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The beauty of people walked by in the street

| 13 Nov 2012 | 05:59

Dmitri Kasterine has photographed Mick Jagger, Rudolph Nureyev, Johnny Cash, Samuel Beckett and Stanley Kubrick. His work has hung in London’s National Portrait Gallery and in the Smithsonian. The tabs on his website are titled England, Brooklyn, Venice – and Newburgh. Unlikely? Maybe, says Kasterine. But then again, no. “As Nabokov pointed out,” he said, “It’s elsewhere we are drawn to.” “I had never seen anything like Newburgh. I had never seen anything like the British upper class. I had never seen anything like Venice in the rain.” Kasterine’s recently published book, “Newburgh: Portrait of a City,” is a collection of portraits, mostly of isolated individuals, with a few groups, streetscapes and buildings mixed in. The images tell the story of an overlooked city terribly down on its luck but by no means dead. Kasterine was born in England in 1932, the son of a proper British mother and a White Russian soldier. He lives in Garrison, just across the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge from Newburgh, a city he had never seen until an acquaintance suggested Newburgh as a photographic subject. That was 16 years ago, when Kasterine was 64. He began the project one February day, which began inauspiciously when he was told in a threatening way to get in his car and go home. He stayed, and took his first Newburgh photo, a portrait of the “girl in the silver quilted jacket.” So began an affair that would last 16 years, longer than many modern marriages. And like a lot of marriages he got into it without thinking all that much. “I didn’t have a plan,” he said. “It just took that long. I kept going back and kept seeing something and it never ran out.” Now Kasterine is 80, and many of his subjects have grown up, gone away or died. He only stopped when an editor saw the work and wanted to publish it. The photos’ subjects have said Kasterine’s images of dignity and ruin, hope and despair have given them a renewed pride and an ownership in their city, which was heralded by Look Magazine in 1952 as the “All American City.” The Newburgh we see through Kasterine’s Rolleiflex lens, rough though it is, retains a sense of expansive promise as she sits there in her considerable majesty on the bank of the Hudson River. “I’ve done nothing except I’ve shown the world that I can see what the beauty is in the people I’ve walked by in the street,” said Kasterine. To celebrate the book’s publication by Quantuck Lane Press, mural-sized prints of the photos were mounted in August on the wall and bricked-over window openings of the old Ritz Theater on Broadway at Liberty Street. There they’ll remain until they are disfigured or fall apart. The visual, partly paid for by 85 Kickstarter donations totaling $4,305, is both stunning and stark. To Kasterine’s surprise, nearly two months later, the photos have not been spray-painted, graffitied or shot with bullets.