Art & Culture / Rising Photographers

‘Down by the Hudson’, an ode to humanity

The photo-series documenting life in the small town of Poughkeepsie, New York.

British photographer Caleb Stein spent four years capturing the residents of Poughkeepsie. Down by the Hudson is a beautifully enigmatic glimpse into the small town’s way of life. The series was included in this year’s Palm* Photo Prize exhibition.

Stein studied BA Art History at the Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, situated in the Hudson Valley, New York State, he lived there for six years.

Poughkeepsie was hit hard by the post-industrial decline: One out of every five residents in the town live in poverty according to New York’s Welfare Info, its poverty rate is almost double the average for the state. But instead of woeful landscape images of boarded-up houses and derelict factories, Stein turns his lens to the people of the town. Down by the Hudson is a celebration of the community, the lives and the stories of individuals who have previously been overshadowed by their town’s economic decline.

Caleb told It’s Nice That: “For Down by the Hudson, I walked the same three-mile strip of Main Street almost every day for years. That familiarity with a place changes things. I started to anticipate its rhythms. I don’t plan what I’m going to photograph beforehand, I just respond to what’s in front of me. Even when I’m making a portrait, what really happens is that there’s a conversation first and then we hang for a while and see what comes of it. It’s not a mechanised thing.”

Photographed in monochrome, Down by the Hudson’s portraits are instantly powerful, they capture the essence of the subject timelessly. The photo of a young boy with a broken nose (he was hit by a baseball bat just before his prom) could have easily been a snap from the 60s, the image also presents a narrative of the juxtaposition between innocence and rebellion – swollen puffy eyes and nose, but then a beautiful white rose pokes through his suit’s breast pocket. This is what Stein seizes in his images, raw emotive life, the monochrome photos do not show rose-tinted romanticism of rural living they are unapologetically real, an “ode to Poughkeepsie” as Stein puts it.

18 July 2019