The Neighbors Project

Lorna Stovall

2015 - Ongoing


I was living at Peter Cooper Village when I was studying the Narrative Portrait with Amy Arbus at the ICP. I had become close with my next-door neighbor Fran, a former model and actress. She agreed to sit for her portrait and that is how this project began.

Peter Cooper Village is a unique pocket of Manhattan. MetLife built the complex in 1947 for returning WW2 vets. There are still a number of people who have been living there for almost as many years. The combination of a park-like setting, good size apartments and rent stabilization allowed people to raise their children and retire in comfort (and some of their kids are now doing the same). In 2006, a new owner of the property sought to to deregulate thousands of units in various ways. A familiar New York story—as the older tenants passed on, the management upgrades the apartments to raise the rent considerably and attract a new wave of tenants. What I noticed with these remodels, the apartments and the tenants became more and more homogeneous.

After spending time with Fran, I looked towards other neighbors to document, wondering what their story was about. My series was a wonderful way to meet my neighbors and hear about their lives—every person’s narrative was as different as their dwellings. I wanted to put a spotlight on these older people living in a city, which is known for its young energy and soaring rent. Most of these people no longer have family around, but still thrive within this planned utopian community.

I felt these portraits needed to be honest so I shot only with natural light. Through using a smaller hand held camera, my subjects relaxed and opened up. This project was personally rewarding by connecting with people I saw every day in a deeper more meaningful way.

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