Being diagnosed with a chronic disease can significantly alter one’s personal life and career plans. More than 70 percent of people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) — a condition of the central nervous system — leave their careers within 10 years of their diagnosis, according to data from the MS International Federation.
Although MS can force some people to change their career plans entirely, others find it possible to pivot to a new, more flexible work structure. Such was the case for photographer Leslie Fratkin, who for years traveled the globe as a freelancer before an MS diagnosis curbed her ability to continue working in her career.
“After finding out I had MS, I was no longer able to travel all four corners of the map,” Fratkin told MyMSTeam. “I was more or less stuck at home in New York. I didn’t have the energy to move around like I used to, and I definitely couldn’t haul heavy camera equipment everywhere.”
That’s what inspired her latest exhibit, “The Streets of Chelsea,” in which Fratkin has captured scenes from Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, where she lives. “It seemed natural to start documenting the area around me, which was such a bustling neighborhood,” Fratkin said. “And then when the pandemic hit, it created a stark contrast between how things typically were and how they became when tourism ended. So I decided to document that.”
Fratkin has displayed some of her images in public spaces throughout Chelsea: “I affix them onto the scaffoldings of halted construction sites and the sides of abandoned buildings and street works,” she wrote on her website, where she has displayed selections from “The Streets of Chelsea.” “I present these photos to my West Chelsea neighbors, as an opportunity to consider all we’ve witnessed over these months. And to imagine what lies ahead for our vastly transformed neighborhood.”
Thirty-seven of her black-and-white photos will also be exhibited at Chelsea Market in New York, starting Sept. 9 through Oct. 16.
Fratkin advises people living with MS to take their time if they need to rethink their career goals. “I had to leave behind my fabulous career. I was having so much fun and meeting incredible people and seeing incredible places — that was hard to say goodbye to,” Fratkin said. “It took a long time to pick myself back up again after the disappointment of having to overhaul my career.”
By giving herself time, Fratkin was able to rediscover her passion for her craft. “I was able to remember the thing that gave me the spark all along, and that is clicking the shutter — for me, that is everything. I hope others will take their time and eventually remember the thing that gave them that spark.”