Erica McDonald’s “The Dark Light of This Nothing”

Erica McDonald wrote in a while back. I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time, having first met her through lightstalkers, and hoped she might have a project to share. The selection she sent back, from “The Dark Light of This Nothing” is a beautiful portrait of Brooklyn, both timeless and very much of this moment, a look into what rapidly changing socioeconomics means for the city and, by extension, the country. Here’s what McDonald writes about the project:

Janet: Hi Erica..(kiss)

Erica McDonald [EM]: Hi, Where’s Adele?

Janet: Adele’s inside..Erica, this is my family, that’s uh..Donny, my sister in law, Sharon, Angie…David and that’s my brother John..

EM: You’ve got a good memory.

Janet: I’ve got a good memory, I have 38 nieces and nephews, I have to..this is just a little quarter of it.

EM: I’m trying to get people to talk about what the neighborhood was like and what it is like now and..

Janet: You want some dessert? Steven would know that, my husband would know that, and so would Mary.

EM: No thanks, I’m okay. Yeah, Mary was just talking to me a little.

Anthony: I wasn’t born here..I don’t know anything..

Janet: You was SO! He’s full of crap! Where were you born? Where were you born?

Anthony: I was born in Staten Island.

Janet: No he wasn’t.. He was born here in the house on..

Anthony: What the hell is this? you gotta talk to this thing?

EM: It’s a microphone.

Janet: Dad, just talk about..

Anthony: What am I gonna tell? I was born over on 3rd street. And the place was beautiful at that time, we had a nice time, not too much traffic, I’m old, that’s why. We used to play stickball in the middle of the street, there was no traffic, you could play stickball. right? Today you can’t even walk in the friggin’ street, too many cars.

Janet: You played Skellies..

Anthony: Skellies, well, we played all kinds of games. Kick the can, you know, stuff like that. What else did we play?Johnny on the pony, Johnny on the pony..You know what that is? She don’t know…(looking at EM) On the fire hydrant, and everyone’s gotta jump on his back and try to make him fall. We played a lot of games, when we grew up it was a nice neighborhood..There was no computers, of course not. You had to add in your mind. We didn’t even have a television. That’s why we used to go out and play. No it was nice, it really was, it was nice around here.

Janet: We used to play cards, knuckles..knuckles..We used to play over here everyday, and Grandma would come out and go “Why can’t yous play on your own stoop, whattaya gotta play here for?” Because we live here, Grandma! People would come and have to get up to the house and we’d always have cards and we had to move and the people would get annoyed..cause we were sitting down playin’, but what else were you gonna do?

Anthony: When we were young we used to play stickball, or stoop ball, you hit the ball against the stoop, or punchball. And when we grew up we were poor, in plain English, it’s the truth. When we played football, you know what we used for a football? You rolled up a newspaper, seriously, you taped it, and that was a football, we couldn’t afford a football..it’s true..and if we had a baseball, eventually the cover would fall off, we used to tape it up..yeah, we couldn’t buy another baseball, we were all poor. And the glove was falling apart..it’s true..now what, what do they call all these people around here now, they all got money, what are they, Yuppies? Right, they’re all Yuppies? No, I grew up in a good time, I’m glad I grew up when I did.

In the summer time, when it got very hot, nobody had air conditioning. Not like today. Everybody had a fan, that was all you had, was a fan. But, if you had a fire escape, you could go out and sleep on the fire escape.

Janet: Remember? Grandma used to feed us on the fire escape. My cereal, on the fire escape, every morning. And our favorite game was, what we played was jump rope, all day long. I didn’t need anything else. Grandma used to stand by the window and yell at us, “What are you doing? what are you doin?” Yeah, double dutch…All day, I could play jump rope all day long..double dutch. And be happy.


This piece is meant as a tribute to those long term residents who have sustained the Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York neighborhood for generations and are now in an increasing minority. The old guard is losing their sense of community. A new, affluent population, drawn by Park Slope’s popularity as one of America’s best neighborhoods, is swiftly overshadowing the working class.

The title of this body comes from the words of the philosopher Derrida that reflect on the experience of the loss of “what I myself am not” and on the interiorization of the Other in his irrevocable absence.


Bio: Erica McDonald is a self taught photographer, taking inspiration from a myriad of social documentary and portrait photographers. She has a strong belief in the importance of lineage in photography and working in a continuum. As a child Erica carried Blue Dot Magic Cubes in her pocket as talismans and documented the world around her with the family camera. Very little has changed.

Her photographs have been exhibited in Paris and in New York by PowerHouse, the Camera Club of New York and in Chelsea, at Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey’s burn gallery, at FotoWeek DC and have been included in projections at LOOK3, Palm Springs Photo Festival and the Slideluck Potshow. Awards and nominations include IPA/Lucies, PX3, The NY Photo Awards and the Magnum Cultural Foundation EPF, and a Lower East Side Printshop Residency.

Publications include Mother Jones, The British Journal of Photography, Boston Magazine, YES! Magazine, El Mundo, The Epoch Times, Nonesuch Records, Rhino Records and The Collector’s Guide to Emerging Art Photography. She loves dogs, large and small alike, and is based in NYC.

A larger selection of images from this project is available for publication as a book.

One Response to “Erica McDonald’s “The Dark Light of This Nothing””

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