BUSHWICK — It began with a picture — longtime Bushwick resident Vanessa Martir found a frozen image of her childhood self, decades after it had been captured.
The 1980's photo — a jump rope scene with Meisler as a small child standing on the street in blue shorts surrounded by her family — stared at her from her computer screen, in a story about photographer Meryl Meisler on the Bushwick Daily blog last year. Martir immediately sought out Meisler to reunite — and inspired the artist to resume documenting Bushwick after 20 years.
"She saw the photograph of her with her family and contacted me," recalled Meisler, a Chelsea resident who didn't debut her 1980's stills until 2007 at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
"I went back and took a photograph of her with her own daughters jumping rope in the same place," said Meisler of the Palmetto Street corner.
Now Meisler not only has a current version of Martir's picture, but she's returned to the local poultry slaughterhouse, a homeless shelter, and dozens of streets she documented 25 years ago. And her photos' juxtapositions are just part of a multidisciplinary show delving into Bushwick's past and celebrating its changes.
"Bushwick Then and Now," opening this weekend timed with the 2013 Bushwick Open Studios art festival, includes a historical walking tour, local authors' comments on the neighborhood, and spoken word and dance performances by Bushwick's budding next generation. Plus anyone who visits the exhibit's hub at The Living Gallery can bring his or her own contribution for the "bring your own photo" wall.
"There were almost reenactments...like kids fixing a bicycle doing the same exact gesture," said Meisler of the parallels between scenes she saw in Bushwick's rough 1980's era and in 2013. "And then there were some things very different, like in the 80's I took a bulldozer taking out a building, and then last year I photographed a crane of sorts that was really a movie set."
Meisler, who never lived in Bushwick but taught public school there in the 1980's and 1990's, is joined in the show by works by Martir, now a writer. Plus a handful of other Bushwick-born authors will share their memories from the neighborhood, and former Bushwick Community Board 4 member John Dereszewski will lead a walking tour back to the area's past.
Meanwhile kids from the non-profits El Puente and Brooklyn Acts will take the stage to link the show to Bushwick's future.
And visions of the past, when placed side-by-side with Bushwick's current flair, still make Meisler wonder:
"Is there a Bushwick style?"
The full schedule of "Bushwick Then and Now" can be found on the event's Facebook page.