coming home ... jennifer tonetti spellman, ny documentary photographer

'I'm back where I belong,
Yeah I never felt so strong'
- Coming Home

That song.

It's haunted me since the day I first heard it because it triggered something I've been pushing down.

Going home. I've been having a strong pull towards going back there, documenting the neighborhood that I walked for the first 10 years of my life. Seeing if I can finally silence this nagging need to 'revisit.'  Going home. What does that mean? I have a home. Here in the suburbs of NY.  I have another home that I lived in since 5th grade, in Bayside Queens.

But why do I always consider my true home to be in Astoria, NY?

Maybe it's because I was born there, back in 1972. My grandparents all lived right around the corner on 28th street. Practically across the street from each other. How awesome is that for a kid?

We lived on 27th street in an apartment building not far from the subway and the Triboro Bridge.  I lived there from the time of birth until I was 10 years old.  I attended Catholic School. I was a super shy kid. Yes, it's true. Hard to believe now.

Astoria was not the 'infiltrated with hipsters' place it is now back then.  Astoria in the 70's had two types of people: The Greeks + the Italians. Period. OK, well that is an exaggeration but it was predominantly so.  You couldn't walk more than two steps down the block without hearing someone shout out in Greek or Italian.

At the end of fourth grade, my parents decided to move our family to a better section of Queens.  It was getting a little shady.  A little rougher than I think they felt comfortable with me growing up in. The kids on my block for the most part, were assholes. They didn't really like me because I wouldn't play games like laying in the middle of the street until a car came.  Silly me.

I was shy but Queens made me tough. It was the start of the thick skin I have now. I truly credit it for keeping me real all these years and keeping perspective in the privileged area of NY I now live in. 

I loved my childhood. I love Astoria and though it was seriously pissing rain, I finally, FINALLY got on that train from NYC and went back last Friday.

I didn't know what I would see, what I would shoot, or how I would feel. It's had been nearly 35 years since I walked the streets of Astoria truly 'looking' at it.

I will let my images do the talking and explain a bit about why I shot each one, how it made me feel, and how I finally went home.

(all images shot on the Ricoh GR II)

A perfectly gritty and raw shot as I made my way into the station to head back home.

A perfectly gritty and raw shot as I made my way into the station to head back home.

My stop.

My stop.

The park right by the train that I cut my foot on in the sprinklers many summers ago.

The park right by the train that I cut my foot on in the sprinklers many summers ago.

Where they used to sell Italian ices.

Where they used to sell Italian ices.

Oh the irony. It was just beyond the wall that my Nonno and his brothers raised Beagles for hunting.  I was given one of the puppies, his name was Rosco and he was bat you-know-what crazy.

Oh the irony. It was just beyond the wall that my Nonno and his brothers raised Beagles for hunting.  I was given one of the puppies, his name was Rosco and he was bat you-know-what crazy.

Just two blocks from the train, my Grandma/Grandpa and Nana/Nonnos' block.

Just two blocks from the train, my Grandma/Grandpa and Nana/Nonnos' block.

The window to the right was my Grandma Josephine and Grandpa Vinny's kitchen window.I have a vivid memory of myself looking out that window and watching a boy I had a crush on get beat up right inside that fence. My Grandma threatened to come out there and hit the kid beating him up with a wooden spoon. :)

The window to the right was my Grandma Josephine and Grandpa Vinny's kitchen window.I have a vivid memory of myself looking out that window and watching a boy I had a crush on get beat up right inside that fence. My Grandma threatened to come out there and hit the kid beating him up with a wooden spoon. :)

My Nana Leah and Nonno Robert's building. This one hurt my heart. I think it's because neither of them ever even met Emma. My Nana just died earlier this year from Alzheimer's, so she was here, but not 'here' and my Nonno died many years before from cancer. They would have loved their Great Grandaughters. Also upsetting was the stoops were gone. Stoops that I spent so much time on both with them and with my cousins on holidays. 

My Nana Leah and Nonno Robert's building. This one hurt my heart. I think it's because neither of them ever even met Emma. My Nana just died earlier this year from Alzheimer's, so she was here, but not 'here' and my Nonno died many years before from cancer. They would have loved their Great Grandaughters. Also upsetting was the stoops were gone. Stoops that I spent so much time on both with them and with my cousins on holidays. 

Many apartment buildings were connected but they were 'separated' by color.

Many apartment buildings were connected but they were 'separated' by color.

I was so sad when I got to the end of their blockand there was not a single storefront I recognized. No Sonny the butcher, no bakery. Nothing. Except this old fire alarm.

I was so sad when I got to the end of their blockand there was not a single storefront I recognized. No Sonny the butcher, no bakery. Nothing. Except this old fire alarm.

... And with a turn of the corner, here is my home, revisited.

... And with a turn of the corner, here is my home, revisited.

I wanted to ring a bell so bad and go in there. I had this crazy notion that maybe, just maybe I could actually get into the apartment I grew up in if a nice old couple lived in it or something.   I admittedly was nervous even standing in the vestibule.

I wanted to ring a bell so bad and go in there. I had this crazy notion that maybe, just maybe I could actually get into the apartment I grew up in if a nice old couple lived in it or something.   I admittedly was nervous even standing in the vestibule.

Absolutely the same (obviously from the way it looks right?)

Absolutely the same (obviously from the way it looks right?)

This isn't the exact one, but I used to have a fire escape right outside my bedroom window. A true staple of city life but I bet I would be freaked out now if I had one!

This isn't the exact one, but I used to have a fire escape right outside my bedroom window. A true staple of city life but I bet I would be freaked out now if I had one!

Nature meets city.

Nature meets city.

There were two places we always walked to when I was a kid. DitmarsBlvd. and Steinway Street. Ditmars more frequently as we were only a few blocks away. I was so happy to see some familiar spots still standing..that and some conversation from the old world still brewing...

One of very few storefronts that were there since I was a kid. I was always fascinated by the amount of 'stuff' and the smell of shoe polish that hit my senses when I walked by...

One of very few storefronts that were there since I was a kid. I was always fascinated by the amount of 'stuff' and the smell of shoe polish that hit my senses when I walked by...

The inside of the shoe repair shop is the size of a small room.

The inside of the shoe repair shop is the size of a small room.

The N/R trainline (aka the 'never' and the 'rarely' to us queens folk) that ran so close to home. It's why the young folks who cannot afford Manhattan rents LOVE Astoria. You are in NYC in 20 minutes.

The N/R trainline (aka the 'never' and the 'rarely' to us queens folk) that ran so close to home. It's why the young folks who cannot afford Manhattan rents LOVE Astoria. You are in NYC in 20 minutes.

I had many a birthday at that McDonald's but it's the memory of my Nana thinking their burgers were so 'tasty' as my cousin Nicole reminded me when I told her I shot there that day, that made me smile. The most elegant woman you'd ever meet, digging on the taste of Mcy D's.

I had many a birthday at that McDonald's but it's the memory of my Nana thinking their burgers were so 'tasty' as my cousin Nicole reminded me when I told her I shot there that day, that made me smile. The most elegant woman you'd ever meet, digging on the taste of Mcy D's.

Astoria always had places to gather to talk. Stoops and under the overpasses were always filled in my mind with images like these...

Astoria always had places to gather to talk. Stoops and under the overpasses were always filled in my mind with images like these...

Same sign.

Same sign.

He reminded me so much of the Tonetti men, my Nonno and his brothers. Tears filled my eyes so fast after I snapped this...

He reminded me so much of the Tonetti men, my Nonno and his brothers. Tears filled my eyes so fast after I snapped this...

Many businesses on Ditmars have changed, but La Guli, thank god, remains.

Many businesses on Ditmars have changed, but La Guli, thank god, remains.

..and then there are places that just didn't. This barber shop. Depressing.

..and then there are places that just didn't. This barber shop. Depressing.

The fact that my Catholic grade school is still there makes me happy. With all the Catholic churches and schools not making it because of lack of attendance, it remains and reminds us to keep the faith.

The fact that my Catholic grade school is still there makes me happy. With all the Catholic churches and schools not making it because of lack of attendance, it remains and reminds us to keep the faith.

I never thought twice about these overpasses growing up. Never knew they defined 'city.'

I never thought twice about these overpasses growing up. Never knew they defined 'city.'

I don't remember this place.. it's freaking creepy. Look below at what was in the window.

I don't remember this place.. it's freaking creepy. Look below at what was in the window.

Bizarre.

Bizarre.

If there is one defining 'decor' in Astoria it's the super gaudy, yet super awesome at the same time 'statues.' Not just religious mind you (but mostly). 

Little gnome mixed in with fake squirrels and turtles, and then of course, the Lord's family. Rad.

Little gnome mixed in with fake squirrels and turtles, and then of course, the Lord's family. Rad.

Even the gates got in on the action...

Even the gates got in on the action...

... then there were those that were on a city street yet lived in an english countryside state of mind.

... then there were those that were on a city street yet lived in an english countryside state of mind.

My walking tour, in the pouring rain of my childhood will never, ever leave me.

My walking tour, in the pouring rain of my childhood will never, ever leave me.

... and with that, time to head back to the city.

... and with that, time to head back to the city.

I felt so sad leaving, like I was leaving them all behind. The memories. The family. The shy kid.

I felt so sad leaving, like I was leaving them all behind. The memories. The family. The shy kid.

I can safely say the desire to go back has been satisfied visually and mentally now. It's an enormous feeling of accomplishment.

I can safely say the desire to go back has been satisfied visually and mentally now. It's an enormous feeling of accomplishment.

I am so glad I pushed myself to go back that day. I didn't let the relentless rain rule. I went home. I reconnected. I felt them all there. Maybe it wasn't so much rain, but tears from my most cherished Grandparents above.   This place is the opposite of where I live life now, but it still and forever will mean so much to me and the make up of who I am. I am proud to come from this borough. I wouldn't be me without it.

- j