New York City’s Chinatown is just about the only neighborhood in Manhattan that still retains some of the atmosphere of old New York, a city that was much less sterilized and gentrified than it has now become: a city that was gritty, noisy, overcrowded, pulsing with life and toil, a city of immigrants and the working class.
In this part of the town, recent immigrants are still struggling to make a new home in America—in many of the same tenement buildings that housed generations of poor immigrants from eastern and southern Europe more than a century ago. Arguably, in no other part of today’s New York does the past still feel so alive.
However, even Chinatown has now steadily started succumbing to the forces of modernization and gentrification. Grocery stores are shutting down and old apartment buildings are being demolished in order to make way for fancy new hotels, coffee shops, boutique stores, art galleries, and the like.
I am anguished to see Chinatown lose its character right before my eyes, and the act of photographing affords me the illusory comfort that I am preserving a few bits and pieces of what life in this vibrant immigrant community has been like, in a form impervious to the passage of time. My work is fueled by a sense of loss and nostalgia foretold.
All images & text © Dimitri Mellos
By Dimitri Mellos