Lower East Side Community Hero
nominated by Alejandro Epifanio, Loisaida, Inc
Marlis was born in Berlin in 1943. She studied photography in Berlin and Paris before moving to New York in 1966. Initially she worked as a fashion photographer for glossy magazines and for clients like Gucci and Elizabeth Arden, from her studio on Fifth Avenue. In 1974-75 she moved to the Lower East Side and began documenting her community. Marlis began documenting the murals by Maria Dominguez and the work of many other artists supported by the CITYarts Workshop program spearheaded by Sue Kiok. She gradually moved into documenting daily life in Loisada and through vivid photography she linked her memories and images of war-ravaged Germany after World War II to the burnt out and abandoned East Village and Lower East Side of the 1970s. While photographing the deplorable housing infrastructure, high crime rate, drug abuse, unemployment and later on gentrification of the Loisaida community, her work also captured the sense of unity and hope among our people, the development of social political movements and transformative cultural expression. Marlis felt that residents found “inspiration amid the emptiness.” Many of her subjects were working-class families, community leaders, activists, squatters, and of course artists, who had all played a role in rescuing abandoned buildings, under-utilized places throughout the community as they were transformed to community gardens and community centers by and for the people.