Ilene Squires Photography

Faces of Harlem

What is Faces of Harlem?
Faces of Harlem is a ongoing collection of environmental portraits capturing the re-gentrification of Harlem. This project was conceived by Ilene Squires Photography in the Fall of 2010, though it was years in the making drawing from the likes of legendary photographers James Van Der ZeeGordon Parks and Mary Ellen MarkFaces of Harlem captures the essence of the new class of Harlemites; it is a visual journey where old school intersects with urban chic. The subjects in this project are both native Harlemites and fellow transplants, of various age groups and economic brackets. 

Faces of Harlem's Story
It was 2003 and I had just arrived in New York after a year in Europe. I settled in Harlem, the beloved neighborhood where I still reside, with two suitcases; one filled with books and the other a tea set. Of course none of which was practical but it made a good story and I still use all items to date. Over the past eight years there has been an evident economic and racial gentrification of the neighborhood. I have had the good fortune of experiencing this first hand while living in East Harlem, West and Central Harlem and the most beautiful block in all of New York City, Astor Row. In May 2010, I married a native Harlemite, an endangered species if you will, and you can see some of our Vintage Harlem photos HERE

My first impression of Harlem was that it truly was the black epicenter of our country. Rich in history and spirit, I was smitten with the romantic history of Lenox Avenue, Strivers Row, the coexisting Africans and African Americans and how the uptown trains seemingly became one color (if you catch my drift) after 96th street. Those times have come and gone and we are now experiencing The New Harlem Renaissance. With the redevelopment of Fredrick Douglass Avenue to the new condos gracing the lines of every street corner, the magic of brownstone lined blocks can seem watered down by  (or upgraded, depending on how you see it) organic markets, doggy parks and bike lanes. The juxtaposition of various groups of people of color is thrilling and my photography documents each moment of it. 

If you or someone you know is interested in being part of Faces of Harlem please email: ilene {dot} squires {at} gmail {dot} com. 

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Marketing Professional 
5 years, Sugar Hill. Originally from Illinois.  
Harlem is... "
Up and coming

Middle School ESL Teacher
5 years in Central Harlem. Originally from Wisconsin.  
"The first thing that comes to mind when Harlem comes up in conversation is SUMMERTIME in NYC: late nights at Amy Ruth's, Harlem Week, 125th street, Little Senegal, The Schomburg Center, and streetball games."

Public Relations Executive 
4 years in East Harlem AKA El Barrio. Originally from Wisconsin.  
"I think to most, Harlem is still as a unsafe and mysterious place especially those who don't reside here. But for me, it's one of the richest communities in terms of true NY heritage.

Alice & Justin 
Teacher (Alice)

2 years in West and Central Harlem. Originally from Oakland, CA.

Harlem is..."It depends on who is asking. When I'm talking to people that live downtown or aren't Black or Latino often I feel like I have to defend Harlem because there are so many negative associations with the neighborhood.  If I am talking to an older Black person I am often reminded of the rich cultural history attached to the neighborhood and how is has and continues to change over time."

Event Planner
Born and raised in Central Harlem. 
The first thing that comes to mind when Harlem comes up in conversation is...
Harlem is ..."My people, my world.
Thysha, President & Founder of Shabazz Communications 
Shaun, Founding Artistic Direct @ New Pereceptions Theater 
7 & 12 years in Harlem, respectively. Thysha hails form Virgina and Shaun is from NJ.  
Thysha: "When I am talking about Harlem I'm talking about home-- not a trend, but a real place that I love and value. I love the truth about Harlem, the historical truth that a lot of folks don't know about. Marcus Garvey and Malcom X stood on soap boxes at corners I cross daily, Madam CJ Walker partied on 135th Street-- that's amazing to me!"
Shaun: "When I think of Harlem I think of Malcolm X. Think about Gordon Parks pictures. I think about the Schomburg-- students that I teach there and events that I go to there. I think about the Y on 135th and how I love to see its marquee from my rooftop. I think about a park on Edgecomb that Miles Davis said he use to hang out in. I think about young men trying to buy liquor liquor, trying to sell some weed and standing on a corner flossing - they all remind me of little brothers I use to teach- and I have love for them all the same. Connections to all of them. I remember that what you think makes you feel, and what you feel makes you be."

Earnest Sweat IV 
Former Investment Banker; Kellogg MBA Candidate Class of 2013
Eight years in Harlem; 4 years in So - Ha & 4 years at Columbia University. 
Originally from Little Rock, AR.
"The first thing I think about when I hear's my second hometown! I grew up as a man here and gained friendships that will last for a lifetime."
5 years Central Harlem. Originally from Lexington, KY.
"Harlem is not dangerous—it’s a community of all cultures and socio-economic levels."

Zakia Zakiyyah 
Fitness Consultant
10 years Mt. Morris Park Historic District. Originally from Westchester, NY.
"Harlem is real."

Writer & Relationships Educator
5 years in Harlem; 3 in Central Harlem, 2 in Sugar Hill. Originally from Atlanta, GA. 
Harlem is ..."History and the black experience! I don't know any other area that has such a rich representation of the black experience: the, good, the bad, the ugly. You have the acclaimed Hotel Teresa, where the best and brightest stayed a few steps away from where "Sugar Hill" was taped, which depicted the destruction drugs have had on our people.  The past with the Harlem Renaissance and our future with Red Rooster."

5 years Central Harlem. Originally from the Bronx, NY.
Harlem is... "Gentrification. That's the one discussion I seem to have at least once a week when my beloved Harlem comes up. Growing up in the Bronx and coming to Harlem at least once a week for church, I always knew Harlem would be my home. Over the past 12 years I have seen the character of this "nabe" change - some good and some not so good. But the one thing that hasn't changed in my opinion is that Harlem still stands for the possibilities! Harlem has, is and always will be a place where people of color can come to make big things happen. And I'm glad to be a part of it.

Latressa, MPH
Fabulous do-gooder, Board Member, Community Health Advocate
8 years, Hamilton Heights. Originally from Queens, NY.
"Most people say: "OMG you live in Harlem? Its so dangerous.. 'Have you been to
Sylvias?' For me, Harlem has always been about brownstones, clawfoot
bathtu and window seats. Its been a place of deep history, where artists
can flourish, find their home, be creative and live next to activists. It's a
place with community, churches, liquor stores, soul food, Mexican food and
Dominican treats on the corner. Just a vibrant place to live that seems to
constantly change in a space that somehow remains HARLEM." 
6 1/2 years, Hamilton Heights & Sugar Hill. Originally from Houston, TX.
"Malcolm X, Lena Horne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ralph Ellison, Louis Armstrong, James Baldwin, Sidney Poitier, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Madam C.J. Walker have all called Harlem "home" at one point. As a child, the first thing I ever learned about NYC was 'Harlem.' Harlem is where national TV networks had cameras staked out during President Obama's inauguration because Harlem defines the best and brightest of Black America. Harlem is legendary."
Born in Harlem, and lives in the same apartment that she grew up in. In between she went to high school in Ohio, and College in Rhode Island
Harlem is ..."Gentrification, home, my comfort zone.  Harlem is a truly unique part of NYC and it's the most special to me. I love that it continues to evolve and (generally) improve as I get older...  I hope that I can always be a part of its growth over the years, but that it  also maintains its core character."

Thomas Austin 
Professional Graduate Student, Social Media Entrepreneur, and United Nations Volunteer; formerly a  Commercial Banker & Microfinance Associate
7 years, West Harlem. Originally from Missouri. 
"When I think of Harlem, the first thing that comes to mind is 'Style & Swag'."