The “Big A”

Far from the elegance of the Kentucky Derby the hardest of the hard core race fans wander into the cold quiet eeriness of Aqueduct Racetrack and winter horse-racing. The “Big A” opened in 1959 in a corner of Queens, NY, and is able to accommodate close to 70,000 people. Yet, during the dark winter days the crowd only numbers in the hundreds. Sandy, a track old timer said “when my father took me here 45 years ago it was packed. “Look at this place, it's a ghost town.”

The notion that sports remain our civic religion is truer than we often let on. In fandom, as in religious worship, our social connections are brought to life, in the stands as in the pews. Social "electricity" forms when said groups gather in epic rituals, and experience a feverish outpour of emotion. Consider the vocabulary the two share: faith, devotion, ritual, sacrifice, commitment, prayer, suffering, and celebration. The deafening howls and blubbery weeping might look like chaotic disorder but is actually a rare moment of social order: a glimpse of spontaneous solidarity. The Big A is a cathedral which permits a cultural anesthesia for the marginalized men and women who brave the elements to keep dreaming of a better life based on the long shot. These hard core winter horse racing fans are a patchwork of blue-collar workers, retirees, loners, and immigrants. They are the marginalized that have been left behind during the decades of gentrification. They come because there’s no other place to go, because they need to win to pay the rent, and others for the friendship and camaraderie they can only find here. As Chuckie would say “Some come to stay alive.”

As a visual storyteller it is about looking at what we are told to shy away from. Told to ignore the discarded, because it makes us uncomfortable. I am a born and bred Brooklynite, these are my brethren. We wound up in different places in life, I could have easily been one of the hard core. It is in my DNA. My grandfather tried to achieve his dreams as a degenerate gambler and his dreams turned into a nightmare. He was no different than the inhabitants of the Big A ,living the hard life trying to get a head one way or the other. The images are unapologetic yet empathetic. It is a collaboration of sorts: their words and my images. It’s a story about broken dreams and disappointments and having the resiliency to find slivers of happiness in their oppressed existence. It begs the questions of who is seen, who is heard, who is remembered and who is intentionally forgotten. To be ignored in life is a terrible thing. We all want to be heard in our lives. This book & exhibition gives the subjects that opportunity. The congregation of the Big A will have the chance to step up on to an imaginary stage before an anonymous audience and be heard.
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