From the article profiling Meryl Meisler in The New York Times:

Meryl Meisler couldn’t believe the sight that greeted her when she emerged from the subway in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for the first time, in 1981. “It looked like the photographs that I had seen of Beirut,” she recalled of the cityscape of bombed-out buildings.

Ms. Meisler had come to Bushwick to teach art at a public middle school. “I literally thought to myself, perhaps the other art teacher had been killed,” she said.

Like a number of once middle-class neighborhoods in New York City, Bushwick had spiraled into poverty over the course of the 1960s and ’70s, and poverty had spawned desperation. An epidemic of arson had reduced block after block of three-story frame houses to rubble.

Sometimes the fires were set by vandals who intended to return for the plumbing systems; sometimes they were set by landlords who were tired of chasing after delinquent tenants to pay rent.

Ms. Meisler was a teacher, but also a photographer. She had spent many nights in the ’70s taking pictures in discothèques like Studio 54.

She didn’t start photographing Bushwick right away. Her camera had been stolen on her last day of work at her previous teaching job, on the Lower East Side. And anyway, she wasn’t sure that carrying a camera around Bushwick was such a good idea.

But eventually, she could no longer resist. Among other things, the natural light created by the absence of tall buildings, or any buildings, was a photographer’s dream.

Ms. Meisler soon became compulsive. She wasn’t interested in capturing the urban decay, so much as she was the signs of normal life happening despite it. “I didn’t photograph needles on the ground, or crack vials or junkies,” she said. “I photographed people finding joy in life.”

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Browse all of Meryl Meisler’s work at ClampArt