February 11, 2018
their image, their voice
black history month series
6/28 “where does my story begin?
does it begin with being born in 1970 to a 20-year old u***d mother?
where my grand mother’s very christian conservative jamaican made her beat my mummy and me almost to death.
thanks to olofi|god, the orishas especially obatalá and yemayá, egúns|spirit guides and ancestors, they all protected and provided for both mummy and me.
or does my story begin eight years ago when i met a charming, handsome caribbean man who i moved in with as i was homeless. when you're desperate, it's noticeable by those who are seeking 'vulnerables.' i was trying to avoid new york city's homeless shelter system that was in shambles especially for a single, black, unmarried woman.
i grew to love my ex and as i turned his apartment into a home, i became grateful for being rescued. within six months of cohabitation, i became pregnant and he was more excited than i was about having children. could be that he was trying to make up for not doing right by his daughter from a previous relationship.
however, within the confines of our brooklyn home, there was domestic violence. it started as verbal abuse; then financial (i wasn't working full-time); emotional abuse and then physical violence after the twins were born. i was glad that we didn't succumb to the pressure of 'you two should make it legal and get married.' the final straw came when he had me pinned on the floor in our apartment, in front of our crying 14-month old babies and i fought like i was possessed by oyá+shangó . those “wondertwins” needed me and i needed them. i had him arrested that same day. he had to move out of our home and an order of protection was issued ~ enough was enough! i grew up as a witness/victim of domestic violence between my parents and so did my three siblings. i did not want that for my own children. i also ended this cycle of abuse for myself. i didn't want to become my mother - loving but not liking the man i lived with, the father of my children and plotting his demise. i left my abuser to save my sanity and stave off further depression - yes, i battle depression daily.”
raycent age 48 years
February 6, 2018
their image, their voice
black history month series 5/28 “my biological father started sexually molesting me between the ages of four and fourteen years old.
he would strategically plan the time and place in our house where he wanted it to go down. sometimes it would happen in his van, where he built a seated storage structure in the back for his carpentry tools. it resembled a platform bed with carpet stapled on top.
around the age of 8 years old, i resisted his demand to go with him to the store. i knew he wanted to have s*x so i ignored him and played as though i didn’t hear him. he went on his errand and when he returned he was in a mad rage. he threw the kirby vacuum cleaner head attachment at my mother, accusing her of keeping me away from him because i didn’t go to the store with him. he took me to the bedroom and gave me a series beating with his thick leather belt. it was the thickest belt i ever saw in my life. he told me not to run or he would k**l me. i lived in constant fear from his sexual, physical and mental abuse.
at 14 years old, one day i missed the bus to school, and my dad volunteered to drive me to school. along the way he kicked me out of the van and i had to walk mile to school. something switched inside.
within days later i had shared for the first time via my journal entry to my best friend. with her support, i went to two of my favorite teachers and told my story. within two days i was questioned by child protected services and he was arrested. he only served a few months in jail and 5 years probation. his biggest fear was jail and i made his fear come true.
i have permanent scar and an empty void. my innocence was ripped from me by the man that was supposed to protect me and love me in a pure way.
i only confronted my mother a year ago. one of the questions i wanted to get an answer for was, didn’t she know?
her only answer has been no. meanwhile my father would only take my older step sister away on vacations with him.” lorraine west, 42 years old
February 4, 2018
their image, their voice
black history month series
4/28 “i came to this country when i was 12 years old. i was already a mature tom boy, disinterested in girly things. it wasn’t until i got to 16 years old and found myself attracted to a man 7 years older than i was, that i started to look inside of myself. it was my first time and although the s*x was bad, i never thought about s*x before or after.
it wasn’t until i turned 17, that my body started to change and all the fluff and f*t turned into curves that had men calling out to me whenever i walked the streets. and they were not boys my age, they were older men, mostly west indian men whispering or telling me how sexy and juicy i was. it felt bad.
it made me want to lose weight. i use to stand in front of the mirror with my hands like a knife or a scissors pretending that i was cutting off my thighs.
however, the older i got the more i found myself embracing it. i owe it to my jamaican culture which put women with my shape on a pedestal. i started to go out into the “dancehall” parties a lot. there i felt accepted.
accepting my body saved my life. it helped to shape my personality. i realize that what i look like is a magnet, and i have to be conscious about who or what i attract. my personality has less to do with how men see me. it’s hard to accept one’s body in this society. society and social media put so much pressure on women to enhance their bodies and change it to suit what is acceptable.
dkay harrison 39 years old.
February 2, 2018
their image, their voice
black history month series
3/28 “i was 13 when i reclaimed my body. i was walking to the store, and took my usual short cut through a back alley. i saw a guy that i went to school with. he was an odd guy. we began talking and out of nowhere he reached down in my pants and began touching my vagina.
i wanted to puke, but i felt silent, and afraid. he took his hand out and sniffed his fingers and said something slimey and then proceeded to stick his hand down my pants again. i told him to stop and he said "why? you already let me touch it!" and then he felt his way around my v****a until i pushed him off me.
i felt shamed, because, well, he was technically right, but at 13 i had no clue that my body was mine and that if i didnt want anyone to touch me. i did not know that it was indeed my right. i look back then and i can say i discovered what it means to be violated. i learned that if i didnt want to be touched that i shouldn’t be touched. i’d see him around school or on the bus and he would snarl at me in this creepy way as if he had a peice of me. i’d hear rumors that he spread about me. he would say little things like "when you gonna let me get that" and point his eyes to my vagina; but i didn't care cause the lesson was learned, never again would i allow someone to violate me much less shame me. nah, i’m good.”
aisha silva, age 31 .
February 2, 2018
their image, their voice.
black history month series
2/28 “i was born on the island of dominica in the caribbean and raised in the bronx, nyc from the age of 4.
at the age of 7 i was r***d and thereafter, sexually molested. i was verbally abused and spiritually beaten down from the age of 8 to 16.
it was as if a war was being waged upon me on every level and i had no protection. god brought to me countless angels which included one in the form of beethoven’s 5th symphony. in this music is my story. it spoke directly to me and said marie-claire, you can make it.
with the help of two great therapists and a strong will to survive, i made it through. after years of severely stuttering from trauma, i discovered my voice, and singing became my saving grace. it brought me so much joy, it brought me healing and it brought me peace.
i strongly believe in the telling and sharing of my story because it is healing. i believe that my story could help others going through the same thing. it has taken a tremendous amount of strength and forgiving to get to this point and at 48 years old, i now feel finally ready to share the gift of my contralto voice with the world, —unapologetically, unashamedly and with love, so much love.”
— marie claire giraud 48 years old.
February 1, 2018
their image, their voices.
black history month series
i wanted to do this ever since the conversation started. i needed to understand it from “her” point of view . i have no reference point. i do not know what it means to live most of my life having to fight off groping hands and having my word “no” ignored. “i feel like i have no power, no voice & completely humiliated. i’m ashamed that i allow him to abuse me so i can make ends meet. i’ve put some much time into this, i love what i do.
it started when he listed his apartment for rent with my company 8 years ago, i’m a real estate broker. one day i was showing his apt, after the customers left he asked me for a kiss, i said “no! he decided he would try anyway, i then literally ran out of the apt, then out of the building as if i were being chased.
on another occasion, he came came behind me and put his arms around my waist and tried to kiss my neck..i calmly asked him to stop, and told him i’m not interested in him and would just like to do my job. i was so disgusted, i really wanted to quit.. he’s retired now, when i need to show he won’t allow me to have a key, which forces me to see him each and every time i show his property. he purposely blocks me from getting in, each time coming up with an excuse for his behavior.
my journey has been tough & disheartening , 85% of my clients are men of color who own property in brooklyn. if i decide not to work with them, my livelihood is at stake, if i stay , my dignity is being challenged. what do say to a client when you don’t want s****l advances, but want to continue doing business as a professional? i am the human resource department, who do i complain to.”
— chamaine johnson, 52 years old.
January 29, 2018
love is witless
sometimes it feels like too much. well today was another heavy day. had to have another pow wow with colleagues in the industry to talk with some wit about all the changes we are going through.
my conclusion, i do not want anyone to talk to me about love, if you are not about showing it, especially to the lowest, poorest, and worst of us. i thought love was about caring for the least, the downtrodden, the weakest, even the “fuck ups.” fear is a monster. the fear of speaking out is a universal gag order.
i remember looking into its eyes and at my lowest and i shouted back, “i have seen low, you cannot scare me, it’s home for me, so do your best.” since then it has been one step in front of the other.
for the past three weeks i have been in a daze. i see, i document, i keep - afraid that i am desensitizing viewers to an image, or a feeling.
yesterday and today ran into each other like a bullet train moving from station to station. i pass a woman waiting for a bus but before i could take a proper picture or ask her a question her bus came - and she hurried inside.
from there, i watched a young man washing windows, and i stood in front of him wondering how long can we the poor keep doing these jobs to feed our families?
this end of the continuum stays the same while the top one percent sinks its proboscis into our necks and calls it “the job.” #whenlivingisaprotest#fujifilmgfx50s#brooklynportrait#bedstuyportrait
January 20, 2018
i am both excited and honoured to have been ask to takeover the @vfphoto instagram. i will be documenting the sights and scene in the nation’s capital, where thousands are gathering for the 2018 women’s march on washington.
yesterday i arrived in washington dc to see a crowd of women and men gathered at union station a stone throw away from the capital. i had walked in on the final stage of a “prolife” march. i made this picture of signs discarded inside a garbage bin possibly right before commuters went inside to catch their trains home.
January 19, 2018
he walked on the train and just stood with his cardboard sign. on any other day i would have been able to share that exact image with you, but today, my equipment was pack away in three bags, and i was on a slow moving train to washington dc for the women’s march.
but i was haunted by his silence and so i hopped from train to train stalking him - the way his needs buried its demands in his eyes and forehead.
at every stop i debated digging into my bag to upset the careful packing for the trip. i shuffled and pushed my bags strumming the zipper until i couldn’t hold it much longer and i pulled out a camera and captured him moving silently through the column of faces that chose to overlook him, and cast their eyes away in slight - or just forgetfulness.
January 15, 2018
mlk - “poor people’s campaign”
what do you think of when you see 18 degrees on your lcd screen?
how many of us think of those who can’t make it to a shelter, or who are hungry at the moment we sit in front of our warm meals?
my feed and text is not designed to stir up guilt, hopefully readers feel that i am asking them to help - in any way possible.
there are times when i don’t have access to the car, so i jump on the subway, wrapped twice in every piece of clothing i am wearing to ensure some protection against the elements. seriously.
cedric, a 53-year old panhandler, planted around the west 4th street train station, warned me that my gloves were propped up unsecured in my back pocket. i had put them there because i needed to use my hands to take photographs.
“he meant humanity.
he was always around other people who wanted to change humanity so he did the work.
people didn’t want him to be around because he spoke about and to our humanity.
these people want separation and divisiveness. they use clothes and colour to divide and conquer - he was a great man. he wasn’t a perfect individual but he was a righteous man.”
cedric was talking about martin luther king jr. and what he meant to him and his generation.
i don’t want to start asking the question what has changed since his king’s sermons and the condition of black lives in 2018. but as i walk around the new york subway system on a cold night, a barren page with only more questions and a drying ink pen are brought to the fore.
so while underground, i follow the lines, the smells, the quiet shuffles, the moanings, the hankering eyes and the heavy steps leading inside the trains. i sit off to the side and watch “the invisibles,” as they stand or travel in their dreams. and for now all i can do is capture the way we, the “able” define and affirm our humanity.
January 12, 2018
a few days ago i was looking at all the trees that were being dumped into the streets - smiling at our backwardness - these decapitated stumps account for about 50% of the oxygen produced on earth. “shithole,” he said.
how do you create one?
rape the land and not just that, r**e the people who inhabit those lands.
today my head was filled with the word. “shithole,” he said and as i walked down adelphi avenue, i stepped over the detritus of human footprints - wastes, left to grow on our sidewalks like sculptures - statues that will undoubtedly be the makings of our “shithole.”
i didn’t just photograph garbage, but refuse and trash with their own voices. i have to admit i was having fun trying to create something from the ugliness and then like on cue the street started to smoke and a man found himself trapped within the yellow caution lines.
“shithole,” he said.
earlier today i admitted to a friend that i didn’t have a silo of hope.
i jumped on the c train with mosijah and iyeoshujah and headed to manhattan. there was a young black man from one of the “shithole” islands of the caribbean wearing a cap with a viking prominent on the front.
i looked away.
iyeoshujah showed me a book he was interested in and i planted my eyes within the leaves to ignore the eyesore which was everywhere.
casim was seated at 23rd street panhandling, and as i headed up the stairs he yelled, “teach them right.”
“i can’t help it,” i hollered back.
January 1, 2018
ny requiem triptych
i slept all day today after going to sleep around 6.30am. i believe, because of my mother’s warning, it is a decision i hope to break during the rest of the year.
i woke up, jumped into my clothes, and decided to chase the flicker of the first sunset of this first day.
i looked above to see the light dancing above the brooklyn rooftops. i skipped over new year’s eve’s leavings, now 2018 detritus, to watch the flaying fiery fingers of the day’s end slithering across the fading brownstones. i ran around to fulton street to chase it.
and then i stopped, to my left in front of one of the most popular neighborhood stores, was this face. her eyes seemed burdened, maybe by her round dark eyes, weighed with mascara and fake lashes, or could it be because they had been chasing the flaying dreams of hers that flickered away like evening light?
i turned and i clicked. “i am not photogenic,” she said.
i also recall a friend of mine pointing out that two of the major movies that came out towards the end of the year did not have black women actors.
in her own words, “how is it that black women keep saving the world in real life, but don’t exist in y’all little imaginary worlds?”
in 2018 i want to unravel and examine the psyche of everyday folks as i walk around looking at the images i see in my community of bedstuy.
January 1, 2018
new year requiem
he comes on the train like an old song, but he doesn’t look at me or anyone.
he sits under the bankruptcy advertisement and i am tempted to photograph him, but i shift my eyes away from him. “whatever the new year finds you doing is what you will be doing the rest of the year,” my mother always warns on new year’s eve. so i clutched my camera tighter and instead stared at him, daring him to look at me.
i disembarked the c train at 34th street. for the past five years i have spent my new year’s here.
i hear a trumpet in the distance competing with a high pitched voice that lags two beats behind the melody. jean and eileen are my first image.
i move through the unsurprisingly scanty floor of penn station. i don’t expect a large crowd what with our 10 degree weather.
however, i am not surprised to find the usual isolation of bodies, stuck or sleeping in place, around the maddening marching band of staggering feet, stumbling through the first moments of the new year.
it is what i come to expect each year; the oblivious herd of d***k partygoers, staggering, kissing, fighting, and feasting around the rotting lives of the homeless, before tripping onto their impatient trains.
December 28 2017
eve of the eve of a wasteland.
sat in the dining room that is attached to the kitchen, discussing the eve of the eve of the eve of new years eve with my mother and sons #mosijahroye and #iyeoshujahroye. today is the eve before my mom leaves again for jamaica. it’s fun watching her recalibrate the boys for 2018, almost the same way she used to get my head right, when i was back in montego bay. you should see their faces.
looking back, then forward, there is so much i want to do in 2018. i want to engage more and feel like i am a part of the change.
a few days ago i received a query into what my wall images looked like before i transformed them into tintypes. i had mentioned that they were beautiful in their colour state and i guess someone was curious. i have all kinds of feelings where instagram, photojournalism and storytelling is concerned. the jury is still out. i don’t believe that i necessarily have to defend the way i present the images when the message is of way more importance - but such is the question of whether “we the people” are ready to make a “decision or a revision” of our attitude towards how we live.
i feel like i am on the eve of a wasteland, where winter’s cold spiny fingers might be the best of what is yet to come. t.s. eliot wrote heavily on the subject and so i will let him tell it or elaborate further in another post. today i will share the images in their original form as a homage to my mom on the eve of her leaving, showing her face again this winter evening as she spread her warmth in my lightly lit apartment.
December 26, 2017
freezing point our emergency
i shook my head thinking how i would have to run outside to buy some snacks at the corner store. of course being the jamaican, i packed on at least 60 pounds of clothing, a heavy ethiopian scarf around my neck, another heavy sweater and a heavy down jacket all to protect me against the 24 degree weather my phone dial said that my area was experiencing.
i was short on cash or so i thought until i shoved my hand into a jogger i had not worn in a while and found 11 one dollar bills. i added it to my $10 bill and grabbed a camera.
i pushed the heavy door into ricky’s, ordered some jamaican food and noticed the flashing emergency lights across the street.
after collecting my food i noticed calvin, bent over and groaning, picking up his change that had spilled on the sidewalk. he returned to his feet with a lot of effort. his slender cane barely supporting his large frame.
“man i can’t help it. i have a woman at home who is trying with me. our little monthly money is done and so i have to be out here in the cold trying to get us food for tomorrow or the next day. it is not ideal, but she helps to look after me so this is nothing,” he said.
four hours before a friend @ucwhateyec and i were discussing what we have to do in 2018 to shed more light on the fate of the black community in america and being “completely unapologetic” about what we show. i took this meeting between calvin and i as his face was wrapped in red light as a sign.
December 25, 2017
‘tis the season.
went to work this christmas morning with eyes half opened, and a mind trapped between the con, consumerism, commercialism and grave confinement i witness on the trains.
it is not a day i celebrate. it is a day that brings me a kind of heaviness that is difficult to shake what with all the mythology that is sung on radios and store stereos or whispered between family members as i made my way to harlem. “christmas is about the birth of a baby said rev. monsignor robert ritchie today.
“not just any baby boy but jesus, god becomes human,” he said further.
yet today, for me it was about reds and whites and tourists and long faces and hungry bellies, and a man playing music from eastern europe with an american flag and hollering merry christmas to passers by.
December 20, 2017
hold the day
today i found myself in a different section of brooklyn. the streets were jam packed with cars standing parallel like soldiers, their flashing indicators danced like figurines in a nutcracker. all along the fussy sidewalks, elderly women carried with them the day’s carol wrapped tightly under their floral scarves. i watched as other women hustled with their shopping bags, while their other halves peered into their shopping bags helplessly.
i was shopping with my mom and noticed ramesh asking for money to buy food. it’s the holidays and everyone is looking for seasonal workers — but he didn’t seem to see the sign?
as i wondered about the “help wanted” sign behind him, my mind wandered into a familiar saying,
“doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
“are we all insane?”
when individuals walk by panhandlers everyday without as much as lifting their nose out of their phones, does that qualify as insanity? “when panhandlers hang out on street corners and only make $2 in 4 hours, does that qualify as insanity?”
fifty two years old robert lewis jackson from queens, new york, sat on the side of the road in manhattan massaging his pained feet,
“i hate this panhandling c**p but i got to do what i got to do, i have to live.”
December 15, 2017
my mother and the drunk.
this is one season i sometimes find myself estranged from. i have no connection to it ever since i stopped believing in all the simulacre and monikers that make up this holyday.
as a child i never got presents. i cannot even recall when i stopped talking about santa claus.
what i am certain about, however, is that ever since i landed in this country the meaning of christmas has changed with the passing of every season.
i cannot keep up with the mashing of thanksgiving and christmas and all the cyber shopping days in between. this year the day after people swallowed thanksgiving dinner, i heard “jingle bell jingle bell jingle bell rock.” insert a side eye emoji there.
someone asked me today how i stay excited about life, and i told her photography. i am high when i shoot, and no eggnog, sorrel, or r*m cake can compare to the inebriated state i am left in after a shoot.
these 9 images look amazing in colour, but i was curious about their tintype version, so i am sharing.
shooting staves off the feeling of commercialism and self-centeredness that might be associated with this season.
from my mother to the drunk, they tell of my constant appreciation for the human experience. christmas always brought distress in my house. my father was always drunk. today, student @khalil.pickering whom i met at morehouse college while on assignment a few months ago, stopped by my home just to let me know how his life has changed since meeting me and picking up the camera.
“photography has literally saved my life. it has given me a way to navigate through my experiences.”
hearing him talk validated my stance on boredom. as long as i have a camera and i am breathing, that word does not exist.
December 12, 2017
i told her it couldn’t be done
without first acknowledging
our p.t.s.d. and trauma,
and we did a version,
albeit with more honey
minus the vinegar. “that is just how it is.”
walking this life without a father.
i’ve always hated those words.
like to get ahead
we shuffle along, and swallow our shame,
or we feed on scraps and worms
like caged birds
flittering and dancing behind bars
and our voices, muted by
three hundred years of protesting;
hum around in a circle
looking for our names,
while others continue to sing
their “jiggaboo” music
instead of a black one.
i am always asking myself
why do i do this?
is my soul really filled
with this insecure level of bliss
or am i content with
just being mentioned?
without the daily therapy
my blood is the colour of crisis.
i feel like a leaf floating in the air
deprived of a tree,
satisfied with the breath of the next wind
massaging and manipulating
dictating to me what it means
to be free.
today should reflect tomorrow
holding in a shaky frame
an image that i took yesterday.
spelled out in the eyes of these ten photographs
like a weapon.
please see me,