By Gary Sprengel
Nork! Photo Walks have become a really big deal. On April 16th, the third annual walk put a spotlight on the Ironbound and attracted roughly 180 people, far and away the largest walk yet. I was more excited for this one than the law should allow, but that’s the general feeling participants have had since the first walk through downtown Newark in September 2020. Fusing twin passions of photography and Newark, artists Chrystofer Davis and Gabe Ribeiro really struck a chord when they came up with this idea. After last year’s walk through Branch Brook Park, it was a hat trick this year to focus on the culturally rich and visually diverse Down Neck.
The crowd gathered at noon in the shadow of the Jackson Street Bridge at Riverfront Park. They came from all over, too, not just locally. The Bronx, Brooklyn, Trenton, Baltimore, Idaho. Yes, Idaho! Meeting so many new like-minded creative people is a particular joy. Davis soon got on his bullhorn to welcome all of us, and the walk began! I often joke about the majestic Passaic, but I’m not lying when I say I find beauty in it. The reflection of Newark’s skyline on the water is always gorgeous, and the sound of your car tires going over one of the bridges to NJ’s largest city is always exciting to me. The Passaic and Newark are intertwined. We walked along the riverfront path all the way to Freeman Street, taking pictures of reeds, the orange sticks, graffiti, a building in the last stage of demolition, Red Bull Arena, and a bunch of shoes tied to a tree branch.
There was a whole new set of sights once we turned south away from the river. Century-old churches and factories, the old Ballantine Brewery site, and planes flying lower and lower. It was increasingly an industrial wasteland until the oasis that is Down Bottom Farms appeared at the corner of Ferry and St. Charles. Yes, a farm in Newark. Where they grow things! That you can buy! You definitely need to pay them a visit.
The walk took a bit of a breather at the recently renovated Eddie Moraes Stadium before venturing into the most isolated industrial part of the Ironbound yet. I’m delighted to report I walked under Route 1/9 for the first time in my life! There was a lot to then be found on that block of Paris Street between St. Charles and Magazine Streets. Numerous old cars, a shirtless man and his unleashed dogs, a wall of graffiti. All of this alone was worth the price of admission.
Things got more residential again once we traversed back under 1/9 and made our way to Rome Street, then to Wilson Avenue. We saw Krug’s, Seabra’s, tons of small businesses. We were soon back on Ferry Street and nearing the end of our wondrous journey. The walk concluded at ODR Studios on Madison Street, which was gracious enough to host all of us for an after-party and portrait sessions. I’ve been itching to get inside this fascinating building for a couple years, so this was yet another high point for me in a day full of them. Unique Photo and Lomography helped provide the raffles, Sihana Cafe supplied an assortment of delicious bites, cookies and coffee, and Nick Keleshian and Joshua Garcia from bunkr. provided the soundtrack. It was a stellar end to the event.
One of the many interesting things about the Ironbound is how many neighborhoods there are within it, so many nooks and crannies. We walked through several of them and gained an appreciation for them that you can only get on foot. The future of these Nork! Photo Walks is a wee bit up in the air; Davis and Ribeiro hinted at a more concentrated “festival” gathering next time. I’m confident they have more incredible tricks up their sleeves. I’ll let Ribeiro have the last word. I asked him if there was anything he wanted to convey to people reading this. “I think it’s magical how you can only organize a photo walk so much and then everyone’s creativity just takes the energy to an exponential level. You just create the space and people fill it.”
Gary Sprengel is a Harrison native who fled to Amish Country, PA to attain his BA in communications from Elizabethtown College. He enjoys photography, craft beer, wandering urban landscapes, and country music. He wrote dating blogs under a pseudonym for about a year, and was once pulled onstage by Don Rickles in Atlantic City. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @garysprengel.