In the land of weathered denim, scruffy beards and earnest grasps at eternal youth, Ryan Greer is the proverbial day Methuselah. He moved to the promised land of Brooklyn over 12 years ago, eons for many Brooklyn newcomers. Since then, he has built a business and a home for himself — from the street up.
Despite his longevity in the Brooklyn scene, Ryan Greer is anything but ancient. As a high schooler growing up in upstate New York, he and his friends would drive across the Canadian border to sneak into local bars. When he moved to Brooklyn in the early aughts to attend Pratt Institute, this same unorthodox outlook prevailed and Ryan set up shop on the streets of Soho, selling screen printed t-shirts to local passers-by under the name Flux Productions. Acquiring a street vendor license was comparable to winning the lottery (in fact, the waiting list to receive one can last up to 25 years), so Ryan rented the permit services of a retired Irish vet named O’Brian.
Fifteen minutes after posting an image of blueberry pancakes – or the leftovers that is, the crumbs – to Instagram a gaggle of beaming hearts have bubbled up and enveloped the shot. I count 1,800 likes. That’s 120 likes per minute; two likes per second. “That’s not that many,” Alice mentions matter-of-factly. “A good image usually gets 10,000 likes.”
I nod in disbelief. A good image of mine, well, better not said. Alice Gao is a New York-based photographer who over the last three years has built up a steady presence, and impressive roster of clients, in the food and lifestyle scene. She owes her fresh-faced start to a blog, Lingered Upon, which she launched three and a half years ago upon moving to New York after graduating early from the University of Pennsylvania. While her cohorts embarked on a final semester of studies, Alice opted for a big city job as a photo archivist at the Arnell Group, the branding firm that managed such controversial redesigns as the Pepsi logo and the Tropicana juice container. Three years later, Alice likens the job to the defining text on mean bosses, “The Devil Wears Prada.”
Like the quirky, slightly sinister pieces clustered throughout her East Village VeraMeat shop, Vera Balyura’s story carries an element of the fantastical. Perhaps, it’s fitting. Vera was raised in no cookie cutter home.
With a concert pianist for a mother and a documentary filmmaker who managed a pin company on the side for a father, Vera was never destined for normal. And, she’s better for it. It’s her eccentricity, unorthodox spirit and overall force of character that have transformed this jewelry designer’s vision into a burgeoning brand with a cult following.
Until she settled in NYC in the late ’90s, Vera had lived everywhere and nowhere. At age 6, her family left Ukraine for Utah, joining the suburban enclaves of middle-class, white bread families homesteading in Salt Lake City. Her mother opened a nail salon. Yet, typical was not in their blood. A self-proclaimed nerd, Vera was considering early admission to college until she was discovered by an agent on an elevator ride. She soon signed to Nathalie — an elite modeling agency in Paris — and was sent overseas. By age 14, she was living alone in a model house with nothing to do but attend castings. So she roamed the city, often stopping over at photographers’ studios to play guitar and hang out. As she describes it, “I was a child and I didn’t try to pretend to be an adult like so many of the other girls.” Vera was just herself.