INTERVIEW // Ken Schles on ‘Invisible City’, ‘Night Walk’ and Existential Impulses

“For generations the Lower East Side was a churning cauldron of activity. Site of immigrants (my own family passed through there more than a century ago), it already had a long history of renewal and decay.”

Alex Bocchetto: With Invisible City you narrated New York’s East Village and Alphabet City from a very personal point of view. Can you tell us your experience in shooting for the project back then?

Ken Schles: Even after all these years it still feels a little alien to me to hear Invisible City referred to as a “project.” I guess we can call it a project. I was responding to what I was seeing and feeling at the time—where I found myself. Invisible City was about confronting and overcoming fears: it was about being locked inside my apartment and feeling trapped, but also wanting to venture out. To go out into what seemed an overwhelming, arbitrary, inscrutable, dangerous world. I didn’t quite know how to proceed. I was unsure of myself. I had no money and few resources. But I recognized that what I experienced everyday when I walked the streets near my home wasn’t reflected in what I saw in mainstream media. I felt compelled to capture that mood, which for me was so tangible, so palpable. And obvious too: what I was experiencing was intimately connected to outcomes of recent history: the collapse of the inner city, postwar deindustrialization, economic stratification, cultural dislocation, race tensions, the drug wars, the rise of AIDS. My state of mind—what I saw and how I lived—was a direct result of social and economic machinations that had been grinding along for a long time. The degraded physical environment… it all weighed upon me.

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(Alex Bocchetto of Akina Books Interviews Ken Schles)