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Portraits of Ordinary Superheroes Line the Base of the Manhattan Bridge

By Janet Upadhye | August 20, 2012 6:49am | Updated on August 20, 2012 1:04pm

DUMBO — Portraits of superheroes line the base of the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO. But the heroes portrayed are not from comic books.

In fact, many are heroes seen every day in Brooklyn.

Curated by United Photo Industries, "(super)heroes" explores “the unsung heroes all around us, the innate desire of humanity to believe in powers greater than ourselves, and upending gender roles or stereotypes.”

And according to the exhibit's curator and creative director, Sam Barzilay, “there is no better place for the exhibit than the “larger-than-life, public setting under the Manhattan Bridge.”

The idea for the exhibit was born three years ago when Barzilay saw photographs made by Nicolas Silberfaden. He shot portraits of Los Angeles-based superhero impersonators in costume, but asked them to demonstrate their true emotions. Most of them unemployed and scrambling for work, showed sadness and frustration. The result created "the illusion that Superman does exist but that he too was fallible and affected by America's downturn," wrote Silberfaden.

Barzilay said that he sees many works of art, but the idea of Silberfaden’s work stayed with him. And when the Department of Transportation offered him the fence under the Manhattan Bridge to put up a show as part of their Urban Art initiatives, Barzilay jumped at the chance.

And in three short weeks he put together an exhibit of superheroes.

Gregg Segal also photographs superhero impersonators, though his subjects work strictly on Hollywood Boulevard. Instead of shooting them on the street as they posed for pictures with tourists, he chose to follow them home.

There, in their everyday surroundings, Batmans and Supermans took off their masks to do the dishes or cook dinner in the microwave.

“I followed the superheroes home to highlight the contrast of the fantastic and mundane,” Segal said in an explanation of his exhibit. “Though in costume, the super heroes are unmasked by the ordinariness of their apartments and their routine chores.”

Dulce Pinzon photographed immigrant populations of New York City performing heroic acts as they keep the city running and send money to their home communities. She shows them in work setting, but wearing superhero costumes in order to break the stereotypes of a typical superhero.

Susanne Middleberg photographs herself and her family to show women in superhero roles.

“You can see [the superhero] on the toilet; lonesome in a garret eating a cupcake; crying; as a mother bathing her daughter; and having cravings for pickles during pregnancy; all of this in recognizable or unrecognizable everyday family situations,” Middleberg wrote about her series.

With a total of nine artists, the photographs cover 340 feet of the fence. And, besides portraying superheroes, they all have one thing in common.

“These photographs speak to a deeper issue,” Barzilay said. “They go beneath the surface of the superhero.”