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Book Review: Yonkeros

Yonkeros. Photographs by Jaime Permuth.
Published by La Fabrica, 2013.
Reviewed by Tom Leininger

Photographs by Jaime Permuth.
La Fabrica, 2013. Hardbound. 144 pp., 90 illustrations, 8x9-3/4".

There are books of photographs and then there are books made by Photographers with a capital P. Yonkeros by Jaime Permuth is one of the latter. The pictures show a place that is simple and direct, with a complicated present. Permuth takes the reader to Willets Point, roughly eight blocks small and just behind the new Citi Field, inside the junkyards, auto repair and tire shops that make up one of the last working man’s havens in New York.

What is not shown are the forces working against Willets Point to turn it into another corporate sports haven. The title is an English derivation of the word 'junk' combined with the conjugated Spanish form of 'works with' to create 'those who work with junk.' Yonkeros are the men shown at work putting life back into vehicles for those who need their wheels just to scrape by.

Yonkeros, by Jaime Permuth. Published by La Fabrica, 2013
Yonkeros, by Jaime Permuth. Published by La Fabrica, 2013

The potential change from the land of the working to one of recreation is what brought Permuth and his camera here. He spent a year photographing this place and those who live and work here. Permuth deftly uses the formal elements of light and shadow to highlight the beauty in this loud, dirty land. He creates poetic scenes of labor out of chaos. This is the work of a photographer at the top of his game working with a subject matter that intrigues him.

Yonkeros, by Jaime Permuth. Published by La Fabrica, 2013
Yonkeros, by Jaime Permuth. Published by La Fabrica, 2013.

Photographing there for a year gave Permuth the opportunity to observe how no matter the weather, yonkeros are always needed. Car troubles happen regardless of the elements. Work needs to be done no matter how much snow fills up Willets Point. Permuth puts a hard working face on this place. Men in many layers labor when the snow is blowing, creating a dream like landscape without dirt and grime, pure snow covering all. An ice cream truck serves those working and waiting. Cars, parts and tires are stacked neatly to maximize the small spaces. An overall image shows the place as a hive of activity. This is a place of immigrants for immigrants.

Progress and time will change Willets Point and those who work there. Luckily, Jaime Permuth' efforts have resulted in a book that offers more to the viewer each time it is reread. His efforts bring dignity and pride to the hard working men of Willets Point.—TOM LEININGER

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TOM LEININGER is a photographer and educator based in North Texas. More of his work can be found on his website.