Framing Jersey City Local photographers point their lenses around town

After developing thousands of negatives, local photographers have a lot of positive things to say about Jersey City.

As it turns out, the second largest city in the state is quite photogenic. The proof, or proofs so to speak, is hanging on the walls of the fourth floor gallery in the main branch of the Jersey City Public Library in the exhibition “The Photographic Landscape of Jersey City.”

The eight photographers who are involved in the exhibit have captured Jersey City’s sundry architectural styles, its views of the river, and the lesser-known undeveloped acres of vacant land scattered throughout the city.

“The show is about seeing familiar places in an unfamiliar way,” said Leon Yost, whose photographs of Jersey City are found in an annual city-sponsored calendar of the region. Like other photographers participating in the exhibit, Yost has been inspired by the wide scope of architectural structures scattered throughout the city.

His photographs of the Powerhouse, Brennan Court House, and Dickinson High School show off the authoritative side of Jersey City that has withstood the test of time. “In photographs, it looks so clean,” Yost said.

In addition to these Jersey City landmarks, Yost has found character and humor behind many of the fast food restaurants and diners around town. “I got more comments on the Harborside Casino photo than any other,” Yost said, referring to the eatery on the corner of Warren and Dudley streets.

As well as celebrating the architectural ingenuity of these structures, Yost’s photographs provide a historical overview. For photographers, the buildings that line the 14 square miles of Jersey City provide a valued evolutionary imprint of the city’s history from its earliest days as a Dutch settlement to its present day status as an urban area with corporate and citizen dwellers.

The photographs find similar aesthetic currency in the multi-million dollar high-rise office buildings on the waterfront as the industrial-era relics tucked behind them.

“Buildings are the nature of the city,” said Peter Zirnis, an exhibitor. “They grow with you. I find them an integral part of my existence.”

Zirnis captures a range of buildings and houses throughout Jersey City, juxtaposing the modern 101 Hudson St. skyscraper with the century-old Dixon Mills towers, where smoke stacks once functioned during the production of pencils in the former factory.

Looking at an older picture of the 101 Hudson property standing alone, Zirnis recalled that “the waterfront was almost a desert, and then you had these monumental structures coming out.” Today, other skyscrapers surround that building, and thereby have changed the landscape.

For Zirnis, recording things the way they were is an important part of this process. One of his photographs displays the Rocket Building on Newark Avenue before it was recently restored. The original version, named for the Rocket Furniture Company that formerly occupied the building, had a banner branding its name on the side of the building.

Aside from the structures decorating the landscape of Jersey City, local photographers have found open spaces a valuable subject as well. Andrezj Lech included several photographs of the empty Greenville Yards, where railroad tracks leave a visible reminder of the city’s former freight industry.

“I’ve used Jersey City as a subject for 12 years,” Lech said. “I do it with some kind of aura of a past time.”

Following the theme of time past, Lech uses a view camera, a classical instrument that uses plates instead of film to capture images. As a result, his sharp black-and-white photographs take over an hour to set up for each shot. “I’m looking for the old time,” he said of his documentary-style images.

The exhibit runs from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday up until May 24. The exhibition space at the main branch of the Jersey City Library is located on 472 Jersey Ave.


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