Zoe Leonard: Analogue

Story By
Cita Arsita Farani

“Progress is always an exchange. We gain something, we give something else up. I’m interested in looking at some of what we are losing.”

It started in the 1990s. Shooting with a vintage 1940s Rolleiflex camera, a tool ‘left over from the mechanical age’ as she puts it, Zoe Leonard’s original intention was to document the Lower East Side neighborhood in Manhattan. Seeing that the small businesses, mom-and-pop stores, and little bodegas were closing, she wanted to capture the facades and handwritten signs before they were replaced by brand-name outlets. The journey quickly grew into a landmark photographic project conceived over the course of a decade.

She proceeded to focus on discount stores, repair shops, second-hand stores, restaurants and flea markets in places separated by thousands of miles. What she found was a global trade of recycled merchandise, some sort of a roundtrip between the developing countries and the United States. The goods originated in urban sweatshops in China and Pakistan arrived at the cut-rate goods sold in North America, then eventually passed on to far-flung places in Eastern Europe, Africa, Cuba and Mexico, labeled as either secondhand or new. 

Just like how analog technology is replaced by digital ones, “Analogue” in general isn’t about being sentimental. It simply sees how the changes ripple through the elements of our lives and how said elements are being reborn, in a way, in other places. 

photos by
Zoe Leonard courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art