A Room in the City presents Gasztonyi’s five-year project of photographing the residents of the Cobalt, Balmoral, Regent, and Sunrise Hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the poorest postal code in the country. They are represented in private moments, with respect and dignity—in their rooms and on the streets—as they wish to be seen. Gasztonyi’s style continues in the great documentation tradition of Anders Petersen and Josef Koudelka, the photographer of the Roma.
Accompanied by a selection of Gasztonyi’s diary entries, and poems, the photographs in A Room in the City are complex and varied portraits of people who often go unnoticed or ignored. Gasztonyi’s arresting images urge us to look longer, harder, and deeper at a city often deemed one of the “world’s best places to live.” His unflinching eye insists that we more closely examine a culture where the chasm between have and have-not grows ever deeper, to consider how we are both implicated and removed from the lives of our neighbours.
Excerpt from “Images of our Shadow Side,” the foreword by Gabor Maté:
“… No words can fully capture the experience of abuse, trauma, degradation, and shame that has characterized the lives of my patients and Gabor Gasztonyi’s subjects… If anything can, it is Gabor’s photographs that bring those sad lives into the sharpest relief, for in each photo, in each look, in each gesture, there is a full life.”
Best of 2010 Non-fiction
“A Room in the City is a haunting collection of photographs by Gabor Gasztonyi. … There’s more here than prostitution and crack pipes, although they’re in evidence. Whether confronting the lens or averting their gaze, the subjects expose their vulnerability but also their attachment to another human being or a cosseted pet. In the book’s foreword, addiction expert Gabor Maté notes that for many of these people, mental illness or substance abuse is a response to trauma. ‘Their entire life,’ he adds, ‘has been one of survival against odds.’ We’re left wondering how people have to live this way in Canada.”
“Gabor Gasztonyi spent five years photographing and talking to the men and women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and A Room in the City is the mesmerizing result. The black-and-white images, and Gasztonyi’s diary entries, forcefully and unforgettably capture the desperation—and the unexpected glints of dignity and joy—of lives ravaged by poverty, drugs, mental illness and social dislocation.”
—The National Post
“A Room in the City is a remarkable collection that, when coupled with the insights from Maté and the other tidbits of personal poetry and journal entries that Gasztonyi injects into the pages, initiates a great deal of personal reflection. There is little joy between the covers of this book, but that doesn’t mean it is not worth owning.
I had a friend from out of town visit last week, and on her first night in Vancouver, she followed her GPS through Hastings and was terrified by the scene made more surreal by a body under a white sheet that was rolled out of an SRO while she waited for the traffic light to change. A couple days later, she saw my copy of Gasztonyi’s book on my coffee table where I’d left it, and so she picked it up and started to read it. At first she was frightened, and then she had questions, but by the end of it she felt that she understood the situation much better and she was no longer scared. Now that’s a powerful book!”
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