Once in Harlem: Intimate Portraits of Harlem Residents Taken by Japanese Photographer Katsu Naito
In 1983, at only 18 years of age, Katsu Naito arrived in New York from his native Japan to work as a contracted kitchen chef. By 1988 he had settled in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood, an area only just recovering from the brutal economic devastation of the 1970s, and on the cusp of the drastic dislocation brought upon longtime residents of this historically black community in the 1990s.
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An outsider in all but residence, Naito traced the streets of his neighborhood on foot, camera in hand, for two years before shooting his first frame. Slowly, Naito became familiar with the people and community he was living amongst, and they with him. Gradually, the necessary trust was built to record, with quiet tenderness, a time and place that would soon undergo an abrupt transformation.
Organically, Naito was welcomed in as a member of his Harlem neighborhood. Bringing together landscape photography, environmental portraits, and makeshift plein air studio portraits (reminiscent of Richard Avedon’s more elaborate outdoor staging) charged with the empathy and warmth of a kindred spirit, Once in Harlem is as much a continuation of the American photographic tradition of foreign-born artists chronicling American peoples and customs as it is vital historical document.
Once in Harlem, Naito’s second monograph and first with TBW Books, builds on his remarkable ability to intimately engage with his subjects to create emotional dialogues that can transcend bounds of ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic strata, to, as he puts it, “look into each other’s soul to build another dimension of a relationship.”
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