WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Upper Manhattan is ready for its close-up.
Mike Fitelson, a professional photographer of 20 years who is best known uptown for his nearly 10 years of work as a former editor and associate publisher at the Manhattan Times, knows the neighborhood inside and out.
So when the Washington Heights resident recently left his post at the bilingual community newspaper, he set out with his camera and pen ready to document the thriving art scene he has been observing for years.
The result is a 40-page booklet called "Northern Manhattan as Muse" featuring 17 painters, filmmakers, sculptors, drawers, photographers, performers, songwriters and playwrights from countries as diverse as Poland, Argentina, Russia and the Dominican Republic, whose works “pay homage to their lives in Northern Manhattan.”
“The art scene in Northern Manhattan has grown so much in recent years that it has become part of the fabric of the community, a place for strangers to meet and become neighbors,” Fitelson, 42, said.
“A subset of that arts community is the artists who have been so touched by what they have experienced Uptown that they have been moved to create artwork about it.”
The glossy book — which features one of upper Manhattan’s biggest stars, Tony Award-winning playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda of “In the Heights” fame — will be featured in a month-long bilingual gallery exhibition by the same name beginning Thurs., Jan. 5.
Other artists include former Uptown resident Jon Michaud, whose book “When Tito Loved Clara” features Inwood; filmmaker Jonathan Ullman, whose film “GWB” played the International Latino Film Festival in August and the Global Dominican Republic Film Festival in November; and M. Tony Peralta, “known locally as the Latino Andy Warhol for his prints of Dominican products.”
For the project, Fitelson said he tried to be more artistic and less “objective” than he was when he worked as a journalist, both in his writing and photography.
“I tried to write the essays in a somewhat different voice than what I've used as a journalist,” he wrote in an email. “I wanted them to feel more like sketches than articles, to convey the feel of what it is like to be inside each artist's head and what turns them on about Uptown.”
“After being a photographer for some 20 years or so, I am only just now becoming able to consider myself an artist,” Fitelson continued. “I came to photography from anthropology and the documentary tradition…so the idea of calling myself an artist and compromising the hard fought sense of objectivity I cherish is not easy.”
In addition to the writing and photos, the show also includes paintings, prints, video clips, music and more from each artist that were inspired by Northern Manhattan, including a mini-exhibit of photographs from NYC SALT, a nonprofit program that prepares local teens for college and careers in photography.
Andrea Arroyo, an award-winning artist herself, is curating the exhibit.
Through the work, Fitelson hopes that viewers and readers will walk away with a better grasp of what Washington Heights and Inwood are all about.
“These 17 artists, and the many others that I was not able to include, help us better understand where we live and who we are,” he added.
"Northern Manhattan as Muse" runs Thurs., Jan. 5, through Fri., Feb. 10, at the NoMAA Gallery @ Cornerstone Center, 178 Bennett Ave. near West 189th Street. Open weekdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment: 212-568-4396.
The show opens with a reception on Thurs., Jan. 5, between 6 and 8 p.m.