“Tar Beach. Life on the Rooftops of Little Italy”, a book by Susan Meiselas in collaboration with Angel Marinaccio and Virginia Dell’Orio, 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 1970s. 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 renowned 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 neighbors, 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.
“I have lived on the same block in Little Italy since 1974. My own photographs of this community were made on the street or from my windows. I never imagined what had been happening on the rooftops surrounding me.
In 2009, when the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral—in the heart of Little Italy—marked its 200th anniversary of laying the church’s cornerstone, a few of us met at the Cafétal Social Club down Mott Street to consider a response to welcome visitors to the neighborhood.
Former residents were invited to come with their family albums and contribute pictures to display in the storefront windows around the church.” (S.M.)
About the Author
Susan Meiselas is a documentary photographer who lives and works in New York. She is the author of Carnival Strippers (1976), Nicaragua (1981), Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History (1997), Pandora’s Box (2001), Encounters with the Dani (2003) Prince Street Girls (2016), A Room Of Their Own (2017) and Tar Beach (2020). She has co-edited two published collections: El Salvador, Work of 30 Photographers (1983) and Chile from Within (1990), rereleased as an e-book in 2013, and also co-directed two films: Living at Risk (1985) and Pictures from a Revolution (1991) with Richard P. Rogers and Alfred Guzzetti.
Meiselas is well known for her documentation of human rights issues in Latin America. Her photographs are included in North American and international collections. In 1992 she was made a MacArthur Fellow, received a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), and most recently the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize (2019) and the first Women in Motion Award from Kering and the Rencontres d’Arles. Mediations, a survey exhibition of her work from the 1970s to present was recently exhibited at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Jeu de Paume, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Instituto Moreira Salles in São Paulo.
She has been the President of the Magnum Foundation since 2007, which supports, trains, and mentors the next generation of in-depth documentary photographers and innovative practices.