The many faces of Peeskill; Nina Mouritzen documents the inhabitants of a small New York town along the Hudson River.
Photography: Nina Mouritzen
Text: Rachel Speed
What attracted you to Peekskill?
I have no ties to Peekskill but the opportunity presented itself when I was approached to submit a proposal for a bi-annual public art festival (entitled Peekskill Project 6). I was immediately inspired to do something that explored the town and included the people there. The city has a diverse demographic, more so than the other small towns along the Hudson River, and I wanted to photograph the broadest spectrum of residents possible, to give a face to the town.
How did you complete the project?
My fear is always, when I shoot in places that are unfamiliar to me, that I’m somehow invading or only just scratching the surface of a place. I decided to set up an outdoor photo studio, which was basically a white seamless background on a stand and put it up in a place that would have the most foot traffic. Peekskill is not a large place, only 23,000 or so, so it needed to be somewhere where I could meet people and strike up conversation and not just ring doorbells or chase strangers down the street. A “busy” place turned out to be the farmers’ market on the weekends and I positioned myself between the regular stalls; I approached people there if they would be interested in participating. Since I only work with analogue, the toughest part was to persuade people to have their portrait taken but to not be able to see it immediately after! Regardless of age, everyone is used to this digital mentality where you can see things right away.
How long did this project take you?
I worked on it this summer and then installed an edit of fifty portraits in mid-August.
Did you form a bond with the subjects you shot?
Yes, absolutely. When you photograph subjects that aren’t models or used to being photographed by strangers, you spend a little more time talking and interacting; I really liked that part of the process.
Who interested you most?
The people who were hardest to get involved: some people are often quite shy or don’t feel like participating in these types of things, they usually say it’s “not for them”. When you succeed in persuading these people to be included, and you see their pride and excitement, it is just fantastic. Also, these are often the subjects who photograph the best.
Did you have any interesting experiences whilst shooting in Peekskill?
There’s a large demographic of migrants, where English is not their first language, so trying to explain a public art project (English is also not my first language!) and then try and persuade people to be part of the show and then explain that they should all come to the opening was tricky! But it was so worth it as it was nice to include people that would perhaps otherwise not have chosen to take part in this particular project.