Summer Days on Staten Island

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AnOther discusses blue-collar workers and their American Dream with the photographer behind a new tome documenting the forgotten borough

"I don’t believe in inspiration," explains photographer Christine Osinski, whose book Summer Days: Staten Island is a beautifully intimate exploration of the "forgotten borough". "This work came out of a struggle with myself," she continues. "I had just moved to Staten Island and there was something immediately familiar about the place to me, but it also had a quirkiness which immediately attracted me. The challenge for me was to make photographs about what I saw in Staten Island but simultaneously reflect my own understanding of working class culture." The series that results, initially shot in the 1980s, is an exceptional insight into 80s culture; a monochrome reflection on an isolated facet of the American dream – one which doesn't centre on glossy New York skyscrapers but rather the blue-collar workers building them. Here, we speak to Osinski ahead of the book's publication with Damiani ("it took a very long time to shape this work into something I felt was worthy of its content" she notes of its delayed release), about her own upbringing and how digital culture impacts on the arts.

On creating for herself...
"First and foremost, I wanted to make work that meant something to me. At the time I was not interested in some imagined audience. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a working class neighborhood. Although I haven’t lived in Chicago since my early 20s, my experiences of the harshness and toughness of working class Chicago have continued to inform my work. Because of our biography and our experiences, each of us has a portal into a special world. The job for the artist is to create work that breathes life into what that place is or who those people are."

On the residents of Staten Island...
"The people I photographed were all strangers to me. I mostly met them once and then never saw them again. There were a few children, though, that I photographed a few times. As I walked across Staten Island carrying my 4”x5” camera, people seemed curious about the large camera. People seemed willing to be a part of the picture-taking process, to be recognised and recorded."

On locating her subjects...
"In the last few years, these pictures have attracted a lot of interest on various online blogs. I found it initially shocking because I was somewhat new to social media. I was extremely nervous about putting my work online and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. However, I have recently been receiving e-mails from people whose parents appear in some of my photographs. It’s been interesting to see how photographs have the ability to connect people across time and space."

On publishing work in the digital age...
"Making good work and getting that work out into the world are two totally different things. Regardless of how an artist defines her 'studio' – as a white room, a library or the outside world – making work requires a level of separate concentration. When I was walking around Staten Island taking pictures, I may have been engaging people but I was also totally and solely concentrating on the tasks before me in getting the work done. In the digital age, getting the work 'out' causes the work to travel in ways it never would have, even 20 years ago. But then, that’s another subject."

Summer Days: Staten Island is available February 18, 2016 from Damiani.