Monday April 22nd, 2013
by Maria Luci
Recently, I received a very special promo in the mail. It was a hand-bound booklet from DC-based photojournalist, Jared Soares, titled “Raleigh, North Carolina Hip Hop Culture Over Everything.” I’ve been following Jared’s “Small Town Hip Hop” series for awhile now, after seeing he was documenting the hip hop culture of my hometown of Roanoke, Virgina. The promo prompted me to take a closer look, and to get in touch with Jared to get a deeper understanding of this unexpected series. Below is our interview:
You used to live in Roanoke, VA. How did you first end up there?
I moved to Roanoke from Kansas City in June 2006 to intern at The Roanoke Times. I thought I was only going to be there for 3 months but it turned into 3.5 years at the newspaper. I left the paper in 2010 but stayed in Roanoke to freelance and work on projects in the area.
Where did you get the idea for this series?
Initially, it was curiosity. I just wanted to see if hip hop existed in Roanoke. Then I met the people involved with the scene and wanted to go deeper to understand how hip hop culture influences their lives.
I grew up listening to hip hop, it has a special place in my heart. One of my early mentors told me that every photographer should always be working on a long term project along with their assignment work. When I was working at The Roanoke Times, I decided to put this advice into action. I made it my goal, a personal one, to find out where hip hop lived in Roanoke. I wanted to see what it looked like and give people a window into this world.
I lived in Roanoke for many years and didn’t know there was a hip hop scene in the area. How did you find these musicians?
On Melrose Ave. and Orange Ave., pretty much anywhere in Northwest. There are corner stores that sell mix-tapes—homemade burned CDs. Some of these are made by local rappers and others are just bootlegs. I bought a couple and just started calling the phone numbers that were listed on the back cover of the CDs.
What drew you to continue shooting this project in Raleigh?
In the summer of 2011, I hopped on a tour with Roanoke rapper, Poe Mack. He was the opening act for a few artists on Jamla Records, a label based in Raleigh. After watching the Jamla rappers perform, I became curious in terms of what it is like be an artist on the cusp of breaking through, also I didn’t know Raleigh had such a healthy and nationally recognized scene and I wanted to learn more.
How did you gain access?
When I first started working on the project in Roanoke, I didn’t take out my camera for three weeks. Most of the people I met were very skeptical of an outsider coming in with a camera. Since I wasn’t operating on a deadline, I invested the time in learning and listening to people involved with the scene. I felt that the more information that I could absorb by listening would lead me to the images that would speak to the experience and mood of the people participating in this culture. It was a lot of listening and hanging out before I really started to make photographs.
What are some of the differences between the Roanoke and Raleigh hip hop scenes?
In Roanoke, everyone was working a day job and balancing family life while trying to find ways to work on music. Whereas, in Raleigh, music was the sole focus since most of the guys that I followed were signed to an independent label. That was probably the biggest difference.
What was involved in creating the handmade booklets?
With my projects, the goal is to make intimate photographs that allude to a feeling or an emotion that encapsulate an experience. Holding and reading a book is an intimate experience, and I want the way my personal work is displayed to reflect that idea. I’ve tried pretty much every on-demand printer there is and while I’m satisfied with most of the results, I just want to more control over all the details. I’ve been interested in book making and now was the best time to dive in. I was also inspired by photographers Ben Rasmussen and Rob Hornstra, who are heavily engaged in book making. I started by sketching the concept for a saddle-stitch booklet; the only problem was that I didn’t know, how to do it. Luckily, there is Youtube. I probably watched this tutorial, about 30 times. For better or worse, I did all the design and editing. In the beginning, I only wanted to make a few booklets but it just snowballed because I was enjoying making something with my hands, so I set 50 as a limit. I really wanted my fingerprints all over this project.
What has the reaction been to the project and the booklets?
The project has been published on The New York Times’ Lens blog and SPIN’s hip hop blog among other places. Additionally, it has been exhibited at the O. Winston Link Museum and during Look3 Festival of the Photograph at The Bridge PAI gallery. The thing I hear the most is that project was an unexpected look at hip hop. And overall, the reaction to the booklet has been very positive. Both current clients, and clients I hope to work with, thought it was a refreshing way to share work.
Do you plan on putting a booklet together for the Roanoke side of the project?
There are definitely plans for a Roanoke book/booklet. The idea would be to catch up with some of the guys that I’ve followed to see what they’re up to now. It would largely be a showcase for new photographs from the project. Just gotta figure out when I can block out some time for a visit back to Roanoke.
What are some things you learned through creating this series?
One of the most important lessons I learned was to keep the camera in the bag for the first couple visits. Building trust is paramount when working on a long term project.
Do you plan on continuing this project?
Yes! I still talk to a lot of the guys that I photographed and they have become friends. I’m curious to see where they take their music as they move forward. Also, I’d like to expand the project to a couple more cities, but it’s just a matter of carving out the time to make it happen. Looking at Baltimore’s scene right now as a possible place for the next chapter.
See more at jaredsoares.com.
Monday November 12th, 2012
by Maria Luci
At the end of October, after devastating large portions of the Caribbean, Hurricane Sandy furiously ripped her way up the East Coast of the United States. The storm affected 24 states, from Florida to Maine, with the biggest damage happening in New Jersey and New York. Over 100 people died from Sandy’s wrath and millions more were left without power. In New York, fires and floods took lives, homes and power as the largest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded moved through the city.
After the storm passed, and things began to get back to normal here in the Philadelphia area (where Wonderful Machine is located), I got in touch with a few of our photographers in New York City to hear their experiences with Sandy. I first spoke with Brooklyn-based Tim Soter, who was hired by the Daily Mail to shoot Sandy’s aftermath in Staten Island. Tim recounts:
I received a call from Daily Mail on Friday morning asking if I could go out to Staten Island, a writer would pick me up with a rental car he acquired at JFK airport. I grabbed my gear, loaded up some food and water, and got in. When we arrived in Staten Island all of the traffic lights were out, police were directing traffic and keeping an eye on the long gas lines.
The writer with me had heard rumors that a local school had been turned into a morgue, a tip we investigated that turned out to be false. We then drove to the neighborhood of Oakwood—a flat marshland located very close to the Atlantic—all of the homes there were devastated, neighbors were helping neighbors drag most of the contents of their homes to the muddy curb. For the first time since the storm, the Red Cross van arrived with free coffee and soup but the residents complained that they needed practical items; brooms, gloves and masks. I photographed a story on a father and son that had died in each other’s arms in their basement. The family we spoke with had just returned from the funeral.
These photos hopefully raise awareness as to how many damaged parts of Staten Island there are and that relief should be administered consistently over the next few weeks, or months.
Giovanni Savino was also in Manhattan during the storm. Luckily, he found himself out of harm’s way and was able to document some of the damage in Coney Island, but not as quickly as he would have liked. Giovanni explains:
I live on the very northern tip on Manhattan, so I have been counting my blessings, as we did not experience any major inconveniences from the storm up here. On the very day of the storm, I received several request from national and international news outlets asking me to go out there and cover it. But I had to turn everybody down as I had been booked weeks before by a French production company to shoot something completely unrelated to Sandy…
However, as it happens, the French producer was in town already, stuck in a hotel without power or water. So, after lending my own studio as a temporary production office, we ventured into New Jersey as soon as they re-opened the George Washington Bridge.
Although the images we were shooting in New Jersey were completely unrelated to the storm, I was able to take 1 (yes, one) decent photograph, from a ramp leading to the Lincoln Tunnel, illustrating an eerie and unusual Manhattan skyline, the Empire State being the only lit building.
After another couple of days of frustration at not being able to cover the events, still at work for the French production company, I finally managed to break free and reach Coney Island. There, I photographed the painful clean-up operation, the sand-covered boardwalk and the many story-telling, somewhat surreal, everyday objects the storm had left scattered along the beach.
And finally, I got in touch with Winnie Au, who was also kind enough to share some of her photos along with her experience with Sandy:
Monday arrived, and my friends and I were all off from work; we were each at our homes nervously watching the television. It started to get really windy, and I began to feel anxious. Some of my friends said they were going to go take pictures near the waterfront. That sounded like a horrible idea to me. I’m a wuss. Which is probably why I didn’t end up in journalism photography. I watched the arrival of Sandy from the safety of my couch.
The area I live in, Williamsburg/Greenpoint, was fine. We had some fallen trees, the skylight of my office building was torn off, we lost internet; but basically everything here was normal.
In the days after we heard about the power outages, lack of heat and hot water, the total devastation of New Jersey, Staten Island, Rockaways, Coney Island, and Red Hook. We went out to the Williamsburg Waterfront which is where I shot the images of the half lit Williamsburg Bridge and half lit Manhattan skyline.
I began to feel pretty curious about Manhattan and what it was like with no power, so I rode my bike into Soho with my camera. It was dark, quiet, and so still. It looked like a movie set. It was a Friday night in one of the busiest neighborhoods of NYC, and there was barely a soul on the street. The only thing you could see were a few people wearing headlamps or carrying flashlights, making little lights that darted about, like fireflies on a summer’s night. It was a surreal experience, and it’s almost impossible to say in words or show in pictures that feeling of quietness that existed.
By the end of the week, I felt restless and a bit guilty for continuing to have a normal life while other people were suffering. I saw that my friends had been volunteering, so I started following Red Hook Initiative and decided to ride my bike out to help out and to also see first hand what had happened out there. When I got to Red Hook Initiative, they were handing out hot meals, batteries, blankets, clothes. Red Hook still has no power, and it was another dark neighborhood filled with people who have lost parts of their businesses, parts of their homes, or were lacking heat and hot water. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have a lot, and the hurricane has only complicated things further.
The next day we helped a warehouse clean out the water logged product that used to be their paper business—doilies, paper cups, paper bags, etc—all things that were completely ruined by the 5 feet of water that entered the warehouse. We threw away box after box of very smelly, muddy, rust colored soaked product. It was gross, and it was a tiny tiny fraction of what Sandy has done to the New York/New Jersey area.
That’s been my experience thus far with Sandy. It’s been heartwarming to see so many people come together to organize and help their neighbors. The silver lining in this whole thing has been to see that people genuinely want to help each other out.
To help those affected by Hurricane Sandy, you can donate to the Red Cross.
Monday August 6th, 2012
by Maria Luci
Recently Chris Langer was contacted about photographing a unique event: a Jedi Gathering. It was an intriguing idea to him as he had never heard of a Jedi Gathering before, and although the client ultimately cancelled the project, he decided to go and shoot it anyway. He was excited to document this Star Wars-based community.
In case you don’t know, Jedi are characters from the Star Wars film series. They use a power called “the Force” to protect their galaxy—oh, and also fight with fun weapons called lightsabers. Aiming to create a personal series out of these Earth-bound space warriors, Chris headed up to Logan, Ohio for an entire weekend of photographing Jedi from across the country, all coming together to share their knowledge. The gathering included lectures, workshops and discussions—all of which Chris was there for, snapping away.
At the gathering, Chris focused on capturing “good moments” with his camera. He added,
Everything I photograph for my personal projects has to interest me a great deal and I have to be curious about knowing more. I was curious about what happens at these events and how unique of a project this could be for my portfolio. I’m really glad I went because I got to meet some pretty cool people.
Before arriving, Chris put together ideas for what he wanted to portray with this series,
I’ve always been interested in religion and how it plays an important part in daily lives. Becoming a Jedi is like a religion for the people at this gathering—it gives them everything religions offer: community, purpose, and belief in a higher being (the Force). I wanted to show the viewer something they might not have known existed and tell the stories of these people learning to become Jedi Masters. I wanted to get close with the individuals at the gathering, so the viewer felt like they were part of this community.
Chris decided to create a mixture of formal portraits and reportage shots to tell the story of the gathering. He says of the weekend, “I’ve photographed some pretty unique material in the past, but this may have topped everything.” He plans on using the images in an upcoming marketing blast and sharing them in his portfolio. The gathering was certainly a unique experience for Chris, who greatly enjoyed photographing the weekend (even if he doesn’t consider himself a “true Star Wars fan”). He’s now looking for an even more unique experience to try and top this, but that may take the Force to find.
View more of Chris’ work at chrislanger.com.
Thursday May 10th, 2012
After moving to Santa Fe many years ago, Julien McRoberts became interested in rodeos. She attended the Galisteo Rodeo each year and eventually began to bring her camera along. One summer a friend invited her along on a cattle drive with some “wonderfully crusty cowboys.” The days were hot, long and dusty but Julien describes the experience as “one of the most fun things I have ever done.” The cattle drive and the people she met along the way fascinated and inspired Julien to really jump into photographing these cowboys at local rodeos. From there, she was hooked and has been documenting rodeos for six years.
For her project, Julien has stuck to shooting small, local rodeos as she views the larger pro shows to be too commercial for her taste. She aims to capture the spirit of the old west—the love and passion found in these men and women for their sport. People wholly invested in the cowboy lifestyle. So far, Julien has been welcomed with open arms into the rodeo community and says that, “cowboys and ranchers are some of the nicest people you will ever meet and they are more than gracious in allowing me access to photograph their world.”
Through her years of documenting rodeos, Julien has come to love the sport and its people. Being around the cowboy community has helped her take a look at her own lifestyle and has inspired her to take things a bit slower from time to time. She’s also found a greater appreciation for the small things in life. However, she’s seen that the lifestyle and passion that comes with rodeos sometimes comes with a high price,
Tragically, I captured a saddle bronc rider who was thrown and kicked in the head resulting in his untimely death. It still haunts me; he was an engineer by trade and a father of three with one on the way.
Even with the crushing lows, the highs have kept Julien engaged. She hopes to continue the project on more global terms saying,
I would like to expand on this and photograph cowboys around the world to show the similarities in lifestyle, food, culture as well as the differences and challenges they face. From the Maasai of Africa who are cattle herders to Aboriginal cowboys of Australia to cowboys of eastern Europe. The project could be pretty vast and interesting. The only thing holding me back at the moment is the funding aspect; if anyone out there would like to create this as an assignment, call me. Have camera (and cowboy boots)—will travel.
View more of Julien’s work on her website, julienmcroberts.com.
- Maria Luci
Wednesday May 9th, 2012
In 2007, New York-based photographer Annabel Clark traveled to Colombia and Brazil with Healing the Children Northeast. Her plan was to do document their medical missions which include bringing children to the States that are in need of long-term medical care. Two of those children were Carmen and Lupita who were brought to the US from Mexico when they were just two. The girls were born conjoined twins and their mother hoped that American doctors could separate them. However, doctors soon realized that separation was not an option as the girls are joined at the base of their spine.
Carmen and Lupita’s story fascinated Annabel and she asked if she could meet and photograph them for Healing the Children. After just a few sessions with the girls, she felt compelled to continue the project on a more long-term basis; to document their emotional connection and distinct personalities. Now, after several years with the Carmen and Lupita, Annabel has compiled a compelling series that highlights the their unique and intimate bond, and more importantly, shows just how normal their lives really are.
Annabel’s work has always captivated me (especially her project Journal: A Mother and Daughter’s Recovery from Breast Cancer) and her Carmen & Lupita series is no different. Therefore, I got in touch with her to learn more and delve deeper into the story behind the photos. Below is our interview.
- Maria Luci
How open were the girls to you photographing them?
The girls have been very easy going about being photographed. The first time I met them, they did a handstand, which shattered any preconceived ideas I had about how mobile they would be. I think they wanted to show me what they were capable of. They have gotten used to my camera being around and they ask questions about the process — what does a light meter do? What’s with the camera that doesn’t have a screen on the back? Many times they don’t even seem to be aware of the camera at all.
Were there any challenges in creating this photo essay?
The main challenge I have had with this project is finding the time to work on it. As it is a personal self-funded project, I have had to squeeze it in any chance I get and sometimes editing and printing the work comes weeks after shooting. They live an hour and a half outside the city, so it takes some planning on my part to go see them and its never been as often as I would like.
What do you hope to accomplish through your photos of Carmen and Lupita?
My goal from the beginning has been to tell Carmen and Lupita’s story in a different way than the mainstream media would. There seems to be a conventional way to talk about conjoined twins, dwarves, or anyone born with a physical deformity: bring them on a talk show or give them their own series. For some reason, I never feel that those types of shows lead to more tolerance or understanding. I hope that these photos make people feel like they are hanging out with Carmen and Lupita, rather than watching them from a distance. I want people to see not only how amazing it is to be in their presence but how similar their world is to other girls their age.
What has the reaction to the photographs been so far?
I showed two pieces last summer in a group show at the Michael Mazzeo Gallery. Many people looked at the portrait of Carmen and Lupita lying on their bed and didn’t realize they were conjoined. I liked that it wasn’t obvious as it gave people a chance to really see them as the two individuals they are. Once they looked at the second picture of the doll, they realized and started to ask questions.
I had a wonderful response to the feature on the Times Lens blog and a lively discussion started in the comments section about how we define “normal.” I was really touched by a comment posted by a conjoined twin who had lost her other half. She wrote “When I Google conjoined twins I get dead ones squeezed into a glass or whacko science fiction but until now never one about the special bond we share, or about how we make relationships work, what personality is to us. Nobody ever asks us!”
Do you have any plans for the essay?
I am hoping to produce an exhibition and book about Carmen and Lupita. I see it as a 2 volume project: their childhood and then their transition to becoming women. It is my hope that I will be able to raise some money for the girls’ continuing medical needs through print and book sales.
Do you intend to continue photographing Carmen and Lupita as they become teenagers?
Yes, definitely. Through this project, I have developed a friendship with the family, so no matter what, I intend to be in touch with them throughout their lives. But I also told them that I want to photograph their Quinceañera when they turn 15.
Which is your favorite photograph of the girls?
I have a few favorites that I like for different reasons. One photo that I like a lot is of the twins at a weekend tutoring session. The room itself is kind of bland with fluorescent lighting, but I love the hidden surprises in it. There are three posters that coincidentally comment on the girls below: Partnership, Trust and Relationships. Then there is the puppet who becomes an extension of them. She is even wearing the same shade of pink. I see symbolism in the exercise they are doing. The yellow blocks contain the first few letters of a word and you have to find the green block of letters that complete it. Carmen and Lupita work together on everything from walking to playing the piano to homework. While they have their own individual personalities, they really do complete each other.
Have you learned anything through this experience?
For awhile, I was very conscious of how people would perceive the photographs, and more importantly, what the family thought about what I was doing. I was worried that it would be considered exploitative. I continued photographing the girls on and off for two years after the Healing the Children exhibition without showing the work to anyone. I kept shooting but didn’t think about the finished product. As I got to know them better, I learned to better articulate my goals and earn their trust.
What has the girl’s reaction been to their photographs?
Since I have now known them for three years and developed a friendship with them, they react to the pictures based on the memories they conjure up. When they saw a photo of themselves in the snow from 2009, Lupita exclaimed “Remember when we made the biggest snowball in the town? That was fun.” They know that they were in an exhibition and that they appeared on the New York Times website, but I honestly think they’re more interested in playing with their dog or going to the movies, just like most 11 year old girls. It takes a lot to impress them.
View more of Annabel’s work on her website, annabelclark.net.