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Uncle Charlie
Marc Asnin
Traveling Exhibit
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(Download .pdf Brochure)

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960's, you had to be tough. It was that simple. Intimidation was a way of life and backing down was never an option. Never. As a boy, I looked for a tough guy to emulate, a mentor of the streets, so to speak. I found Uncle Charlie. Tough and tattooed, Uncle Charlie spoke without apology, walked with a swagger, and always carried his "Saturday Night Special." To me, he was a real wise guy, a genuine Brooklyn gangster, a dying breed of a Jewish "wise guy." Through the eyes of my childhood, Uncle Charlie's life was captivating. His muscles, tattoos, and street persona — he epitomized everything I wanted to be. That boyhood image was shattered when I encountered Uncle Charlie as an adult. I always thought Charlie's life was a "Good Fellas" kind of story. Instead, what I found was more like Waiting for Godot. The tough guy of my childhood was now suffering from anorexia and was in a catatonic state. In the face of schizophrenia, he was broken, a fragment of what I remembered, a newly found "dark hero." There was still an undeniable connection between us as Godfather and Godson, our shared pasts a veil through which we both looked upon the unsettling present. As different as Uncle Charlie and I are, the two of us entered into a reciprocal relationship over the last thirty years which resulted in this photographic essay.

The only way I knew how to photograph my uncle was head on, neither Charlie nor I shrunk from the hard truths. The images convey the complexity of my Uncle Charlie; vain, hopeless, cruel, vulnerable, forgotten. He wrestles with the consequences of a wasted life over which he never really had full control, "a prisoner of my own mind." Despite this darkness, we become conscious of his resolve and determination. He was a resilient survivor in the face of mental disability and crushing poverty. He managed to raise five children single – handedly in a bleak urban landscape. The images I made chronicle Uncle Charlie's strained and fractured relationship with his children who inherited his legacy of instability.

Charlie says he's never had a friend, he's never been a friend, and that his life was always a momentary thing with people. Charlie often muttered during my three decades of photographing him that, "Nothing's changed. I've come full circle. I'm still waiting for Godot."

I have been wondering forever who I am in Uncle Charlie's life. Did his sister create the only friend he ever had? Was I the person he was waiting to share his story with? Ironically, Charlie has never expressed what he felt about our relationship. As for me, was this photographic odyssey fueled by my need to figure out what Charlie meant to me?

I believe that the family can be viewed as a microcosm of society — the power dynamics, relationships, and cycles of dysfunction or prosperity. This uncompromising examination of my family, while unique in many aspects, has a scope that incorporates us all. This is not only Uncle Charlie's story, it's the story.


Uncle Charlie Traveling Exhibition Specifications

Number of works : 80 framed photographs and collected ephemera

Space requirements : 345-400 linear feet 122 linear meters

Tour dates : Fall 2012 / 2017 Participation fee : $15,000
support materials

Publication title : Uncle Charlie

Publisher : Contrasto / 2012
Format : 220 x 300 mm
Extent : 320 pages
Printing : duotones
Binding : hard cover

Isbn-1: 978-8869651779

For information about this traveling exhibition, please contact:

Lisa Scandaliato
Exhibition Travel Coordinator

ucexhibition@gmail.com or 1.718.631.6396