rust belt new york

maureen drennan


People tell me I am a good listener. I listen to the shy, the lonely, the deeply religious, the old dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers, the suspicious, the young, the hopeful, the hard workers, the hard drinkers, the drug addicts, the sex workers. A new person presents a fresh opportunity to tell their story again with different embellishments, new twist endings, and heroic narrators.

During my wanderings around old industrial and manufacturing areas in Brooklyn I met and listened to a multitude of New Yorkers. These areas along the water are surprisingly quiet and tranquil. The high grass in abandoned lots is verdant and lush, and flowers and trees poke out through every possible crevice. In the summer the air is heavy with the buzzing of insects and bird calls. The clang and hum of machinery and beeping of trucks in the distance blend with the natural sounds and add to the almost pastoral feel of these out-of-the-way spaces.

On one occasion, I met a funny, bold, and attractive woman outside an industrial building in Sunset Park. She was homeless and kept her things under an orange traffic barrel to keep them hidden and dry. While I was photographing she went to the barrel in search of a makeup bag to check her looks in a small mirror. She looked great. She told me about her son and thought that maybe these photos would make her famous and that he would see that she was doing fine. As we were talking, a lanky, smiling guy came to meet her and watched us while waiting. We hugged goodbye and she thanked me for photographing her before leaving with him. I've gone back to look for her and checked under the orange barrels to see if her stuff was still there. It wasn't. If you're reading this, hi Cici. I hope your son sees what a beautiful woman you are.


Maureen Drennan (@maureenrdrennan) is a photographer born and based in New York City. Her work has been included in exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, the Tacoma Art Museum Seattle, Washington, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Aperture, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Colorado Photographic Arts Center, and the Newspace Center for Photography, amongst others.

Her images have been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, California Sunday Magazine, Huffington Post, Photograph Magazine, Photo District News, American Photo, UK Telegraph, Refinery 29, and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

She currently teaches at LaGuardia Community College and the International Center for Photography in New York City.