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Stoops as a Canvas on Bergen Street

A block of Bergen Street turns familiar faces into art.

On Bergen Street, stoops pay tribute to some of the neighborhood’s most familiar faces: bodega owners, copy shop employees, and pretty much anyone else you might encounter on a day spent running around the neighborhood.

Pasted on the stoops of brownstones on the block of Bergen between Fourth and Fifth avenues are the faces of 11 such neighborhood fixtures, immortalized in giant, 36-by-48-inch black and white photographs – at least until the rain washes them away.

The project was initiated by block resident Dana Eskelson, and it’s the first New York undertaking as part of the global street art project developed by the famed Paris street artist JR.

Eskelson said that when she heard about JR’s project, after he won the $100,000  TED Prize in October, she immediately thought of her neighborhood.

“I initially thought of Muhammad Ali, my bodega guy. If you live in Brooklyn, your bodega guy is your guy,” said Eskelson, an actress who has lived on the block for nearly a decade. “My goal was to celebrate our local shop owners, who are really one of the primary reasons that I love my neighborhood. The guy who runs the copy shop, where I get my coffee – they are all really important.”

JR’s project – the Inside Out Project – encourages folks to photograph the “anonymous” members of society, and then plaster their larger-than-life images in urban areas around the glove.

All one has to do is participate in the project is upload a photo to the project’s website, along with a short statement about the subject. The project asks for a donation of $20. Then the giant photographs are printed at a studio in Manhattan and shipped to the submitter.

When Eskelson received her photos, she gathered members of the block to help with the painstaking process of pasting each photo, cut into carefully measured strips, onto the stoops. She took special care to make sure that each subject’s eyes were left in tact, collectively peering out from the stoops of the street.

They are the eyes of people like Canteen Deli owner Usman Majeed, Graphicolor owner Jorge Sanchez and Emcon Pharmacy owner Naresh Bhagroo.

“I just wanted them to know that we don’t just appreciate the service they provide, we appreciate them and their role in the community,” said Eskelson. “And I just wanted them to be seen.”

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