October 16, 2017
how the other side lives.
from the lower east side to the upper east side. this past weekend i led a workshop through the penumbra foundation and was given an assignment by one of the photographers, andrew garn who told me that the assignment was given to him by mary ellen mark. i was, to photograph the fabulous women of the upper east side.
long and short of my story is, one woman clutched her bag and briskly walked away, another put her life at risk by stepping out into the street to avoid me. others curled up their nostrils in disgust and one literally ran down the street at break neck speed when i asked her for direction. i cannot begin to explain how this experience made me feel. “cassandra” a young lady from the area told me that i was not asking the “right” women.
on the train ride home i recalled an episode on the radio where the discussion of slavery and the north was under scrutiny.
“slaves were auctioned openly in the market house of philadelphia; in the shadow of congregational churches in rhode island; in boston taverns and warehouses; and weekly, sometimes daily, in merchant's coffee house of new york. john hancock and benjamin franklin bought, sold, and owned black people. william henry seward, lincoln's anti-slavery secretary of state during the civil war, born in 1801, grew up in orange county, new york, in a slave-owning family and amid neighbors who owned slaves if they could afford them. the family of abraham lincoln himself, when he lived in pennsylvania in colonial times, owned slaves.”
now in no way am i implying that the folks on the upper eastside are descendants of s***e owners, but we all forget that the north had a s***e culture. it made me ask, what could it have been that generated so much contempt for my presence uptown. what i do know is, silence works on many axis. ones silence could mean you don’t want to get involved and it could also mean the revealing of your true identity.
nevertheless, it has sparked a challenge in me to head to the upper eastside and make images about this section of new york. these were my assignment images.
October 13, 2017
a lower eastside story
everyday that i do this i learn a whole lot more about what it is that i do and how photography plays its part in my daily life.
if you are from new york, then you recently witnessed a mayoral debate where instead of seeing a conversation between electoral officials who were vying for a job to work for new yorkers, we all witnessed a shouting match.
here is what i discovered from the debate. i learnt that new york city is the city with the largest number of homeless peoples. i also learnt that mayor diblasio has spent more money on homelessness than his predecessors, but has been unable to put a dent into the problem.
recently his critics claimed that instead of fixing the problem, he was only managing it.
i met sam and scherrie while waiting for my boys to finish football training. they have been together for eight years living, surviving and sleeping on new york city streets. i first saw sam through his writings. he often scribbles poetry and prose on benches. something he does to “make himself feel human.”
for four hours i followed sam around as he showed off the tags made between he and scherrie, mostly in places where they have slept. as we visited one of these spaces, one of his friends got into an argument with me when i asked him if i could photograph the tag that he was sitting on.
“i have been working all day, and just as i got here to rest you come around asking me to get up to take a picture.”
i apologized profusely.
“it’s ok man, it’s not just you. nobody sees us. it’s why you find us sleeping on floors all over the city. we are dirt to people. can you imagine that i spent years in jail for sleeping in an abandoned building? i can’t even go home, and the shelters are not safe.”
October 9, 2017
battered and bruised
black and blue
do not mix.
from the beginning,
they have stood betwixt
the sun and the moon,
the same way midnight
scorns the noon.
and imprisoned without a say,
while old white hands
who meant to have him
slave his life away,
fashion coins from his blackness
and true equality is delayed.
black and blue mix only
on streets corners
handcuffed on backstreets
black boy killed on a rooftop,
or a dark stairway
finds no justice,
even when the video
shows foul play.
black boy thinking
that snitching and mixing
our blues darker.
water it down,
make it lighter,
again using old white hands
architects of a grey land
dip their greedy palms
in native red,
mixing it with black.
the clotted mixture
of a putrid lineage
when black faces hit concrete
or get covered with dirt,
lies, or an assimilated heritage.
white and blue,
strangle the starry dreams
of a black boy
with their institutional stripes,
discolouring the perfect
blend of black
on red, white and blue.
and every day we rise,
we see our blue lcd screens
with another casted image
of another black boy’s dye.
October 7, 2017
walking with giants
i don’t always stand with giants, but i have always hoped that my photographs were made in their likeness.
in actuality, most of my walking days are spent meandering round furrowed faces, laden with their insurmountable questions that seem to rise up like the new residential properties all around brooklyn. the signs they carry are the same — “work in progress, broken spirit.”
i spent the last five days standing with a new group of artists at the open society institute. the following day i took the train to new jersey and spoke at the zimmerli art museum where images by bruce davidson, nina berman, w eugene smith, august sanders, andré kertész and dorothea lange all welcomed images i made in a exhibition entitled subjective objective. the resulting catalogued named “a century of social photography” is riveting, if not carefully curated to show the dignity of resistance photography.
on thursday i sat with larry fink, gus powell, and joseph michael lopez to talk about our work through the eyes of penumbra. nothing sounds sweeter than hearing a photographer that you have looked up to, sit across from you and says the words, “ruddy your images are beautiful,” - larry fink.
these images i make are a testimony to the trauma i carry, and to see them living among giants validates every shard, and broken bottle, every rusty nail, every mirror and every hot coal that i had to walk through to collect them. these are my giants.
September 27, 2017
the ten photographs
it is not easy to focus on just one thing when there is so much going on. the air is saturated with news of war, protests and divisiveness, and yes, the common denominator is this president.
war seems to be on the horizon, and still the republican party stands by their president. it does not seem so easy to unite on a single idea surrounding anything. are we kneeling, locking hands, staying in the dugout, standing alone on the field, or keeping quiet. how powerful would it have looked if everyone, players and owners took a knee. but capitalism and the dollar are still king.
these are my thoughts as i walk around new york. it is a stark difference from listening to young black men and young black women decide on change on brown street on morehouse campus. there, ideas on the relevance of the words “nigga and bitch” in everyday conversations were refreshing if not unprecedented.
i am walking around looking for ten images. ten images that can connect. challenging myself to only take one image per day and try to have it relate to the previous image from the day before. i think it’s my attempt at finding the unifying substances in our everyday lives.
September 21, 2017
sometimes the artist looks into another person's soul just to find a way, because their soul is too waterlogged.
maybe it's in an image, a story, a voice a fleeting thought, a fading memory, maybe it is because of his fears that he desperately reaches for someone else to amplify his own testimony. this might be how i express myself in photography.
but, from the moment she opened her mouth i recognized the pain.
it is the pain that has no name. it is a pain that once inherited, corrupts the very image you wrestle to recall, recollect, and shelve in the deepest archive of your mind. today veronika desperately clings to each memory of her father.
yesterday as she sat on a brooklyn stoop, the many images shared with him seemed to leak from her eyes and onto her tiny hands -- like the way her father's spilled blood, his life force, poured out when arteries abandoned their posts, and allowed his beautiful soul to trail like loose mercury across a haitian yard. frame by frame, day by day each memory turns the corner towards a fraying nothingness.
i have been at that corner.
i stand there still.
ten years ago i literally watched my telephone vibrate "he is gone," while i laid on a bed trying to remember what his face looked like the last time i saw him.
veronika spoke of her father rony châtelain in hushed reverential tones. "he was everything to me. i called him morning, noon and night. i am lost without him. i can't believe he won't be around to see my children?" she said, with tears welling up in her almond shaped eyes.
"they murdered my everything. they took him from me. i hate the caribbean," she said wiping away the trauma.
it's been ten years since i became the gatekeeper in my family. there is no one to ask, no more reference point, no one to tell me about me. i have thought about him every week for 10 years. i was not ready.
September 20, 2017
how "woke" are we?
it was accidentally left out of yesterday's set. this was suppose to be picture number 7.
but in life there are no accidents, just moments waiting for you to make a decision or a choice, and then learning from that commitment.
as i looked at this photograph again, so many of its texture spoke to me, repeatedly.
it speaks to the absence of the new age tech savvy creatives, ridiculously over paid ballers, celebrities, corrupt politicians, mega church preachers, and a president who does not speak to any thing from the above list.
but you know it is not the president's fault. he is just an employee who is not doing his job.
while talking to @illyadavis yesterday @morehouse1867, i listened to him explain that it was the responsibility of the student body of morehouse, not the administration, to seek the highest standards for the all "human male" institution. i gleaned from his statement that it is not our black politicians, or pastors, that we should lean on or look to for our salvation, but that real emancipation from poverty comes from common folk investing in ourselves, (sound old doesn't it?)
now i know he hates to be quoted which is why i will say that i am grossly paraphrasing here, but i pree the wisdom in his words.
as i watched this elderly gentleman sleeping on the sidewalk i cannot help but wonder about words like tradition, brotherhood and humanity. we care more for our technology, cars and our things, we care more about celebrity 4:44 and trap, we care more about ourselves than we do our community. we are all asleep waiting for the next leader, or for gentrification before we open our mouths. i cannot understand why it is so hard to pick up a phone, vote, or march with a maligned nfl player, then go back to our deep sleep.
September 19, 2017
i have not been able to walk the atlanta streets on this second trip.
to tell you the truth, i have hesitated to approach the communities of "the west end" and "the bluff," because i have not wanted to engage. i did not want to see the familiar faces of men i grew up with.
ten years ago the spirits took my father, a lover of "spirits" from this earth. lunch breaks have been few and far between, and like anyone hiding from trauma, i hid my head inside my work.
but from out of nowhere this young man sitting on the side of the street called out to me with these words.
"hey do you see my pain? you ignored me the first time, do you want to see pain? because this is my life. i had no discipline, i made bad decisions, i made some wrong moves, but you don't feel it. photograph me like this, it shows my pain -- life's pain.
you cannot pass without taking a picture of this face, look at this face, you gotta capture my pain -- in some kinda way," jay negotiated as i stooped in front of him.
it is not that i didn't want to.
my soul is just sore.
September 6, 2017
the police parade
the assignment was to show what the west indian day parade looks like in 2017. over my past four years, i have witnessed less people attending the parade due to two major factors. for one, the violence, and two, the increase in police presence as a way to combat the outrageous crimes have used separation tactics as a way of quelling the tension.
from the moment i arrived at grand army plaza at its new time of 6am i knew it was different. there were some things missing. like the bottleneck of floats making last minutes preps before hitting the road. like that lovely elderly woman who i have witnessed year after year putting on her angel costumes that she made, on a park bench, a little away from the prying eyes of her competition. there was now space. except for the police officers who stood guard, the top of the plaza was clean and quiet.
the first mass of people i saw were stopped in the middle of flatbush avenue. i witness spectators and revelers being quietly shepherded into erected barricades to be -- searched?
"no alcohol and no weed," i was told "and yeah they looking for guns too," the reveler continued.
there was anger, there was disdain, people either shouted expletives or mock their overseers or stood and allowed their bags and pockets to be wanded ( i made that word up.)and inspected.
the whole day i chipped away at the beautiful colours of the caribbean to reveal the solid blue colour of the nypd lurking on every corner, and on every block.
it became apparent to me that going forward this is how the next generation will experience the widp. going forward, there would be no way that the west indian day parade could be experienced without "their" eyes, judgement, whispers, jokes and critique by some of the people in blue.
i started to envision like every other part of black culture that prominent and permanent feeling of the blue gaze. that black culture is always subjected to being defined by how the dominant culture would like it to be circumscribed.
full story at vice.com.
September 4, 2017
for a number of west indians, it is the one day, the single moment where they believe that they are morphed inside the american lexicon. it is this day, when their words, their music, their incenses, their rums, their voices fill the air and in that circular march from grand army plaza to eastern parkway and back down to grand army, they connect their chains, the lineage and their ancestry.
my attraction to this culture was always through the macabre. growing up as a child in jamaica, i feared stories of "rolling calves, duppies and junkanoo." since being in brooklyn, i have been fortunate to learn about the caribbean, by watching the melding of "chip and jab", trini wining and jamaican dancehall movements (because they are a different movement) as we all shake and jook in that circular procession each year. from the blanket of night light during jouvert to the baking sun of the parade. you know what's funny, it's also the one time in our lives when all caribbean people forget about our differences and come together. however, if you know anything about caribbean people, even in unity we are competing.
it was always amazing to see families bringing their children, who raced out in the streets when the tarmac was empty, maybe dreaming of the day when they (if they are girls) will dress up in skimpy costumes and wine down the parkway. if they are boys, they dream of drinking enough "nut crackers" to find the courage to ask said girl if he can get a wine.
this year i listened with my eyes, and saw the frustration of what the day has become. pained furrowed foreheads mostly on the faces of the elders, faces looking like over cooked dumplings barely dragged themselves through jouvert. their hush tones could be felt even over the blasting music. they spoke of losing the parkway and inevitably their culture.
today took on a different tone as i watched. i was on assignment so i couldn't delve, but i dabbled.
here is to caribbean culture.
September 2, 2017
sheets of water
scribble it's name on a
dark brooklyn street.
its started as a whisper,
carefully telling its story
of the horned harvey.
but no one seems to be listening.
we are far,
to our egos,
our tech, and selfies,
podcasts and tweets.
racing on a saturday night
out of a flashing uber
to cross swaying puddles
already chipping to
a soca song playing
in the distance.
i can see flooded minds
searching for a pub,
texting a late friend
"what goes best with
harvey's bristol cream?"
September 1, 2017
i was born
with the whispers of death
tangled around my neck.
so it is no mistake that it is
that i walk these streets
listening to the fangs
growling out it threats.
i am tired,
believe me my soul
is out of breath.
my gut feeling is
tonight might be the night
that this old body
pays its debt.
tonight this cold ground
will not take my check
and so here i will sit,
my world twisted
and still i will not fret
on these forgetful doorsteps.
because each night,
i sit here alone,
i throw in my chips,
and i place my bet.
i want to thank @emptyphoto and @andrisdze for walking with me on this cold day. i wish it was warmer and i was more organized as in model releases and stuff, because this could have been something else. much respect to @lisayangphotography and @fujifilmx_us for supporting my work and me.
fujifilm presents x-photographer @ruddyroye. discover ruddy's documentary-style approach and the emphasis he places on human storytelling. hear how he uses the compact x100f to seamlessly engage with his subjects and create powerful imagery.
watch the full video at shotonxseries.com.
August 27, 2017
vision and justice
on any given day, while out into the world, i will photograph all that is in front of me. i don't believe i make choices based on any aesthetic, i only see images that poke violently at my heart. i often on a trip to the city will just invoke the spirits to guide my eyes and heart.
yesterday was no different.
i was invited to meet an image of frederick douglass at the metropolitan museum of art. (few people know this but i don't frequent "places that hold art.") it was a pristine daguerreotype of mr douglass that was made in 1855. from that moment, it became a day filled with questions, "who do we do this work for, what spaces should the work occupy, who gets to see the work, who gets to tell the work, and on what platform should the work be told on to achieve maximum engagement?" over plates of peace bowls and smoothies, the conversations marched down to the south, over to boston where it percolated a little, before heading back up to the north, protesting and pontificating points that were sometimes particularly difficult to chew on. we spoke not like children, wiping away tears from swollen eyes, but rather like the offsprings of a broken race -- or that was how my arguments started out. dr. sarah elizabeth lewis @sarahelizabethlewis1 spoke from a space of healing, like a griot or a sage, mining our thoughts and plans with medicine, pointing forward as if anointed by harriet, sojourner, or frederick as she spoke with prowess and a certain gravitas. we were joined by @erwitty and the conversation boiled over not like an unwatched pot, but more like fresh milk that was properly scalded for the morning's consumption. at night's end, we hugged as if holding hot cocoa on the eve of fall, smiling at the monuments we had built in one evening.
August 19, 2017
being on the block
my morning began with a song.
"wake up everybody no more sleeping in bed, no more backward thinking' time for thinking' ahead. the world has changed so very much, from what it used to be.
there is so much hatred, war an' poverty," -- harold melvin and the blue notes.
the new york rally was cancelled today so i sat on my stoop in bedstuy brooklyn, feeling all the uncertainty and apprehension of the coming months.
things seem to be changing so fast.
i have been looking at the news and stories from out of charlottesville, questioning why i went there, and if i lifted the conversation to a different space, or did i just do "the job."
i replayed the images of the black kid who was beaten up in the parking lot, and i wondered if i was there, would i have just taken his picture.
the song continued in my head,
"the world won't get no better, if we just let it be.
the world won't get no better, we gotta change it yeah, just you and me." -- teddy ps voice clicked on continuous drive in my head.
i keep telling myself that hopefully my images are doing just that. they are making that change. but many before me had made images. image makers like gordon, roy, vanderzee, saunders, and draper to name a few, put work in, but, we are still here.
today my family left me to my thoughts, so i brought them to the streets, and bedstuy answered my prayers. today the voices of the block parties rose up and reminded me for who and for what i open my lens. i shoot in faith, i shoot for a future not yet seen.
August 16, 2017
my intent to head to virginia was purely to support the folks of charlottesville. folks like lisa d. john e. m. kaya b. and garnette c. to name a few. i had no intentions of shooting another protest -- not as a news story anyway.
but things started unfolding early. on the train i saw a fellow new yorker richard s. and we talked about history. his grandfather who is now 102 years old has been unburdening himself with all his knowledge and especially about things he grew up reading in the newspaper as a child. lynching, and the burning of bodies were two of the things his grandfather said he would often come across in old newspaper clippings.
i was met by nana g. at union station. we drove the 2.5 hour to charlottesville with a medley of reggae tunes playing in the background. as we approached main street we were immediately confronted with a young lady wailing as she ran up to her comrades who were armed with automatic rifles.
the group was disarming out of fear of having any confrontation with the national guard who had begun marching down main street.
it was at that moment that words began spreading of a tragic attack by a motorist that had taken place about an hour before i arrived.
you could immediately tell that there was a shift in the air. the militia were packing up their guns, the alt right demonstrators were nowhere to be seen, and all that was left was the oppressive feeling of "why?" mixed with tears and the dampened spirit of an extinguished march.
it felt like i was walking behind a tragic story. peeling back the faces of residents who wept openly. this was not what i had imagined the night before. i thought i was going to see clashes between anarchists and alt right protestors. i thought there would be stand offs at the statues and monuments -- instead, i watched like a drone as people made their way from the epicenters of conflict to the open alley where heather heyes was struck down.
it was here that i really lifted the camera to my eyes and began listening to the people's words.
read the full coverage on time.com
August 7, 2017
birthday on rainy day
today started off dark and cloudy. but the day was also a special day to #iyeoshujahroye. they say the second child barely ever gets mentioned. i try very hard not to make that his reality. today is his birthday, and although the heavens opened up and shared its bounty of h2o, i still wanted to share with him the day the universe was aligned and he came to earth.
it's been hard to get up for these suns each morning since jamaica, but, walking around in manhattan always offer up segways into some alternate sense of reality.
so i photographed umbrellas and a second sun on his earth day.
August 1, 2017
today commemorates the freeing of the enslaved people of this land i love. i am not going to thank the usual men and women, but i will send out a silent prayer of thanks to all the men and women we have forgotten. i recently listened to a pastor who claimed that some of the efforts by our heroes were not intentional expressions of protest, but a normal reaction in their everyday lives. meaning when paul bogle went to morant bay to protest, carrying machetes, sticks and stones, he was only leading a bunch of farmers and workers carrying their "tools of the trade" on their way to "speak" to the governor." "they were god fearing men not war mongers," he told his congregation.
jamaica boasts a church on almost every street corner -- grossly exaggerated of course but you get the image.
however since being here i have watched descendants of our great heroes discuss among themselves, on every street corner, who was killed the night before. on one new york block, i witnessed three different groups of people discussing three separate murders that happened over the weekend. so what was this fight for freedom for i ask. between the corrupt government officials in collusion with the imf and world bank they have sold the country off to whoever will buy it.
i listened to a mother of two daughters tell me that she is single because the men/boys here are "complacent, undereducated, and show no ambition."
imagine the girls at mt. alvernia are way more successful academically than their male counterparts who are just across the street. what is the difference," she asked me
i shook my head and shrugged my shoulders.
what has this freedom given us? where are we headed?
there does not seem to be any viable industries available for the poor in jamaica.
today my feed is for "the least of these" -- the farmers, fishermen, taxi driver, construction worker, street vendor, bread seller, and higglers, hustling on the streets to find freedom -- still.