I sadly watched as construction crews were closing off the entrance to the subway. And in doing so making the artwork inside that much more inaccessible.
Also watching the construction and taking photographs was Erica Jae, a mental health professional, photographer, model and poet. Like so many others, Erica is drawn to the subway. Since 2013, Erica has been collecting pieces for a montage: Deeper than the Subway.
As she writes, the montage takes an abrupt turn when Erica discovered the closing of the subway has come despite all efforts to preserve the site.
From Erica Jae with selected photos from Deeper than the Subway.
I’ve always been drawn to helping and understanding those who may be less fortunate than me. I started out studying Addictions Counseling at MCC and upon graduating, I landed a job at DePaul Supportive Living where I worked as a community living assistant, helping individuals living with severe mental illnesses. My curiosity for how and why my residents got to this point in their lives motivated me to go back to school and obtain my Bachelor’s degree at SUNY University at Buffalo. I majored in Health and Human services and my concentration was – you guessed it – mental health. I would later go on to become a Health Home Care Manager working at the Rochester Mental Health Center through Rochester Regional Health System.
But behind my burning desire to learn about mental health, was a smaller flame of passion waiting to burn higher: Photography. I had taken some classes in high school and at MCC so that I could learn the fundamentals of photography. It had always been a “thing” of mine that I never fully pursued because I had this false belief that photography was not a career to be taken seriously. Thus, it would remain a hobby. My favorite thing to shoot was graffiti and the urban settings of which it resided. There was something about the street lifestyle that excited me: Real people, real expressions, and the like. I would soon discover the Rochester Abandoned Subway. This place was heaven to a photographer like myself. From the random phrases, to the colorful, gigantic murals; it was all so overwhelmingly creative and a place to draw inspiration from nonetheless. It was the first place I had seen in Rochester with miles (and I do mean miles) of graffiti.
Aside from it being its own little community, the abandoned subway had years and years of history attached to it, leading all the way up to present day. That history is now being torn away from aesthetes like myself, and the street artists who aided in its evolution. I think I speak for the community as a whole when I say, “W-T-F.” About a year ago, a petition had been buzzing on the internet in an effort to #SavetheSubway and I remember signing it, after reading an article that proposed its demolition in hopes to replace it with luxury apartments. I did not think they would actually go through with ridding of a very big part of Rochester’s history. Low and behold, on February 28, 2017, I drove by the eastern entrance of the subway to see that it is now gated off. To my dismay, there were construction vehicles and a sign that read “Erie Harbor Park Phase II Improvements.” Never in my 26 years did I think I’d be effected by gentrification. It is unsettling to watch and I wish I had known more or paid closer attention so that I could have somehow stepped in to prevent it.
As a photographer, it is only natural that I’m a hoarder of memories. The abandoned subway created several for me and thank God I have the photos to back it up. From my first visit in 2013, I will remember the two gentlemen who walked into the tunnel with me and my best friend so that we wouldn’t be afraid. I will remember the homeless man who asked me to take his picture. I will remember my encounter with a stranger who uttered, “I hope you’ll become famous.” I will remember the countless exchanges I had with people from all walks of life doing just that – living life. It was more than just an abandoned tunnel. It was a free art gallery for people to express themselves any which way. Moreover, it had become a crossroads for all social classes to unite and just ‘BE.’ Now a further division in the form of luxury apartments has come along to destroy this newly found culture. Oh, the irony.
Q: Tell us about your two passions, the mental health profession and photography. For you, how do the two go together?
A: Art is therapy. Art in general brings people together and helps them understand one another. It offers perspective. Art is its own culture. As humans, we all have our issues, whether clinically diagnosed or not, and we all seek some type of remedy that’s going to alleviate our stress, our pain, or whatever it is that’s plaguing us. Some turn to drugs or harmful behaviors, but art is inarguably the cure to all the madness. I know for a fact that art saves lives and has improved the quality of lives in those who are impacted by severe mental illnesses, drug addictions, etc. Whether it’s through music, photography, painting, or dance, art is the antidote.
I believe SadUgly is a brand of sticker art used by street artists. I’m not sure where they’re based because they have several stickers posted throughout the world. But I took this photograph because it described how I was feeling that day. Sad because where will the homeless lay their heads now? Where will the tourists go? What history does Rochester have left to show for its city if they do away with all our memorabilia? Ugly because the business developers don’t see the beauty in the art culture. They don’t see that art brings people together and that their plans to “renovate” are just further dividing us. They just see the grit, the grime and the homelessness. Not the depth behind it all, and that’s where there’s a divide.
Tonight for First Friday, outside Erica’s studio on the third floor of the Hungerford Building, Erica’s friend and fellow artist-model-actress & poet Erika De Jesus Rodriguez will be performing Restraint. Erica has already complied a montage and will be taking more photos tonight. Come by from 7 -9 pm.
ALSO SEE BELOW ON OTHER YOUNG ROCHESTER ARTISTS