Sharing Jersey City Heights from a Photographer's Point of View E. Jan Kounitz
On May 25th we went to the Jersey City Landmark Conservancy Award Ceremony at the Loew's Theater. I think we can be safe to say they chose the location of the Loew's because it is a treasured living relic in our city. Many well known spots were awarded for their dedication to history and the community like White Eagle Hall and The Hutton. I learned of some new places in Bergen/Lafayette - saving a green space with a view of Manhattan and restoring a gorgeous home into apartments.
Someone who really stuck out was E. Jan Kounitz, the winner of the J. Owen Grundy History Award. He lives in Jersey City Heights and I have seen him and his wife many times, but for some reason we never really spoke. His speech really touched me and I wanted to share his story from his voice with you.
E. Jan Kounitz Acceptance Speech
The 17th Annual Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy Preservation Awards Ceremony
J. Owen Grundy History Award
For his two photo essays in book form
-- ME-HOOD and Dogs and their People --
documenting his Jersey City Heights neighborhood
from the years 2000 to 2015
Thank you, thank you, ... I'm proud and honored to receive this award. One of the greatest accolades an artist can receive is recognition from their peers and I sincerely thank you for this acknowledgement.
The first time my wife and I saw the Jersey City Heights was New Year's Eve 1998. And we liked it. We partied at a friend's house on Mountain Road behind Ogden Avenue just south of Riverview Fisk Park. What a view! On the way home as we drove down Ogden, we noticed a property for sale and found it appealing. I remember my wife saying, "This street is charming. The houses are charming. And you know what else? I think I'm ready to live in real rooms."
That might sound funny but ...
For 22 years we'd been living in New York City, as A-I-R tenants , artists in residence, in a loft on Chambers Street, and for most of those 22 years we'd been engaged in combat of some sort of another with our landlords in order to stay there. During our tenure we'd converted a raw industrial space into a off-off-off Broadway theater/rehearsal/gallery space with classes in the movement arts. But the neighborhood had changed from an artist/outsider community to a gentrified oasis for young affluent couples complete with a Starbucks across the street. So in February of 1999, when we received yet another eviction notice, we said, "Enough already – time to go. How 'bout we take another look at the house we saw in Jersey City."
So back we went. Did a walk-thru together and put down a deposit ... Badda-bing-badda-boom. We moved in after Christmas just in time to celebrate the turn-of-the-century -- New Year's 2000. But despite its sound 150-year-old bones and unique personality, the house was in need of serious work.
And that's when my documentation of the who, the what and the where of Jersey City began. I'd been taking pictures since I was pretty young. EXAMPLE: While on a family trip to Gettysburg, Pa. I took a photo with my 1st camera of then President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Guess I dated myself on that one ...? In any case, once I started work on our new old house, I began photographing everyone who worked on it with me, down to the delivery people. Then I started photographing my neighbors and everyone I interacted with, from the mailperson to the Central Avenue merchants. My original intention, I can tell you, was to put these photographs into a time capsule in our basement.
I also noticed at the time a change in the dogs and their people passing in front of our house, from snarling torn eared bruisers dragging their owners down the street to people carrying their dogs no bigger than one of our cats in their arms to the local park ... begging the question... whose walking whom? I started taking pictures of them too. In fact I realized that on any day, given the diversity, the ingenuity, the oddball and the ordinary, Jersey City is a picture-taker's paradise.
But what really crystallized my fascination, let's call it my love, of my neighborhood, came early in our tenure in 2001. A lot of people living on Ogden had the flag of their native country outside their door. Then came 9/11, and I remember that the day after the only flag flying outside anyone's door was an American flag. It was wonderful, it was heartening, and I remember thinking, this is neighborhood, these are my neighbors, I've made it, I'm home.
Again, my thanks to the Conservancy, and thank you all for being here in this incredible venue. May it have a glorious revival and future in this notable city. Congratulations to all the past and present recipients of this award. I'm delighted to be included in this illustrious group.
To find his works and the photos below check out his website www.ejankounitz.com