Ernie Gehr: I'm Ernie Gehr and I'm the maker of the Essex Street quartet.
The original footage was recorded in the early 70s and then abandoned. It was put aside for maybe 20, 25 years, and I returned to it with a different perspective. The original footage was recorded on film ... one of the choices I made ... was to transfer the footage from sixteen millimeter to digital... it was a question of Economics...So I looked at this footage and I decided to put it together into four distinct pieces.
The first piece, Essex Street Market, is like morning, going shopping. Then, the second piece, Noontime Activities, lunchtime. The third is people going home, Workers Leaving the Factory. It's a reference to early cinema. The last take is a longest one, this long subway ride going home. So it's emphasizing how grueling it is to get home. And then the last piece, Green Street, is like, you're home. Ahhhhh! Yes, home. But what is home in an industrial setting with rusty colors? No view of a park or the waterfront, but you have an apartment facing the windows of other buildings.
I was interested in recording people in various activities in New York that you don't pay attention to most of the time. My own situation, was also very tenuous at the time. I was living month to month and I was filming without thinking about it, a working-class milieu. That was the environment in which I lived, grew up with.
And there are, throughout the work formal indications that this is a work of artifice. It’s at the beginning or ending of an image, the camera suddenly moves swiftly to the left or to the right. It cuts immediately and goes to another image.
The way I compose, it's intuitive. I actually try as much as possible not to imitate of what I see is standard way of framing images. Things are moving, developing in time just like a musical composition, a symphony. It's not all there in the first second or two. You need to relax and listen and digest things as they happen in time.