Alumnus tells unseen stories through artistic passion

October 14, 2022

Photo of John Lazzaro leaning on a graffiti-filled wall holding a camera.

A painting of flowers encased in a thin black frame was nailed to the wall, yellow and white flakes crackling around it. 

“The thing that kind of shocks me or amazes me is the amount of stuff that people will leave behind, especially when they know something is closing,” Lazzaro said. 

While many spent their pandemic quarantine cooped up in their bedroom, New York native John Lazzaro, MS ‘14, was running around, documenting the history behind some of New York’s few remaining empty, abandoned, and falling apart buildings and sites. Memories, such as the painting of flowers on the wall, stick out the most when thinking back on his experiences making his second book, "A Vanishing New York: Ruins Across the Empire State."

“My photography was pretty much self-taught. When I started a job at a boarding school up in Maine, one of the job responsibilities was being an on-site photographer, so I would go to different events, like sports games, admissions events, and just capture and document what was going on,” Lazzaro said. 

Lazzaro’s passion for visual storytelling began in high school when he created documentary shorts. He enjoyed filming topics surrounding social awareness, and he even won an award in 2010 for his film, "Hindsight," which highlighted the heroin epidemic. 

"I’ve always liked history and always liked trying to move people,” he said. “Especially with these buildings, you can learn a lot about the past, but you can also learn a lot about where we’re heading, you know, as to why things close, why we don’t need certain things anymore.” 

The motivation to make people’s emotions move through art is what inspired Lazzaro to create his first book "The Walls Still Talk: A Photographic Journey Through Kings Park Psychiatric Center."

"I had that interest moving back from Maine, you know, let me just go to the grounds of Kings Park Psychiatric Center, drive around and see – maybe there’s something photo-worthy here. I may or may not have snuck into some buildings with my camera and took pictures. It was different – in nature you're dealing with a lot of movement sometimes,” he said. “But this was a lot more static – you're reacting to the space as a whole. That inspired me.” 

In an effort to explore the history of the park, the effects of deinstitutionalization and what the buildings looked like past their closing, Lazzaro explored as much as possible. 

“I hope people have a better appreciation for history and photography as an art,” he said.

“We’ve all seen abandoned buildings – either driving or stumbled across them in day-to-day lives. There’s a subconscious obsession we have of what’s inside, what’s the story behind this place, why is it here, what purpose did it serve, you know?” Lazzaro said. 

Through capturing photos of piles of blueprints and masses of machinery, Lazzaro has been able to give readers an insider perspective into what the buildings look like past their lifespan. 

While exploring for his first book, he realized he wanted to expand his boundaries and release a new book with even more buildings. This is when "A Vanishing New York: Ruins Across the Empire State" came into fruition. 

Past his photographic process, and into the publishing aspect, Lazzaro reflected on how the coursework he took 10 years ago while studying at Quinnipiac helped him design his books.

“Starting through Quinnipiac, using those programs, especially Adobe InDesign, I was able to teach myself. And then we learned the basic principles of good design versus bad design, and I was able to take that to my job in the workplace,” Lazzaro said. 

He hopes his work will continue to inspire people to go out and explore, learn, and be amazed. 

“Do what you love, love what you do,” he expressed. 

Interested in seeing more of Lazzaro's work? Visit his website here.

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