Prince Street Girls

I was riding a bicycle through my neighborhood in Little Italy nearly thirty-five years ago. Suddenly, a blast of light flashed into my eyes. Its source was a group of kids standing with a mirror, focusing the sun on my face, nearly blinding me. That was the day I met the Prince Street Girls, the name I gave the group that hung out on the nearby corner almost every day. I was the stranger who didn’t belong. Little Italy was mostly for Italians then.

The girls were from small Italian-American families and they were almost all related. Sometimes they would reluctantly introduce me to their parents if we met in the market or at the pizza parlor, but I was never invited into any of their homes. I was their secret friend, and my loft became a kind of hideaway when they dared to cross the street, which their parents had forbidden.

Prince Street Girls began as a series of incidental encounters. At the beginning I was making pictures for them. They’d see me coming and yell, “Take a picture! Take a picture!” By 1978 they were changing, and I wanted to capture them growing up. Yet my own focus was shifting. My work was taking me away from the neighborhood. When I landed in Central America, I found myself in the middle of a war and part of another community.

By the time I got back to New York nearly ten years later, the girls were long past their teens, beyond the boundaries of our streets, and beginning families of their own. Looking at these pictures now reminds me of how difficult it was to integrate my two lives- family and friends at home, and my life as a photographer on the road. It was often a painful separation, though not one I regret having chosen.

I still live in the old neighborhood, though it has changed enormously; it’s filled with young models and dot-com-ers, chic cafes and expensive shops. It’s almost impossible to imagine the streets as they once were.