Single Room Occupancy
Single Room Occupancy (1969 - 1971): My first paying job as a photographer was working on the photos that later came to be published under the title of Neighbors on the Block - Life in Single Room Occupancy Hotels- An exhibit portfolio produced by the New York State Council on the Arts for the New York Museums Collaborative of the Cultural Council Foundation.
I had been hired as a research assistant for by the department of Community Psychiatry at St. Luke’s Hospital. My first assignment was to become a tenant in one of the hotels that was part of their study. In March of 1969 I moved in to the Valencia Hotel on west 95th Street between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue. St Luke’s was working with the school of social work at Columbia University and was interested to try to improve the social services provided to tenants in these buildings. To do that they needed information about the people living in the hotels and how their needs might be met.
My job was to gather information very much like a census taker about the SRO community. As a way of getting to know the people and creating a relationship with them I began making photographs which I would then give back to them. I also was able to organize and run along with Peter Barton a film workshop program for tenants in some of the Single Room Occupancy Hotels. This led later to my making with Peter Barton of two documentary films - Eddie and Alfred, which tells in more detail the stories of two of the tenants I met in the course of film workshop programs.
Looking back thirty-four years later at the photographs I find them still meaningful and with stories that still resonate.
Laurence Salzmann July 14, 2004