“I looked for a tough guy to emulate. A mentor of the streets, I found Uncle Charlie, tough and tattooed. He was a real tough guy, he epitomized everything I wanted to be. A lifetime later, instead, I found my wise guy godfather of my childhood broken, a fragment of my Brooklyn boyhood a newly found dark hero” Marc Asnin 1981
When I began reading Uncle Charlie, a book by the photographer Marc Asnin, I felt it was a bit disjointed, due to the varying font sizes employed throughout the book for emphasis. I think it was also because I was expecting a photo book with minimal text, but that is not what it was. The text in the book is Uncle Charlie telling his life story to his nephew, Marc. It is a story that Marc Asnin witnessed 30 years of as he compiled hundreds of powerful black and white photographs of his uncle and extended family. The book is part Uncle Charlie’s autobiography, part Asnin’s biography of his uncle. It is a very personal account of man’s life that probably should have gone in a more positive direction, but went in this rather negative direction instead.
The strength of this project becomes apparent as you become aware that the varying font sizes and schematic layout aids you along the journey that is Uncle Charlie’s life story. It meanders then hits the reader with full force. The strength of this project reveals itself as you search for clues regarding photographs that are not labeled adjacent to ones that are. Some of the photographs are beautiful and touching while simultaneously others are harsh and graphic. Each photograph is in a position to challenge your idea of what is a family in America. The collective body of the work is a window into a trouble, even persecuted life. Uncle Charlie is persecuted in some ways and is the aggressor in many other ways. But Marc Asnin’s work is something rarely seen if seen at all. Unlike many biographers, he had a front row seat for 30 years, had a camera and the foresight to use it.
This work may be Marc Asnin’s magnum opus and should be experienced by anyone interested in the power of great documentary work. It is as powerful as it is unguarded and it deeply affected me.
“Uncle Charlie” photographs and text copyright Marc Asnin (2012 Contrasto) designed by de.MO/Giorgio Baravalle