“There is a special circle in hell for those who don’t tip the bartender.” Above the sign, the bartender awaited with bottles of rum and coke, and lagers of PBR and Budweiser, a tattoo curling along her collarbone and the tips of her black hair dyed gradient pink-to-purple. Flanking her were long-haired bushy-bearded men and women with tattoos of fireworks and thorny roses on their biceps.
I made a good call not to wear my flowery dress.
After I got myself a cup of PBR and made sure I’d put down 3 dollar bills to avoid ending up next to Judas and Brutus, I walked around. This was Mishka NYC – or Мишка, if you want to sound legit. Positioned under the J train bridge at 350 Broadway in Brooklyn, it is a haven for, in the eyes of the faint-hearted, what might initially seem like hardcore ragamuffins who like to purchase tank tops with a big leering red-streaked eye or Hello Kitty trinkets with skulls on the side of the kitten’s face. As one of the few people in the room without a tattoo, I was one of those faint-hearted.
That didn’t stop me, though, from reveling in the grit and blood of “These New York Streets,” a small photo exhibit that recently opened at Mishka on June 29, with Nate “Igor” Smith as the photographer. He is most famous, perhaps, for his website “Driven by Boredom,” which ranges from New York City nightlife to tattooed women posing nude. In this exhibit, however, Smith decided to take on the task of capturing more than just the booming nightlife of the city. Instead, he captured violence, blood, crime, public indecency, and poverty.
One of the most striking pictures was of a man lying on the asphalt ground, knocked unconscious and bleeding out his nose while a woman crouched over him. The camera angle was point straight down, but otherwise offered no explanation to the circumstances, no names, no labels. There was a photo of two men lying on the subway floor, but I was unable to tell if they were wrestling each other violently or if one of them had fainted and taken care of the other. There was a photo of African-American men in long white tees and hanging down jeans standing at the edge of a street, their backs turned to the photographer and their identities masqueraded. In not specifying who or what or where these pictures were, Smith succeeded in making every different neighborhood, every different seam of New York City bleed into a single unit.
It was a pity, though, that the exhibit was so small it covered only one wall. The rest of the space was taken up by Mishka’s products and an arcade machine in the corner. What’s more, I can’t say that the exhibit’s placement in a store – and a crowded one with equally eye-catching merchandise, at that – was the best way to accentuate the beautiful photography. Smith’s first solo show, however, is a little gem, and even if it’s but a spoonful of his talent, I left Mishka with a sense of the rawness of New York – both because of the photos and because of the distinctly punk, nitty-gritty ambiance of Mishka.
“These New York Streets,” Mishka NYC, 350 Broadway, Brooklyn. J/M/Z to Marcy Avenue, G to Broadway, L to Lorimer.