Things You Know is a book documenting the NYC neighbourhood of Crown Heights
Created by friends Max Friedman and Jamil McGinnis, 100 per cent of the profits from the publication will go back into the community that inspired it.
- Ruby Boddington
- 24 July 2020
Max Friedman and Jamil McGinnis first met when they were both working at Droga5 in New York – Max as an art director and Jamil as a producer. They quickly became good friends and when they both moved to the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Crown Heights, they started going for walks, photographing the area and meeting people “with these incredible stories,” as Max recalls. “We started to uncover the richness of every overflowing barbershop and declamatory street corner rant about ‘the old days,’ and the textures of gold, smoke and gravel became the backdrop for personal exploration and self-reflection.”
At some point, the pair realised they had a great collection of images and had learned so much about the area that they decided to make a book. The result is Things You Know, an ode to the neighbourhood and those who live there. With its bold, in-your-face aesthetics, Things You Know asks readers to re-evaluate their relationship with the world around them, and to consider that there are myriad ways to perceive a thing, an individual or an area.
Initially, the pair wanted to capture the area as they saw fit, “no constraints, no structure,” Jamil says. But a more succinct brief uncovered itself as they produced the work, as Max explains: “It was important to us that we didn’t try to enforce any sort of narrative onto what we were making and that we just captured everything, as it was, to piece together later,” he says. “Portraits and objects and stories were all valid. They all add to your individual experience of a place. That became the brief.”
Crown Heights, while only a mile wide, is an incredibly multifaceted area, where communities and cultures mix, and every street looks different to the last. It has a rich Caribbean heritage, as well as a strong Lubavitch Hasidic Jewish community, and the area is recognisable for its brownstones and Victorian mansions, cafes and bars. “We were both intrigued by Crown Heights’ culture and history,” Jamil tells us. “We wanted to explore our neighbourhood beyond the surface of news coverage and written articles.”
The design of the book therefore reflects this mix, not anchored to one style or even a consistent layout. It mimics the feeling of walking from street to street in Crown Heights – like turning the corner in the neighbourhood, the turn of a page in Things You Know presents you with a seemingly entirely new world. It also speaks to the ephemerality of place and the notion of constant change. The result is non-linear, shifting and morphing, which, while embodying the geography of the neighbourhood also embodies the reality of life and is heavily inspired by Nazim Hikmet’s book Human Landscapes of my Country.
“During the process of us collecting, I took a trip to Turkey to see family and read this book,” Jamil explains. “The book encompasses 12 years of the poet as a political prisoner dealing with the reality in front of him and the yearning for his life with his lover within abstraction.” The book jumps from person to person, “holding on to truth and the feelings of their realities for each given moment,” and it became a reference, guiding the design of Things You Know. “It felt like we needed to make a visual adaptation of the world we see as what Nazim expressed through his words,” Jamil adds.
For both Max and Jamil, the highlight of the project has been connecting with the area and its residents. “Not to sound too spiritual or anything,” Max says, “but the book is really about consciousness and understanding the tangibility of your relationship with the world around you. Using this process as a means to reestablish my personal connection with the neighbourhood has been exciting.” Jamil adds: “I’ve cherished the connections, conversations and the passing of inspiration from both ends. That can never be taken away from me even if I lost all my cameras.”
Since Crown Heights has given them both so much, Max and Jamil want to use Things You Know to give back to the area and so 100 per cent of the profits from the book will be donated to a non-profit or a Crown Heights-based public school. “The Brooklyn Museum is in Crown Heights too,” Max concludes. “I’d love to get the book in its store, or even have a small exhibition of our work there. Seems like a perfect fit!”
GalleryThings You Know
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.