Photographer overcomes multiple sclerosis to bring the Streets of Chelsea to life with new exhibit

A photographer suffering from multiple sclerosis is set to display stunning images of Chelsea next month.

Leslie Fratkin has been a photographer for over 30 years and focuses on everything from street life to global documentary work, capturing many breathtaking stills in the process. With so much worldly experience, one may presume her latest project would consist of captures from some far-away country, instead, she has chosen to exhibit the mystique of her own backyard.

Although a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis has unfortunately hampered her commercial career, Fratkin’s passion for the artform remains as strong as when she began three decades prior. The exhibit will showcase 37 black-and-white photographs beginning on Sept. 9 both inside the main concourse under the archway and on the outdoor dining structure of Chelsea Market on 15th Street. Dubbed “The Streets of Chelsea,” this display is not only a documentation of the rapidly developing neighborhood taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also a series of portraits of Fratkin’s Chelsea neighbors.

Fratkin herself says she yearns to discover places and the people who inhabit them, capturing them in candid, unposed scenes and welcomes the ability to control all the variables and seeing what an element of chance brings to the final image, which includes the difficulty of living with the immune system disease.

An image from the “The Streets of Chelsea.”Photo by Leslie Fratkin

“A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis forced an abrupt reassessment of how I could continue my photography as I am no longer able to physically work in the way that I used to,” says Fratkin, adding, “I faced this challenge by altering my means—I walked around my neighborhood, striking up conversations with people, teasing out ideas and listening to how they spoke about themselves and their circumstances. This series of photographs was taken during the pandemic, photographing my neighborhood without people. I felt like an archeologist piecing together an idea of a city using only fragments, and the residue, of the life that was.”

In addition to Fratkin’s long tenure as a photographer, she is also one of 500 New York City-based artists to receive a grant through the City Artist Corps Grants program, presented by The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), with support from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) as well as Queens Theatre.

Although snapping pictures is no easy feat when working with multiple sclerosis, Fratkin has shown her resilience by continuing to photograph what could most likely be her most challenging subject: her home.

The exhibit will run until Oct. 31.