Rebecca Lepkoff Brings Historical Photos “Home” to the Seward Park Library

Rebecca Lepkoff’s photographs of the Lower East Side are as much an expression of herself as they are of this rapidly changing neighborhood.

Lower East Side © Rebecca Lepkoff / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Lower East Side © Rebecca Lepkoff / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

“They’re a wonderful way to see what it used to be like here – what life used to be like here,” the 97-year-young photographer said about her decades-long work now on display at the recently landmarked Seward Park Library.

Sean Ferguson, founder of the LES Heritage Film Series, graciously hosted the exhibit’s opening night question and answer session telling Ms. Lepkoff, “we’re so touched that you’ve brought these photos back home.”

Attendees scoured the photos on the walls for traces of their neighborhood that remain, pointing out any familiarity in the buildings, signage and people behind the names of streets they know so well. I, too, found myself among the locals seeking out the same, feeling a rush of excitement upon recognizing a parking lot in front of a relatively unchanged building that lingers on Rivington Street.

Rebecca Lepkoff at her apartment. Photo by Tobi Elkin.

Rebecca Lepkoff at her apartment. Photo by Tobi Elkin.

Lepkoff, who now resides in Washington Heights, engaged her audience with stories of her past and its intertwining with the LES. She doesn’t visit too often anymore, however. “I get depressed when I come down here,” she said. “Things are disappearing. It’s all being very gentrified and that hurts.” She appealed to the listeners for a solution to keep her home more as she remembered it and was happy to hear about the founding of the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative from a fan.

As much as she longs for the way things were, however, Lepkoff acknowledged that “not everything was great back then. I tried to capture honestly what I saw on the street. There was always something happening on the street.” If nothing else, we can take comfort in knowing, this is the one thing that hasn’t changed about the Lower East Side and probably never will.

This select group of Lepkoff’s photos from the 1950s-80s, chosen by Lepkoff herself from her personal collection, are on view at the Seward Park Branch Library (192 East Broadway) now through the next month.

Read our previous interview and see a slideshow of the impressive nonagenarian’s work here.