At Your Door | The Doormen of New York City

An exhibition of photography by Alina Gozin’a. 29 November – 16 December 2017 at No.1 Martin Place

Like sentries, doormen have patrolled New York’s apartment buildings for some 150 years.  They are arguably the most iconic and the most underrated powerful personalities in New York City real estate, often playing a role that's midway between building security and therapist. Guarding the entrance to buildings and serving as the unofficial social anthropologists of New York’s most privileged, the doormen are filled with anecdotes of human behaviour: they know what their tenants eat, whether they drink too much and if they have kinky sex. But while the doormen have access to intensely personal information about their residents’ lives and are the gatekeepers of their secrets, the inhabitants tend to know little about the personal lives of their doormen,” Peter Bearman, Doormen author.

New York-based photographer Alina Gozin’a has captured many of the world’s most famous faces. Her uncompromising eye and cinematic style often tells a whole story in just one frame. Alina’s fine art photography has garnered a long list of international awards, nominations and exhibitions and earned her a global following. Now she is returning to her native Sydney to unveil her first large-scale photographic exhibition AT YOUR DOOR.  This powerful new photographic series will be presented in our 19th century heritage building at Number One Martin Place.  This is the world-premiere of the project before touring to New York, Los Angeles and Moscow in 2018.

AT YOUR DOOR: The Doormen of New York City captures a quintessential aspect of New York and in particular, the world-famous doorman culture. It also reflects Alina’s lifelong interest in telling the stories of people without a voice.  The city’s doormen are the gatekeepers to Manhattan’s elite - this series takes viewers inside the city’s grandest buildings to see behind their firmly closed doors.  Doormen typically know the most personal details and well-guarded secrets of their tenants. Yet rarely are they really seen or their own stories shared.  Rather than once again profiling the city’s rich and famous, the artist wanted to shine a light on these fascinating invisible characters who keep Manhattan turning.

AT YOUR DOOR presents 13 large-scale El-Greco-inspired portraits of 13 doormen, all immigrants from Eastern Europe, looking poised and regal.  The artist has added a 19th-century cravat to each of the doormen’s uniforms. The cravat is a nod to the men’s European heritage and also portrays them as men of nobility - not just serviceman to New York’s elite.

Alina has captured the men first in their doormen uniform, and then wearing their civilian clothes. This juxtaposition creates an intricate reveal to prompt the viewer to ask which one reflects their ‘truer’ self. The intent of the image is to peel off the facade of these anonymous men in uniform, and reveal them as who they really are. Real men with real stories and personalities. The series also raises questions around the necessity of this role. Is it an old-world profession steeped in charm and tradition or the outdated whims of the powerful and privileged?

The artist has long been interested in capturing the extremes of society; those either bathing in the sunlight of success or the invisible people in the shadows.  This documentary project captures these everyday men with the same painterly style and studio lighting she usually reserves for film stars and politicians. In this regard, her work can be compared with iconic photographers of our time such as Richard Avedon whose famed documentary work also captured both extremes of society.

“As if derived from an Old Master’s period, Alina creates not only beautiful portraits, but complex ones, given the intimacy and superb detail of her photographic technique.  The effect is of a sublime meditative emotional journey into their lives, souls, and stories,” says New York art curator Angelica Semmelbauer.

Alina believes she is drawn to these extremes in her photography because of her own personal journey and fluctuations between two worlds; as a child and as an adult; in her private and her professional life. She grew up in luxury only to watch her parents have to relinquish it all in exchange for a new life in Western society. Likewise, in her adult life she turned her back on the security of a career in tax law at PriceWaterhouseCoopers to pursue her artistic talents and a more creative, albeit tumultuous livelihood.

For these portraits, the artist selected doormen who each had profoundly moving stories of immigration from Eastern Europe.  At a time of global debate on immigration and in light of the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution in November 2017, Alina felt their voices should be heard. She also felt compelled to explore themes around the ‘invisible scars of displacement’. It is a subject she understands personally. 

“I am fascinated by the real cost of immigration. Most of these men had higher education professions in their native countries: they were doctors, engineers, and architects. Their histories did not surprise me, they are all too familiar” said Alina. “My own family came to Australia when I was 14 years old from the then USSR. When ‘the wall’ came down, we were eager to leave Soviet Russia behind. But we had to give up our Russian citizenship and we were not allowed to take any belongings or savings. It was a price that would have far-reaching effects on my family for many years.”

“I didn’t feel entitled at the time to talk to anyone about it: there are no visible scars, no wounds of war in my experiences, and yet the trauma is very present and long-lasting. I have been fortunate to find a positive way of expressing it through my photography. But not everyone is so lucky and these men have stories of great sacrifice that I wanted to share with the world,” adds the artist.

This exhibition is a homecoming of sorts for the artist after almost a decade spent successfully pursuing her photographic career in Europe and America. It is also a homage to her adopted home of New York and the fascinating, irresistible complexity that defines life in that city: a city which was born and built by immigrants from across the far reaches of the globe arriving in America in search of new possibilities.

AT YOUR DOOR will be exhibited at No.1 Martin Place, Sydney. The exhibition opens on the 29th November, before touring to New York, Los Angles and Moscow in 2018.