Michael Ashkin

A-Jump Books, 2014

ISBN 978-0-9905587-0-5 Pb


This book deals with the ‘luxury’ redevelopment in recent years of the run-down coastal resort of Long Branch, New Jersey. The redevelopment was the focus of a long-running legal dispute between residents and the city council over the use of compulsory purchase orders (under the US system of ‘eminent domain’). The case was settled in 2009 with the council agreeing to limit its use of compulsory purchase.

The images in the book were made between 2002 and 2007. Although published in 2014, the book does not mention the settlement and plunges us straight back into the heat of argument. The book’s publicity speaks matter-of-factly of the ‘eradication’ of a working-class neighbourhood by a ‘corrupt city government and developers’. Texts drawn from local newspaper reports, ‘activist websites’, the author’s own field notes and developers’ sales literature present a crudely rhetorical and highly tendentious case, pitting frail, virtuous residents against ‘Mayor Schneider and his smug little band of marionettes’, heavy-handed police, and hints of shoddy construction, city-hall bribery, even culpable homicide. A credible picture eludes us. The mayor is still in office (re-elected in 2014), councillors have not been indicted for corruption, and the redevelopment continues. There probably is a story here, concerning vulnerable individuals faced by determined state power, but it is undermined here by intemperate presentation.

The photographs, quiet to the point of dullness, sit oddly alongside the shrill, emotive texts. Fragmentary views of run-down old neighbourhoods, new apartment blocks built in ‘international developer style’, and construction sites, made in flat light with flat printing and empty of people, neither intrigue nor surprise. They could be images of any urban development scheme anywhere. The very surface ordinariness of what must have been, for some residents, a painful enforced upheaval carries a certain poignancy. But these drab images do not advance an argument, or make us care to know much more about the events depicted.