Book Review: Flophouse: Life on the Bowery

Flophouse: Life on the Bowery

Flophouse: Life on the Bowery

By now, you must have seen or heard about photographer Brandon Stanton’s project Humans of New York. Everyday, Stanton photographs a person in New York city and shares their story. I believe the project has become a massive success not just because of the images Stanton makes, but the relatability behind his subjects’ stories.

Much before HONY came in to the picture, however, radio host and writer Dave Isay set out to know more about the residents of the various flophouses or Bowery hotels in New York. These hotels house many residents for as low as USD 5 a night, thereby becoming permanent residents for several men. Fascinated by the lives of these housemates, Isay collaborated with writer Stacy Abramson and photographer Harvey Wang to document the stories of these men in flophouses.

Each spread is dedicated to a man, who tells us the story of why he is in the flophouse, accompanied by his photograph. These stories are incredibly moving, some men talking about being failures in life, others being happy and content with what they have. Harvey Wang’s images are understated. He is not intruding into the spaces of these men, instead he makes us feel as if we are among them.

One story that remains with me is of a man named Ted Edwards. He says, “Do you know Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness? I decided on nothingness, because my being wasn’t being fulfilled in the way I wanted it to be. So I set out to be nothing. And here I am. I’ve arrived. Nothing. Nothing!

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