Photographer Alexis Rotter Takes ‘One Day’ Exploring Jersey City’s NeighborhoodsBy Summer Dawn Hortillosa • Aug 15th, 2012 • Category: Arts, Featured
One rainy Saturday in July, photographer Alexis Rotter set out to conquer new worlds, letting her lens loose on sights she had yet to discover. That morning, Rotter was doing something she had never done before — exploring Jersey City neighborhoods other than her own.
While she had lived in the city since 2003, the West New York native mostly stayed where she lives, in her beloved Jersey City Heights.
“The Heights is immersed in diversity,” says Rotter, who works as a paralegal. “There are so many cultures and traditions within a small area. Being here for almost a decade, I learned there is a network of families working with each other and helping to raise each other’s children. That is almost unheard (of) in a suburban town and yet here it exists.
“We’re the biggest small town in my opinion, and I love that I can walk down the street and know my neighbors by name, and vice versa, and everyone’s willing to spare a minute to ask about how you are. I love that the kids in the neighborhood can run around, and parents are confident knowing that they’re not the only set of eyes on the kids. The entire neighborhood chips in and helps out.”
Rotter always wondered, however, what lay east of Palisade Avenue and south of Route 139. She found the perfect excuse in her camera. Despite never being formally trained, Rotter has had a longtime love of photography.
“My father is an artist, and he draws and paints in oil and occasionally dabbles in photography, but what I remember the most is my mother buying a camera when I was a child, and when I realized she never used it, I picked it up instead, and I never looked back… I always felt like I wanted to express myself, and I found my medium through the lens,” Rotter says.
She wanders through the streets looking for the things no one else looks for in the hopes that her photos can give people a “different perspective of life or things that they walk by every day.”
“What people see as ordinary, I strive to see as extraordinary,” she says. “People are always surprised that many times what I photograph is literally in their front yard.”
Rotter’s eagerness to jump down the rabbit hole first thing in the morning makes her the perfect roving photographer. “When I wake up I think, ‘What kind of adventure will I encounter today?’ It could be something as simple as watching the morning rush with all the commuters running past me or walking home finding a random coatrack leaning on a tree.
“It’s so easy to dismiss something that you’ve seen a million times, but how often do you stop only to try and see it through fresh eyes?”
Armed with her trusty Canon camera, Rotter drove down Summit Avenue and turned down side streets on a whim through Bergen, the Powerhouse Arts District, Five Corners and Downtown Jersey City, searching for each neighborhood’s hidden treasures. On Thursday, art lovers can see Rotter’s finds at her first solo show, “One Day,” at White Star Bar.
One of her favorite pieces in the show is “Urban Buddha.”
“It’s a statue in someone’s front yard and I found it after parking the car and walking to have brunch,” she says. “Plenty of people have walked by this same statue, but how many noticed it? I’m hoping if they see the photo at my show, they won’t ever pass by it without giving it a second glance — That’s what I want, to have people not pass by what’s around them and ignore it, but really appreciate everything, however ordinary.”
Rotter also discovered wonders like the St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bergen, a factory and loft building in the Heights called J M & Co., and railroad tracks in the Powerhouse district. Along the way, she learned not only about the city’s landmarks or oddities, but also about its people.
“When I tell others that I am from Jersey City, they give me this look to say, ‘I am so sorry you have to live there.’ Inside I am smiling, and it spurs a desire that makes me want to educate them,” says Rotter.
“I’d love to know where can you find a large community of artists, areas with diversity that I think redefines the term ‘melting pot.’ I love that the concept of ‘It takes a village’ is something that is taken seriously in Jersey City neighborhoods, and despite all the misconception from people who don’t live here, there is a thriving community that wants to make this city their home and make it the best it can be for future generations,” she says.
Rotter adds that she is just beginning to get to know the city and has many other areas she wants to explore.
“Jersey City is actually a pretty big town… I want to explore the neighborhoods more and not just for one day. Recently, I learned that we have cemeteries like the Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery and Bayview-New York Bay Cemetery that are seeping with history and have ‘residents’ as far back as the Revolutionary War. These areas tell an amazing story of not only Jersey City, but our country as well.
“There are plenty of parts in this city I haven’t seen, and I’d love to one day be able to say I’ve traveled to each corner in this city and been able to capture it for those who haven’t had the opportunity to explore it yet.”
“One Day” will have an opening reception on Thursday, Aug. 16 at 8 pm at White Star Bar, located at 230 Brunswick St. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.
Photos courtesy of Alexis Rotter
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Summer Dawn Hortillosa is a Staff Writer for the Jersey City Independent. She is also a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey Journal, the International and other publications; creative writer and theatrical director.
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