CHB Interviews: Theresa King, Myrtle El Photographer

1. Where in Brooklyn did you grow up? Tell us a little about the Brooklyn childhood experience. Until I was seven years old, we lived in Bedford Stuyvesant as tenants in a brownstone. My father then took a position in Brighton Beach where we lived for many years and where I graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School. I then left Brighton and spent some years on Clinton Avenue, Franklin Avenue and Atlantic Avenue which was my last apartment in Brooklyn.

As a child and young adult, I recall the warmth of the different neighborhoods, the feeling of extended family, the variety of images, street games, schools, - the local candy stores where we were always made to feel welcome, the unique vistas from each neighborhood and most certainly the diversity of the population. Is there a Brooklynite of my generation who can ever forget the delicious smells from the local bakeries? Brooklyn is an awakening of the senses and a unique, diverse and special universe of its own and I am proud to have been raised there.

2. How was the El different from the subway? Did people prefer one or the other?

The elevated trains brought light, air and street life to those riding them. One was no longer on a subway under the ground where dark walls, fellow passengers and Ms. Subways and other ads were your only companions.  Indeed our subways take us quickly from one station to another while we read, doze, study, and often use the time in many productive ways.  We are still underground individuals waiting for our stop so that we can get out, go upstairs and see the light of day.

I found the El a different experience. Much like a painting or a poem simply looking out of the windows at the passing scenery - the small apartment buildings so close that you could see folks eating at the kitchen table, almost touch the oil cloth on the tables and linoleum on the floors and imagine yourself part of this unknown family.  Sometimes the profusion of television antennas on the roofs became a picture in itself. Then there were the distant views - office buildings large and small, and of course the people walking, the young girls and other family members looking out of a window for hours at a time. They always had a small pillow to lean on and I used to wonder, "what are they thinking, what are their dreams, who are they" - these strangers who live among us, but with the constant rumble of a train going past them. Do they even notice us as we notice them? Do they even hear the El anymore?  There are still some elevated portions of subway lines operating and I enjoy riding them. I still think of the people in those buildings and still think and visualize scenes and life around them. As for preference, I can only guess. The dreamers and visualizes among us, I imagine still love the elevated trains that remain. 3. What do you remember about Clinton Hill and Fort Greene during the days of the El? Have you been back to Myrtle Avenue recently? If so, has anything remained the same?

I haven't lived in Brooklyn since the 1970's. I still recall lovely brownstones on Clinton Avenue, businesses on Myrtle Avenue, and the struggles, successes and kindness of the people who lived there. In connection with the photo exhibit at the New York Transit Museum, Sunday, October 18, 2009, I will be leading a tour of my photographs in the exhibit. And on Saturday, November 7, 2009, I will lead another tour group of youngsters and their families down Myrtle Avenue. We will all take photographs and it certainly will be a learning experience for me as well as for the young photographers.

4. People were obviously very fond of the El.  Did anyone lobby to preserve it? My recollection is that a small group did attempt to save it to no avail. I've done a bit of searching recently on the internet, but haven't come up with anything in the archives. It would be wonderful if an interested reader of this article found some information and shared it with us. 5.  How does your Brooklyn background influence your artistic work? Brooklyn is a feast for the eyes, an ever-changing place, a home to a multitude of ethnicities, and a profoundly unique and incredible borough of New York. I've yet to meet someone from Brooklyn without a strong opinion, a willingness to "step up" when asked as well as a sense of belonging to a community. Brooklyn is ENERGY. How could I not be influenced by this place where I was raised and lived in different neighborhoods, met many people of different backgrounds, religions and beliefs? It opened my eyes to settings, people, interactions, styles of architecture, cultural differences and so much more. My photography is a product of these sensory and personal experiences- from riding the El, the subways, the trolleys, to walking to school - from the beach at Brighton to the Botanical Gardens to the cheesecake at Juniors, and the Cyclone at Coney Island - From the music in Prospect Park during the summer to the street corner A cappella groups on so many street corners. I credit my native borough with creating who I am and wherever I am, I always manage to let people know that I AM FROM BROOKLYN.