The Elgin Diner in Camden closed for good about a year ago. But on Saturday, a small crew showed up with ladders in hand, making neighbors momentarily hopeful it was reopening.
It is not. The crew in question, led by the acclaimed photographer Camilo Vergara, was there to poster-bomb the place. They worked quickly to plaster the windows of the shuttered diner with Vergara’s images of murals honoring Martin Luther King Jr. from poor urban neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Detroit.
The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Aug. 28, will be marked by countless events, speeches and editorial-board assessments of the country’s progress toward fulfilling the dream King famously shared with hundreds of thousands on the National Mall. For the occasion, the State Department is touring Vergara’s work around the world. Vergara, in a wry protest against his own high-end exhibition, is installing his photos in places King cared most passionately for: neighborhoods populated by the poor and oppressed. “Most of the places that I’ve photographed are deindustrialized cities,” he says. “Jobs are scarce, people are poor.”
Back in Camden, the 1958 diner was empty save for a coffee carafe sitting on the counter. The poster-bombing was of questionable legality, but the building’s owner is said to have not minded much. The building reportedly will be demolished to make way for a discount store. Vergara hopes his work will prompt people to ask why their city has been abandoned this way. “If millions of people ask that question, then it may make a difference.”
Afterward, Vergara and his crew repaired to the Collingswood Diner, one of many in nearby towns that was open. This is, after all, New Jersey.
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