Take A Look



5th Ave & E 81st St, New York, NY 10028

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

Anton sells photographs on Fifth Avenue and 81st Street in front of the museum. He arrives at his spot at nine o’clock in the morning six days a week – the Metropolitan Museum of Art is closed on Mondays and so the sidewalks are just too empty for business.

The photographs come from the eye, camera and studio of Alex Leykin, who like Anton, is an immigrant from Russia. Alex has been in New York for 11 years and takes wonderful pictures of the city, capturing its lonesome and peaceful, black-and-white side.

“March 6th, 1997 I arrived,” Anton says. He has blue eyes that shimmer like the sky on this late-July heat-wave day. “I had no English. I could say maybe ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ and ‘Thank you.'” When he first came to New York, Anton worked in a body shop for six months before becoming involved with Alex and the photographs.

A man with one umbrella hat on his head and one in his hand suddenly appears, shouting like the hot dog and beer vendors at Yankee Stadium. He sees someone he knows and interrupts his spiel to say hello. “It’s real, it’s a real thing goin’ on!” he says and continues on his way down the street. He takes his place in the sun, out of the shadows cast by the big leafy trees, where the picture-sellers are, and once again begins to shout to the crowds. The sunnier spots are better for selling sun-blocking hats, for obvious reasons. The photograph stands are underneath the trees so people can linger and look.

Anton sells the photographs to support himself while he studies computer technology. He wants to design Internet sites. Right now he’s working on his first one, sort of a test run. “Every day I work on it a little. It is nothing of interest right now, but it is coming.” He is educating himself. “I buy books, and I read books, I teach myself. I count on myself.” He lives alone in a rented room in Bensonhurst and dreams his own dreams.

The photographs and other artwork are displayed on five-foot-high frames made of metal wire. Everything is clipped onto these frames, and the stools and chairs and tables are set up next to them. Bicycles are locked onto the frames, workspace for framing and fixing is arranged, and the marketplace is complete. Each day a driver loads his van and takes the pictures, paintings and drawings to Manhattan, where Anton and the others meet him.

These “others” are a motley group. Several men sell Alex Leykin’s work, and there is a husband and wife team who display their reproductions of 11th- and 14th- century Chinese paintings, as well as paintings of bamboo and their own Chinese-character calligraphy. Wishes of love, longevity, and strength abound. There are also stands with brightly colored drawings of the city, especially the Statue of Liberty and other iconic scenes. And at the far end of the row, down toward 80th Street, is a small hand-lettered sign that reads, YOUR NAME WRITTEN ON THE RICE WITH FUNNY TUBES – TAKE A LOOK.

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