This is a narrative of a tale of two cities, the thriving tourism of the Canadian Niagara Falls and the withering American Niagara Falls across the river.
On the American side, the median income is $30,000-- 40 percent below national average and 1/5 live below the poverty line. Their Canadian counterpart’s bright lights – its hotels, casino and prosperity-- shines, a symbol to the New York side of its own unrealized economic potential.
The Canadian side sees 12-million visitors each year, almost twice as many tourists as the American side. The American side features boarded-up neighborhoods, including the once world-renowned Falls Street. It is now half as large as it once was, having shrunk from 100,000 residents to 50,000.
By pairing the faces of those who live here with their surroundings, Niagara Falls, New York tells the narrative of both a city’s broken promises and its enduring beauty.
It is my hope that these visages and landscapes give voice to not only a forgotten, abandoned former tourist spot but also to all the divided places and communities in an American riven by economic gap.
(L) Tim Strack, 61, has lived in Niagara Falls his entire life and is living with Esophageal cancer. "My American dream is alive each time I wake up to live another day" he says.
(R) Although some industrial businesses remain, the city continues to be deeply affected by 40 years of job losses from the decline of industry such as chemical production plants.
(L) Shane Stark, 41, finishes his shift as a welder. He who moved to the city a year ago from Rochester because of the crime. "America needs to wake up. I wouldn't want to live here. If I was able I would be gone but I was lucky enough to find a job here. There are lots of drugs here and even though there are good people there are lot scammers and hustlers. Most plants are condemned and shutdown and the big chemical companies left."
(R) The Goodyear Tire & Rubber factory remains although the city has seen decades of job loss and industry has substantially declined seeing a population decline from 100,000 to 50,000.
(R) Canadian Jamaican Isaiah Robertson, 68, who has lived in Niagara Falls for 14 years, touches up the paint on his home covered top to bottom with rainbow colors. People visit his home for help and spiritual guidance and he refers to himself as the Prophet Isaiah. "Jesus Christ is here and the American dream means a lot to me because God chose America," he says
(R) A trained sea lion circles a dated aquarium after performing at an aquarium
(L) Symbols of American pride can be seen throughout the small tourist strip that lies along the Canadian border crossing.
(R) Canadian tourist Cynthia Espinoza, 32, poses for a photo with her dog Chiquita after spending a night visiting the American side of the falls for a shopping trip.
(L) Kay, 57 (left) and Dale Garrett, 62 (right) from Arkansas are about to take a helicopter ride along the Niagara River during a long-awaited month-long road trip. They are retired and have been married for 32 years and do not plan to venture into the city past the tourist area.
(R) Helicopters provide riders with a 10-minute ride with views of the Niagara River and the falls for $100 per person.
(L) Canadian dancer Tracy Recollet, 35, who is part Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi at a souvenir centre in main tourist area near the Canadian border where she performs a traditional dance. Seneca Nation of Indians consider Niagara Falls their ancestral land and make up less than 2 percent of the population.
(R) The Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino stands alone with few other attractions in comparison to it's Canadian counterpart. It is owned by Seneca Nation of Indians.
(L) A souvenir shop in a prime tourism area.
(R) The historic Main Street lies as a neglected and impoverished part of the town in stark contrast to the state park and the tourism area near the falls that most visitors see.
(L) Tamara Kozak, 56, grew up in a small Ukrainian village before marrying an American and moving to Niagara Falls 20 years ago. The mother who has since divorced says "economically I only seen progress a year ago in the tourism industry. There seems to be more tourists...It's difficult to get by... This wasn't what I pictured when I moved here 20 years ago but I am a very strong person and very hard working. I can survive anywhere. I'm not afraid. This place is depressing but I want this city to look like all American cities. Beautiful, clean, lights and I want people to want to do better. Everything seems so hard here. I want them to see the opportunity to see this is a city of opportunity."
(R) A heat lamp at a hotel casts a dim light echoing the neon lights shining on the American tourist strip that pales in comparison to the bright lights of the Canadian tourism centre.
(L) Men fish for bass, sturgeon, steelhead and salmon at the Niagara Power Authority which produced it's first power in 1961 and was once the largest hydropower facility in the Western world. The once booming industrial sector was a direct result of the steady reliable power supply provided by the power harnessed from the falls.
(R) Abandoned boats lie in an industrial part of the Niagara Falls.
(L) Howard Bruce, 58, has lived in his home for nine years where he and his family have been trying to leave because of high crime rates and violence. He relies on social security and food stamps because he lives with a disability.
(R) The Rainbow bridge separates the Canadian and American border and provides visitors with a prime view of the falls. Few visitors step beyond the tourism area.
(L) Few visitors venture out beyond the relatively small tourism area near the falls to take in the many quiet neighbourhoods which lie nearby.
(R) Owners Marlena Mazzei, 47, and Eddi Mazzei, 54, who have married for 23 years, pose for a photo at their Moonlite Motel which has been in Marlena's family for 29 years. They moved from Toronto, Canada four years ago to take over the family business. " We enjoyed it and we feel we are part of the family legacy. The city has transformed a lot and there is a lot of rejuvenation by the falls. It was starting to look really shabby and it's a shame because it's one of the wonders of the world."
(L) Reminders of the beauty of the falls and it's Canadian twin city can be seen throughout the city.
(R) Rebekah Jobling, who has worked in factories for most of her life, at the bowling alley where she works which has been in business for 65 years. "I've seen this place decline... tourism is clustered in one area. It would be nice if they would give business on Main Street a chance which is completely barren now." She goes on to say, "The factory jobs are gone, the drugs have come in and taken over certain areas for the last five years especially. Now that the factories aren't there the kids have moved into drugs and gangs have moved in."
(L) Jimmy Butler, 50 who has lived in Niagara Falls for over ten years after moving from Georgia. He lost his leg because of diabetes and he lives with his disabled sister surviving on $512 per month in government assistance. The American rust belt town has a population of 23% that lives below the poverty line and 60 percent of its residents receive some form of public assistance such as food stamps.
(R) Falls Street was once a world-famous area now it has a modest pedestrian mall filled with souvenir stores with vacant storefronts lining the street.
(L) Kaleema Jones who was born and raised in Niagara Falls poses for a photo on a Sunday afternoon.
(R) Dee Johnson moved away from Niagara Falls to Baltimore after his brother was murdered but returned and has lived in the city for the past 12 years. "I love America because we are free...but I don't think there's such thing as the American dream. People want to be rich and famous but if you're not Jay-Z or Beyonce or smart as hell then you're not going to get what those people call the American dream. The American dream is not about being rich and famous. The American dream to me is not about having a green picket fence-- but a white picket fence, having some kids, having a wife and living so I don't have to worry about someone knocking on my door telling me they're going to cut off the electricity or my gas. Of course that has happened to me. I am young and I am black."
(L) The neon lights which paint the tourism strip can also be seen around the city.
(R) Angela works at her boyfriend's newly opened self-described dream business-- Carmine's Catering. In reference to her daughter she says, "I want her to leave the city because there's no opportunity here and there's no job. I've had three businesses go under. I want her to get a NY state education. I don't want her to leave NY but I want her to leave Western NY or Niagara Falls." She has a business degree and is currently in school for criminal justice and hospital administration.
(L) While the Canadian Niagara Falls is illuminated with hotels and casinos and flooded with 12-million annual visitors per year, the New York twin city sees its bright lights from across the river and receives half as many visitors. The Canadian side is a visual reminder of what the American side could have been had it not predominantly relied on chemical production industry which declined.
(R) The faint light of the sole casino in Niagara Falls, New York shines on an abandoned home echoing the city's failure to develop it's tourism industry in comparison to its Canadian counterpart.
(L) The city's sole casino lies at the end of a street lined with limited attractions surrounding the area and many vacant buildings. Yet the neon lights continue to pulse like a beacon of continued promise.
(R) The flashing neon lights from the Hardrock Cafe bathe a main intersection in the tourist district near the American/Canadian border.
(L) Symbols of American pride can be seen from the poorest to the richest neighborhoods in the city.
(R) Manaya watches as her father fishes. Her father's idea of the American Dream is for her to go to college.
(L) Tyrone Perry Junior, 31 (left) and Tyrone Perry Senior, 59 (right) on their front porch. "American dream is an illusion. For us it is more of a nightmare not a dream" says his Tyrone.
(R) Miguel plays on the front porch as his father and grandfather smoke cigarettes on a Sunday afternoon.
(L) The towering hotels and casinos on the Canadian Niagara Falls peak over the mist from the falls. Tourism was up in 2015 for its American counterpart and provides hope that things will change.
(R) Mark Hagar, 40, who was born and raised in Niagara Falls, poses for a photo at the barbershop where he has been cutting hair for 20 years.
A hat resembling that belonging to the legendary character Uncle Sam, which often serves as a symbol of patriotism, is left outside a factory.