It was the founding place of the modern detachable collar, an industry that would end up making it an economic powerhouse in the early 20th century (hence “Collar City”).
And it was the home of Sam Wilson, the meatpacker whose barrels of meat during the War of 1812 were stamped “U.
Brenda Ann Kenneally’s masterful new photo book, “Upstate Girls: Unraveling Collar City,” is a deep study of a group of girls from two or three extended families in Troy, N. Most of them live in the same neighborhood, even on the same block.
“Upstate Girls” begins in 2004, when Kenneally is drawn to the story of 14-year-old Kayla, who is pregnant. The baby daddy is Sabrina’s cousin Joshua, and the pregnancy is a result of a casual encounter between Kayla and Joshua while Kayla and Sabrina were on the outs.
But with the baby almost due and Joshua in prison, Kayla and Sabrina are back together, determined to be co-parents.
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Kenneally obtains permission to begin documenting their lives, and does so over the course of nine years, from 2004 to 2013.We meet Big Jessie and Dana, sisters who live next door (Big Jessie is so called because Kayla has a younger brother called Little Jesse).The cast of characters sprawls out to more than two dozen, the connections ramifying, with deaths and births and marriages and breakups. It is an immersive project, and the book, at more than 400 pages, can barely contain the material.Jettisoning all professional detachment, she joins them on joy rides and shoplifting sprees, losing herself in “the whirlwind of activity that didn’t seem attached to a bit of progress.”Kenneally’s photographs are scrupulously unbeautiful.But the innate tenderness of young people is everywhere in the book, visible because she chooses to see it.Kenneally’s own photographs are supplemented both by childhood snapshots of the girls and boys and by archival photos and ephemera from the local historical society.“Upstate Girls” contains a handful of strikingly composed photographs, but for the most part, Kenneally seems uninterested in “good” photography.S.” — for the United States, which, conflated with Wilson’s nickname Uncle Sam, made him a symbol of American ingenuity and patriotism.Ingenuity and patriotism are not what come to mind in any consideration of the appalling income inequality, poor social services, deadly drug epidemics and overincarceration that make up the contemporary reality of many places like Troy. How can a society as wealthy as the United States so despise and so thoroughly batter its own?The boys misbehave at all ages, but there’s no suggestion by Kenneally that there is some straightforward explanation for their misbehavior.Like the girls, they seem more helpless than malicious, largely unable to fight back against their overwhelming circumstances.“Upstate Girls” is in the tradition of socially concerned photography, and it evokes ground-level studies of American poverty like “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” James Agee and Walker Evans’s project on three sharecropping families in 1930s Alabama, or Dorothea Lange’s photographs of the Great Depression in the American West.