591 Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn

In 2000, Ben Katchor became the first cartoonist to win a MacArthur “genius” fellowship. The photographer Camilo José Vergara received one in 2002. The pair became friends through their participation in various MacArthur alumnae events; the naturalness of their affinity for one another verges on parody. Katchor is perhaps best known for the comic strip “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer,” which appeared variously in the Forward, The Village Voice, and the New York Press, beginning in the late 1980s at almost the exact moment that I moved to New York. In it, the schlumpy Julius Knipl navigates the changing city, clinging to the  last few non-corporate exchanges he finds left amidst the savageries of gentrification, renovation, and modernization. Vergara, fundamentally, is a real estate photographer. Since the late 1970s he has returned over and over again to the same blighted inner-city neighborhoods, documenting the minutiae of their transformations, rephotographing the same buildings and blocks again and again. He’s attracted to decay and the implied stories it tells, and dismayed, for instance, by the transformation of Harlem. Both men’s work highlight the importance of questioning dominant cultural and economic narratives that elevate progress, growth, expansion and erasure at the expense of history, community and leisure.