Trendy Notes: Four Questions with Photographers Edward Hillel and Isaac Diggs


Formerly from Montreal and Paris, Edward Hillel is a proud inhabitant of Harlem, New York and his exuberant passion is practically laced in every project he undertakes. He is an artist who indulges in the vulnerability that comes with juxtaposing the raw incarnations with heightened beauty.


Photographers Edward Hillel (R) and Isaac Diggs (L)

He has diligently committed his craft to the renderings of his global trek and through his lenses we are privy to the  visual transformations of public and private domains in ways that instigate our senses and allow us to fully revel in his undiluted artistry.

He has expectedly received wide acclamations for his ability to schematically summon the core institutions, photography, film, drawing, and sculpture as his expertly varied utensils in order to produce his multi-dimensional masterpieces.

He has been awarded the Quebec Studio in New York City by the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Quebec, and he has successfully conquered the publishing and art world and even represented his beloved Canada during the Commonwealth Games with his endearing exhibition, Coming Soon… at the Manchester Art Gallery (UK).

He is now indulging us with his latest offering, a studious collaboration with fellow photographer Isaac Diggs, that has produced  their photography book entitled 125th: Time in Harlem.

The book serves as an interactively curetted witness to the kinetic energy saturating one of the most historical hubs in the country. There are vividly simulated images that capture the recurring renaissance and cultural tethering that have managed to sustain the pure essence of Harlem, USA.

We caught up with the dynamic duo to discuss their latest venture.

MTB: What inspired your need to produce a book that celebrates the main hub of Harlem?

EH: I have yet to meet one person who has spent anytime in Harlem and not fallen in love with it. But it’s also what Harlem conjures in the collective imagination: what it represents for the history of New York and America, and what it has freely given to contemporary global culture. Harlem is feisty, sensual and reserved, extraordinarily colorful and brimming with possibility. And it’s all out there on 125th Street.  When I met Isaac through a friend he had already been photographing Harlem for ten years, and I had made a film there a decade earlier. We started working together very naturally. I suppose if we had been musicians, we would have started a band.

ID: 125th’s certain transformation was the reason I felt compelled to photograph it.  The pace and scale of redevelopment provided the needed urgency. Now or never!

MTB: Can you give some insight on how each of your backgrounds helped to propel this particular project?

EH: My work deals with landscape and memory, and is often motivated by issues of social justice. The zoning of 125th Street in 2007 and the tensions it created in the community was a revelation that the stakes were very high: What kind of future would Harlem have and what will happen to its past? Is this progress or gentrification?  My first photography book “The Main” was also about a main street in Montreal, but it was about the street as a metaphorical gathering place where different people, communities and stories intersect. “125th” is about the theater of the street captured in a tension between formal precision and total abandonment to a single moment.

ID: I lived in Harlem on 119th and 120th for over a decade and photographed its streets and parks incessantly.  Harlem was always visually stimulating to me.  When I met Edward I was curious to find a new way of visualizing it, and working in color with a large format camera collaboratively was the perfect solution.

MTB: Do you have any expectations when it comes to the general reception of the book and is there an UNDERLYING message you are trying to propel?

EH: I hope the public will enjoy looking at it as much as we did making it. The message is to buy the book NOW before the first edition sells out!

ID: I think the book is beautiful and I expect others will find it so as well.  As an object it is pleasurable to hold and look at, and that was important to me.  As far as a message, it’s simply to look closely at how the street is transforming.

MTB: How would you summarize the true essence of Harlem and what are your projections for the future?

EH: “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades!” – Who wrote that?

(For essence, see above).           

ID: That is a tough one.  For me Harlem is extremely vital – that is it’s true essence, vitality.  And that vitality is able to absorb anything that might come down the road.