Susan Meiselas: Tar Beach. Life on the Rooftops of Little Italy
Tar Beach. On the Rooftops of Little Italy brings together photographs and memories of life in and around the rooftops of Little Italy, New York. These are pictures that were made, kept and gathered by various families who handed them down from 1940 to the early 1970’s. Reflections from the community offer perspectives of multiple generations, as Angel Marinaccio says: “If you had an accomplishment― communion, confirmation, wedding, graduation or birthday, you’d dress up in your best outfit and go to the rooftop to take pictures and celebrate with your family.” We see the images they shared and saved.
The introduction to Tar Beach is written by renown filmmaker Martin Scorsese who grew up on the streets portrayed in this collection. He writes: “The roof was our escape hatch and it was our sanctuary. The endless crowds, the filth and the grime, the constant noise, the chaos, the claustrophobia, the non-stop motion of everything… you would walk up that flight of stairs, open the door, and you were above it all. You could breathe. You could dream. You could be.”
Photographer Susan Meiselas, along with two of her neighbours, Angel Marinaccio and Virginia Dell’Orio, collected and curated these vernacular photographs to convey the feeling of this special place and time in the daily lives of Italian immigrants as they made their way to becoming part of American culture.