Caleb Stein: DOWN BY THE HUDSON

Striking moments captured on the streets of Poughkeepsie, NY.

Down by the Hudson is an ongoing project recording Caleb Stein’s walks and interactions along a 3-mile strip of Main Street – in Poughkeepsie, NY. Poughkeepsie is a small city – population around 32,736. Approximately 19% live below the poverty line. Recent years have brought a great deal of economic hardship to this lively, character-filled place. Some attribute the current situation to the downsizing of IBM’s local headquarters, while others blame the Poughkeepsie Galleria Mall, or the additions to the highway system, both of which have de-emphasized the role of Main Street. Stein’s striking black and white photography sees the city through the eyes of its residents, capturing the complexities and interlaced layers of life on its streets.

“With time, I have come to see a tough and beautiful city. Like anywhere else, there are many strong, resilient people and others who have fallen through the cracks.”

Caleb Stein, (b.1994) graduated from Vassar College in 2017 with a degree in art history. He has interned at Christie’s Auction House and for Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden (2015-2017). He continues to run Gilden’s Instagram and is currently in pre-production on a documentary on Gilden. His work has been featured in Huck Magazine, Trip Magazine, Burn Magazine, Hamburger Eyes, The Heavy Collective, LensCulture, PetaPixel and Creative Quarterly and has been exhibited in group shows in Portland and Los Angeles. He lives in Poughkeepsie, NY with his partner.

See more of his photography on his website.

Nikki (above), a woman who is featured in a lot of the pictures in this series, came from a home where her mother was a drug addict. She hasn’t seen her family in years, including her daughter, and spends most of her time doing drugs or trying to figure out how to get them. She’s been to jail – where she got clean and put on some healthy weight – but when she came out it only took two weeks for her to start taking the drugs again. She’s told me that prostitution and drug addiction have become a vicious cycle for her – she does sex work to buy drugs but she can’t do the sex work without being on drugs.

This one time I showed Nikki the photo of her hair blowing in the wind as she stands on a street corner. I remarked that she looked like a Vogue model, but a drug addict – and she laughed, and agreed. She didn’t take offense. I’m not a tough guy – just a privileged white guy with a rather slight build – but I like to speak my mind and some people appreciate that.

 

Virginia (above) has been addicted to heroin for decades. Her entire family has died of overdoses. She describes herself as a hippie child and a wild child rolled up into one. When I first met her she was telling me about how she goes down to Malcolm X Park, by the creek, and makes rock pools by gathering rocks and directing the stream into a closed-off area. She sits there on hot summer days. She tells me about her collection of four-leaf clovers, and the picture she took with a disposable camera of the moon – full and orange and big. I got the sense that she was a very creative person, without the resources to express that creativity in a more ‘traditional’ way (e.g., painting, drawing, sculpture, photography).

I asked Virginia if I could take her picture by the rockpool; I wanted to take a picture of her near something she loves. We walked over there together, and when we arrived, a couple told her that her youngest son, Jimmy, had just died of an overdose. She broke down and cried. Her husband and her oldest son were already dead, also because of drug overdoses. She was inconsolable, but I stayed with her for another hour until her cousin and her best friend arrived. I wanted to help in any way I could, although there was little I felt I could do.

“What struck me was that she was crying one minute and cracking a joke the next. I guess life isn’t as clean, neat, or simple as in the movies. She kept apologizing to me, saying ‘I’m sorry, I know that this might make a good photograph, but it’s not how I want to be seen,’ and I kept telling her that the moment she found out the news I’d completely dropped the idea of photographing her that day. I told her there’d be another day and that we’d take the photograph when she was comfortable. All of this is by way of saying that I want to make strong photographs without making other people feel like shit. A couple weeks later we saw each other again, and I made a photograph of her, after she’d shot up, as she’s basking in the late afternoon sunlight in a dilapidated basketball court.


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Over the summer, I met a wonderful family while swimming at a watering hole by a drive-in movie theater. Everyone went to this watering hole, White Gate, to cool off on hot days. You can swing from a rope tied to a tree that jutted out into the water. Kaleb (above) and I bonded over our similar names, he showed me his fishing trophies, we played catch together. At the end of the day, and the next time I saw them, too, I sent his mother all of the pictures.

I was really touched when, one night, they even stopped by the restaurant while I was working to say a quick hello. In that picture of him with a piece of pizza in his hand, I’m drawn to the tension between his vulnerability and his hard, controlled expression – in some ways he’s older than his years but he’s still a kid.

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