickly is NYC changing?
New York has always been a city of change and progress, but the rate of change over the past decade has been astounding. Some changes have been beneficial and others have not. Over the past 10 years, I have photographed about 450 storefronts, and in that time more than 60% of them have closed or been torn down. Many of these shops had been around for 30 years or more.
My friends Karla and James Murray have been photographing New York storefronts as long as I have and I would consider their book Store Front – The Disappearing Face of New York to be the most compelling and complete record on this topic.