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AT THE MEMORIAL FOR LES DOCUMENTARIAN ►TOYO TSUCHIYA
Bowery Boogy, New York on February 23rd, 2018
If, in the early ’80s, Toyo Tsuchiya’s ambition was to be remembered as a serious New York City documentary photographer, he could not have picked a more overlooked and neglected piece of landscape than the Forsyth and Rivington Street area, between Delancey and Houston. At the time, it was a drug- and crime-infested subdivision.
As an aspiring professional photographer, Toyo seized this part of the Lower East Side as his aesthetic concentration, thereby foregoing the careerists’ first choice of subject. For me, Toyo’s pre-Rivington School fame begins with his documentation of the wild ones, the forgotten ones, the uncivilized ones, the artists few could deal with then or even now. Toyo’s subjects were hard: poorly socialized, educated, but with an outsider point of view. Not easy to categorize. Individuals and original thinkers and doers. An uneasy group.
It was at his memorial at Howl! Happening last week that I not only saw another side of his creativity, but also his humanity. The beautiful side, the side that was overflowing with love; his friendly vibe and peaceful soul. People told stories of the various ways Toyo helped people. I gained an appreciation for how much Toyo meant to his family, his adopted family, those he took in as family, and his unusual collection of friends. He was first and foremost a family man, as well as an artist. Family was important.
Once the magic moment arrived, the audience became still. Renowned composer, violinist Jesse Montgomery played as Toyo’s slides rolled by. The memorial moved along at a comfortable speed, with the voicing of passionate thoughts and loving memories from a good cross-section of representatives from each period and section of his life. Gloria McLean performed a dance. Alice-ia Carin, Toyo’s adopted daughter, screened a short film. Michael Carter read a poem dedicated to Toyo. The walls were covered with a collection of large inked words in English and Chinese, short thoughts dedicated to Toyo’s memory, sent by the former Downtown creator, now living in Hong Kong, Frog King artist Kwok, Mang Ho.
The community organizers and family created one of those rare special moments, a happening that will always be fondly remembered. No question that Jane, Ted, Carter, and all the assisting Howl! participants, once again, need to be thanked and given as much adulation we can produce. Thank you for putting up with us; we can be an ungrateful lot.
In the end, Toyo’s work – from No Se No to the Rivington School – must be saved. It is historically important, rare, with a definable personal style. He is certainly missed.