Wednesday Night Dinner on 1.14.09

I was back at the shelter serving dinner today and asked about Charlene. She was not in the dining room so I asked Carmela where she was. Carmela told me that she is now in another shelter where she has her own private room. She did not know exactly where the shelter is in the City. I made a mental note to ask one of the Sisters about this when I go there next week to show them this project.

I spoke to Ruth briefly while she was leaving to go to her room. She was smiling and told me she is doing well. I did not ask her how her volunteering is going at Metro Baptist Church, across the street from the shelter – another mental note.

And Dorca came over to me to say hello. She look good and was as talkative as always. I told her that a friend of mine really liked her self-portrait drawing in the gallery. I told her that my friend told me to tell her to continue drawing. Dorca like the comment and said she will think about it. We made a point to speak to each other in the next few weeks. She wants to write more about herself and her life.

We served around 38 women on this very cold and bitter night. Barbara, a volunteer there on this night said that it might be the weather which kept more of the women from coming out for dinner.

The shelter served chicken breast, mashed potatoes, vegetables and pudding for dessert.

El Barrio de Mexico

Sitting in Jose Aguilar’s car with his son almost two weeks ago, I discovered a fear, wariness and humility embedded within the people of his country who, often struggle to make a living here in the city.

It was early in the evening, around six, and already dark outside. I expected to be sitting in his home along with his son and friend of mine, Jose, for the interview. It had taken two weeks of canceled appointments to meet with Mr. Aguilar. I had looked forward to the opportunity of speaking with both he and his family.

That evening we never set foot in his building. Continue reading “El Barrio de Mexico”

A Place to call Home

I have always been interested in identity and sense of place. Who do people think they are? What is their story? Where does one belong? These are all questions I ask myself as an aspiring journalist. I asked myself these same questions for this project – “Capturing Communities in Words and Images.” But there were other questions invariably on my mind: What shapes a community? What keeps a community together? Who belongs? Why do communities form? In trying to illuminate a community these questions need to be asked and answered.

I chose a non-traditional, often misunderstood and marginalized community to document – homeless women in a shelter. In documenting these women I want to give an anonymous population dignity, humanity – a face for others to care. There is a stereotype that exists: the bag lady. She is often dressed in tatters, with multiple plastic bags, picking through garbage collecting empty cans and is often pushing a supermarket cart. We have seen her. We have looked at her. We have ignored her. Yet in my search for this archetype I did not find her. Instead I found: “Dorca,” “Charlene,” “Ruth,” “Sandra” and “Jane” a community of women who shared with me their stories of loss – in not just a place to call home but in identity. To some they are just statistics however, they are real people and they let me into their community.

I discovered women who have often a mental illness but are released from state hospitals anyway without proper follow-up care or medication; many women that because of bad decisions and situations are forced into the streets and married women with jobs and husbands that divorce and then are left in precarious economic situations.

The statistics in the United States on the homeless are sobering, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Coalition 3.5 million people (1.35 million of which are children) will experience homelessness in a given year; 43% of the homeless population are women; 40% of these women are unaccompanied; 1 in every 5 homeless persons has a severe or persistent mental illness and 25% of the homeless nationwide are employed.

Why this community? This is a question I often asked myself, in my quest for an answer I turned to the community itself. Continue reading “A Place to call Home”

Studio 1- Ballet

Abraheme Hassan

Studio 1

Tchaikovsky, Victorian, leotards, bulges, glutes, pink slippers, poise, and power.  My initial thoughts of the ballet could be anonymous with anyone else – superficial. My time at the Joffrey Ballet School is insufficient; I’ve only scratched the surface. However, my preconditions have advanced and matured dramatically.
I grew up frolicking to Michael Jackson and MTV tunes, sparred with my older brothers in martial arts and wrestling bouts, and played every sport I could get my hands on. The performing arts (if you consider wrestling or martial arts – performing arts) were and are a significant part of my life. Ballet was the void and stagnant part of my curiosity. Ask any boy about the ballet, ‘ballet is for girls and sissies!” said my seven year-old cousin. “Sissies” in my neck of the woods were not respected nor harmed. Men who dance professionally other than hip-hop were like steel bubbles, floating in grace but with a macho exterior.
My curiosity of the ballet was reignited once again by the film “Billy Elliot,” a boy in a Northern England coal-mining town finds his true calling in ballet, a stark contrast to the his father and brother’s lifestyle. This project is my first glimpse of the ballet. Specifically, male ballet dancers, who testosteronal grace repulses many but intrigues and captivates me. Syncopated in classical composure is a delight you can enjoy and experience other than the clashing in sports.
Continue reading “Studio 1- Ballet”

New York City Goths – Uncovered

Yaphet Murphy – Capturing Communities in Words and Images

New York City Goths

It’s true. They live. I’ve seen them. They exist. Black clad gals and gents with whiteface makeup with an androgynous bent. They call themselves Goths. And if you’re really careful, they might whisper at you.

My entire effort in this project has been an attempt to get closer, close enough for someone to whisper at me, to tell me the things about the Goth community that are not normally transmitted to outsiders. I started at the periphery of this community. I didn’t know where to find a Goth. To me, Goths were scarce. If I was lucky I might see one in passing. But I was certain that they congregate somewhere. I turned to the internet to begin a search. Continue reading “New York City Goths – Uncovered”

Behind the Velvet Rope

“It is going to be an extraordinary evening,” I was told approaching one of New York’s exclusive night clubs, “she will be here tonight,” my guide continued. Dressed to impress, party patrons stood in high heel stilettos crowding the sidewalks as far as I could see. I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was going to be allowed in. I was not sure whether I could brush off the rejection in the midst of all this frenzy. “What kind of a place is this,” I asked, as I composed myself approaching ever closer to the epicenter that marked the entrance. “We know the bouncer, her name is Monica,” my friends giggled, as we trotted closer to the velvet rope. Well, Monica as I learned later, is actually Michael during the day. I assumed a peripheral role. I stood behind my guide and hoped that I would be able to cross the ephemeral line that separated the in crowd from those who could only fantasize what was going to happen tonight, in a few hours, just underneath their feet. Like an auctioneer, my guide waved a few hand gestures and the rope parted as others watched in envy. Surely, the line was about one city block long. An exchange had occurred in midst of all the hand shakes as my guide talked his way past the velvet rope. A small price to pay for what was going to be an extraordinary night at this club. It is here that I was going to find Amanda Lapore.

Unable to decipher the song, my feet felt a trembling sensation with every beet of the music. It was as if the sound was confined, like a prisoner, and was impatiently trying to find an escape. Walking down the stairs, through one endless hallway after another, I felt like I was a part of a game, finding my way to the center of a dark labyrinth. At the last turn, before opening the doors to the heart of it all, a guy in black marked my wrist. Now I have been branded- no longer an outsider of the community. With the opening of the double doors, the music once held captive, now lashed out quickly immersing the hallways with a forceful deep base echoing off of solid black walls, teasing those still walking through the labyrinth. I entered and it was immediately evident why so many would consider the wait in the cold worth their while. In fact, tonight was going to be different, extravagant, and glistening. Tonight is her birthday celebration and everyone gathered to make sure it was just that and nothing less for the ultimate Diva, the odalisque of the gay world, Amanda Lepore.

I have entered the underground life of the community where rules usually do not apply. Dodging my way through the wall-to-wall crowd, I inched my way closer to the table with exquisite champagne, exclusive crowd, and VIP written all over it. The table where Amanda Lepore was celebrating her ‘twenty-first again’ birthday. Before I was able to find the star of the night, I couldn’t help but notice the other tables. I have walked into a room full of Dionysian characters. Taking a drag and hiding the flame of the cigarettes, partygoers bathed under a cloud of smoke. “One at a time please,” I heard in the background as bathroom attendants begged the patrons entering the stalls. Exiting, some were all refreshed, while others exited all disheveled. It is as if the rules of society did not apply here. I couldn’t stop but think that some, would consider this hell, others would relinquish their every day life to escape to this underground paradise. In this world, getting tired on the dance floor doesn’t mean that the night is over, it just simply implies that it’s time for another refreshment break in the bathroom stalls.

Some may mistake this event for a costume party, but to those within the community it is a lot more than that. It is the ability to leave behind their every day life at work or school and transform themselves to be who they want to be perceived as. An average man by day, a queen at night, is the escape they are seeking. Logan, a student at a city college considers his gender to be female, while his sex male. Even though he is hesitant about a complete transformation to another sex, for now he is satisfied with just transforming his gender at night. “It is as if a wild animal in me is set free!” he remarked, as vibrated to the music. Most believe that transgenders were born with the wrong sex and they feel as if they are in the body they don’t belong in. “Every time I look in the mirror, I see just a girl,” he answered when asked about his transformation at night. It is a challenge, he described, to be accepted in the society as a transgender. However, the obstacles he has to face every day made him mature at a much faster rate than an ordinary student his age. There exists a big misconception about transgenders. Stereotypes associate their community as a life style based on drugs and diseases. Many successful businessmen, company executives who graduated top of their class from Ivy League colleges also comprise a big part of this community, as I quickly learned. Logan’s best friend, who also transforms at night, was given a full tuition at Princeton, because of his academic brilliance. He does not consider himself smart, but because he was frowned upon by the stereotypes surrounding him, he compelled himself to strenuous work that in the end resulted in his success. Logan and his best friend are one of the many examples of a false stereotype clouding the transgender community today. For some like Logan, it is a transformation from day to night to participate in the festivities of this party. For others it is an every day life and the means of making a living. Lady Gadiva, as she calls herself, transforms into a female and stays that way for days on end. She works as a bartender and an entertainer and described the strenuous effort and the many hours spent to transform. Unlike Logan, Lady Gadiva spends majority of the workweek as a female. Transgenders, such as Logan, look up to Amanda Lepore as more than just a transgender. She serves as an Icon for the transgender community, as someone who represents the ultimate success story because of her fame and public exposure.

My mission would not be complete until I meet Amanda Lepore herself. As I pushed myself through the crowd, there she was, stepping out of her VIP section and greeting her many acquaintances. As she thanked them for coming, I jumped at the opportunity to speak with Amanda. She is nothing like no other, neither a male or nor a female, but perfectly androgynous, the envy of Ganymede in the Renaissance. She appears completely content. Like Marilyn Monroe, America’s most famous sex symbol of the early twenties, Amanda Lepore will one day commemorate the ultimate transgender.

Celebrating amongst her friends was Amanda Lepore’s photogropher, Jermey Kost. He has known the birthday girl for decades and has had the opportunity to photograph her incessant transformations over the years. As he explained, she undergoes plastic surgeries almost on monthly bases. For the most part, he added, she has reached her ultimate look, and now she is only maintaining beauty with minor changes. Her appearance is ever changing and her body a work of art in progress. All of which have contributed to her timeless image. It was time to bring the cake. Like Narcissus who kneeled daily beside a lake to contemplate his own beauty, she stares at the image of herself rendered in frosting on a birthday cake, while others wondered if there is even a similarity to the Amanda today.

As this was not my first attempt to immerse myself into the transgender community, one thing became very clear over time. For the most part, majority of the events that I have attended consisted predominantly of transgenders and gay men with an absence of the heterosexual community. It is very rare that you find a straight couple in a trangender club. This event, however, was very different. The crowd was mixed, consisting of both gay and straight men, heterogeneous married couples, journalists and photographers. They were all here to see Amanda Lepore the celebrity figure, the Diva, the transgender that has been behind the lens of world renowned photographers, such as David Lachapelle. After all, to achieve her appearance she has gone through a numerous surgeries over a spam of decades, some excruciating and others that defy mother nature.

Because of all the stereotypes, most of which I discovered as being false, the transgender community is not accepted and probably will not be accepted in its entirety throughout many cultures. New York City is unique in the sense that the transgender community has incorporated well into the everyday life of a New Yorker who is more accepting of this community. It is perhaps in diverse and large metropolitan cities where their hope lies. In some countries, the very act of being a homosexual is frowned upon and in certain parts of the world it is illegal and even punishable by death. New York City with its tolerance has accepted different life choices. The people of New York City, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual, professional or nonprofessional, young or elderly, have made Amanda Lepore into a celebrity figure despite her difference. Indeed, Amanda Lepore celebrated her ‘21st again’ birthday here in New York among fans and friends, but more importantly she celebrated the victory of the transgender community.

Red Hook, Brooklyn: The Rope that Binds a Community

Red Hook Brooklyn, named for the red clay it was built upon and the Dutch word Hoek, meaning “point” or “corner,” juts out upon the East River. As I sit on the pier in late summer, a familiar chill cuts through the warmth of the season, characteristic of the air above bodies of water.  It is evening time, and looking out upon the water and landscape, I feel as though I have discovered a secret. Lady Liberty, glowing green, appears as a sentinel, granting me permission to stay for awhile. This area, the only part of New York City that, on land, has a full frontal view of the Statue, is locally known as The Back.

I was brought here by a friend, who walked me down a long and lonely block, which seemed to be deserted and abandoned.  Shuttered warehouses loomed ominously, and dogs barked from somewhere within the darkness.  My friend, Jovan Torres, is a local who after a brief stint living with his father in long island, had recently returned to his hometown, and said he wanted to show me this place. I couldn’t imagine what kind of surprise lay beyond the rusted grey metal of the warehouse doors.

As we walk, the darkness gives way, and the water appears. It’s beautiful from a distance, and I am now eager to proceed. He greets a group of high-school aged kids, their voices and laughter echoing after us as we continue on to the edge.  I see the statue of liberty and can’t believe how close she seems. A group of men approach with fishing rods, greeting each other as though this has been a nightly summer ritual. One man pulls out a radio, and my friend and I take a seat. He tells me stories about jumping into the river as kids, and hopping from post to post.

As early as the 19th century, Red Hook’s port made it a booming industrial center, loaning itself to the shipping and containerization industries. The Red Hook Houses, one of the largest housing projects in the city, were initially built for the Irish and Italian dockworkers and their families to live in. By the 1950’s, these initial residents began to fade and the town became one of the first Puerto Rican neighborhoods in the city.

Continue reading “Red Hook, Brooklyn: The Rope that Binds a Community”

Debate Community: A Community that shares a bond through debate but really develops the bond through simple communication

I never thought I would join debate, much less policy debate. Policy debate is a lot like condensed milk; too much and I get sick. A lot of the time the actual policy in question is not discussed much. Instead whether the other team is being topical is argued vehemently throughout the debate. I find I went against all my principles when I had to win the debate based on voter fairness and not the subject matter. Upon entering the building I could hear a shuffling of papers. Everyone’s brow was scrunched and their hands clenched tightly to far too many papers for one person to carry. I could hear faint whisperings of people repeating their arguments at 350 words a minute. Down the hall everyone stood huddled in groups, reading their “scripts” with such harmony and so in tune with each other it sounded like a canopy of hummingbirds. It was odd to find music even in muffled speed-reading. Suddenly the hall quieted as the room arrangements were being taped to the wall. With a loud, thick slab the paper stuck to the wall and then just as swiftly as it was quiet, a rush emanated through the hall for the room schedules. Fingers ran up and down the sheets, each eye scanning for their own names. It wasn’t so easy to spot the room because the names were arranged by taking the first initial of both peoples’ names and then the college the team they were from. Aside from giving the room numbers the sheets also reveal the position a team will take during the round. My partner ran to find out our room, room 231 of the main building, affirmative. We didn’t have far to go but we still couldn’t take our sweet time getting there.

Continue reading “Debate Community: A Community that shares a bond through debate but really develops the bond through simple communication”

The Institute Of Higher Burnin’

What makes a community what it is? Is it the people? Maybe it’s what the people have in common. If that’s the case then what do you do when the people don’t have much in common? You call it 5 Pointz: The Institute of Higher Burnin’. Having a name that represents the five boroughs of New York City, 5 Pointz, located in Long Island City, invites graffiti artists from all over to share their work with the world. It is important to note that this is one of the very few places in New York where graffiti is legal. However, I still find it ironic that a place where anywhere else a person can be arrested for writing graffiti, can be found just blocks away from a Supreme Court house. Don’t get too excited though, just because graffiti is legal there does not mean that you can just come and do want you want. You need permission from Meres, aka Jonathan Cohen, who has been the one in charge since 2002. In order to get permission he needs to view a sample of your work, either in person or through e-mail.

Continue reading “The Institute Of Higher Burnin’”

Sunday to Sunday: The Weekly Activities of the Eastchester Church Of God Community

There are no lush gardens, no high brick walls towering into the heavens, no magnificent stained glass windows depicting the crucifixion. There is just a white building with a brick facade that was bought in 1998. The building is home to Eastchester Church of God located on Eastchester road in the Bronx. It was started in 1990 by the current Pastor Devon Dixon and his wife Heather Dixon and a few other members of the church. It consists of 267 members, with visitors of about 300. Many of the members come from the Caribbean with many coming from the island of Jamaica. There are Americans and African members as well. The members are mostly women, “That is the problem with most black churches, they have more women than men,” commented Pastor Dixon.

Often as you approach the church on a Sunday morning you will hear the chiming bells of the nearby Catholic Cathedral announcing the hour. The church, on Sunday, is filled with members and visitors worshipping. Continue reading “Sunday to Sunday: The Weekly Activities of the Eastchester Church Of God Community”

Not So Black and White

Not So Black And White: An Inside Look at the Hassidic Community

A chill hovers in the morning air. The bright brass buckle on his leather shoe shines dully in the diffuse sunlight. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. His movements echo on the pavement.  I catch his gaze in the distance. His eyes are intense. Smokey gray, their look scorches. A black velvet cap sits perched atop his head, crowning his shining curled ringlets. He holds a small velvet pouch embroidered with elaborate beading and  gold thread. It is his prayer bag. He clutches it to his side. He looks at me, then looks away.His steps grow faster, more intense. He is in a rush. Please stop, I beg. I can’t, he replies. Just your name, I persist. At least that. Ya’akov, my name is Ya’akov. How old are you Ya’akov? I’ll be Bar Mitzvahed next year, he responds, and walks away, leaving only a rush of air behind him.

Yes he’s different. It’s as though time has frozen in 19th Century Europe. Speaking a foreign tongue and donning strange, archaic attire, the Hassid stands inert against the quickly changing landscape of time. Exuding distance and aloofness, the Hassid turns his back to the world, closes his eyes and seals his lips in silence. To an outsider, the Hassidic community seems like an impenetrable fortress- one impossible to infiltrate, and even more impossible to understand. But beyond the closed doors and beyond the locked lips there lies a story. A story worth telling.

Theirs is a culture of tradition. Formed in an era of extreme Anti-Semitism and brutality, the Hassidic movement sought to return hope to the Jewish people. Its teachings emphasize sincere devotion to G-d and closeness to one another. When the outside forces threatened to destroy them, they insulated themselves with spirituality and love.

Continue reading “Not So Black and White”

The lives in “The Life”

            Eighteen chairs are standing on the stage in two rows in a semi-circle. There is a yellow post-it with a name on each chair. Most of the cast, director, choreographer, stage manager, assistant stage manager, and the pianist are inside. Someone brought snacks and refreshments. Actors are late. Queen is late.

            Giggles, voices, whispers, humming fill the theater/classroom. AC, NL and a few others form a small circle on the side. They hum, resonate, and gradually raise and lower their hands to guide their voices. Continue reading “The lives in “The Life””

A Little Home in the Big City

The actor sits on the windowsill by the door, eating bright chicken wings and occasionally breaking into a dance by himself. The doggy day care manager stands near the bar, eyes fixed on the large screen that hangs above his head. The young recruiter walks behind the bar, and the sales representative eats in the dining area. They all know each other, but not in those terms. Here, they are simply Adam, Ben, Matt and Kenny, and they are Buffalo Bills fans.

Though they see each other every week for at least 16 weeks a year, the young men don’t know much about one another except that, like the other regulars at McFadden’s Saloon, they come week after week to cheer on and support their football team – no matter how badly they might be doing or how dreadful the weather is.

“You want sports fans?” asked Jill Kerschensteiner, one of the women who make up the Bills Backers community at McFadden’s. “Well you got us. We’re here.”  Continue reading “A Little Home in the Big City”

Ecuadorians in the Streets of New York City

What do people in NYC picture when they hear about “Ecuadorians”? Whose images would I capture if I began to approach people that resembled my idea of Ecuadorians? Because of an economic crisis in the late 1990s, more than 600,000 Ecuadorians emigrated to the U.S. and Europe from 2000 to 2001 (5). Including undocumented migrants, it is unofficially estimated that there are approximately one million Ecuadorians currently residing in the U.S. (5). But even in Ecuador, a country whose officers adamantly call “multicultural,” citizens are not supposed to be easily categorized, and discussions about the right image to represent its population are endless.

Besides mestizos, in Ecuador there still remain over 1000 (1) indigenous cultures that have managed to preserve their own language, followed by smaller percentages of Afro-Ecuadorians and European descendent criollos. And after one has acknowledged the language and ethnic differences, one must consider the importance of yet another layer: Class.

Being an immigrant in Ecuador, although almost 15% (2) of the population has moved to the US and to European countries, is an open declaration that one is poor. Further than that, amongst the middle class that has not left the country, immigrants are stigmatized as uneducated, lower class citizens. A fact that statistics somewhat justify. More than half of the Ecuadorian immigrant community in the US and Spain have only finished grade school (3).

Among the people in power, immigration has been addressed trough a double discourse. On the one hand, immigration is referred to as a problem, and its decrease often has been one of the visible “goals” of the government. On the other hand, 6.9% (4) of Ecuador’s annual budget depends on the money that immigrants pump into the economy each year. This is, astonishingly, more or less half of the revenue that Ecuador obtains through oil drilling.

Although Ecuadorians were heavily concentrated in the mountainous central highland region a few decades ago, migration toward larger cities in all regions—coast, andes, amazon and Galapagos—has increased the urban population to over 60% (5). From migrating to big Ecuadorian cities to taking a further step and migrate to the US or Spain, there is a small distance. Continue reading “Ecuadorians in the Streets of New York City”

Under the Brooklyn Bridge, Gliding on Top of the World

A Bit of History on Skateboarders, BMX and Scooter Freestyle Riders

In the year 1958, “Bill Richards, the owner of a surf shop in North Hollywood, California, saw some boys riding surfboards to which they’d attached wheels. He ordered some wheels from a roller skate company, attached them to boards, and began selling “sidewalk surfboards.” Later that year, Jan and Dean recorded a hit song, “Sidewalk Surfing,” which gave the new sport nationwide exposure. It got a new name in 1959, when the Roller Derby Skateboard was introduced”. [1] This bit of history becomes apparent to you when you watch skateboarders do their tricks. Waves have been substituted by ramps, surfer shorts have been substituted by jeans, hoodies, and sneakers, but the language between the two is still kind of the same; you would hear some skateboarders call each other “Dude” and if someone does a nice trick some of them would say “That was SICK!!!”

Freestyle BMX had become pretty well established in the year 1983; a few years after BMX motocross racing became popular[2]. Back than people used to practice their tricks in abandoned skateboarding parks. Today you would find BMX riders and skateboarders together in these parks. In the past decade or so, when the foldable scooters came out, scooter riders have also joined them, doing some of their best stunts on these scooters that I once thought were a child’s toy. Continue reading “Under the Brooklyn Bridge, Gliding on Top of the World”

Some pictures you WILL NOT see in my final presentation

These images didn’t make it into the final 20. But, if you like some of them and think they’re great, i’d like to hear about it.

A message from someone interested in learning about goths

“Hi Z,”

“I’ve always been fascinated by Goths but I have no connectionto the commmunity. I have a project that I am
working on for my Capturing Communities Journalism class at Baruch College that I am focusing on the Goth
community of New York City. Can I interest you in speaking to me about what it is to be goth,describing what you know about the New York Scene, and just giving me a portrait of who you are as a person in addition to being goth? I want to do something special with this project.”

“Any reply will be appreciated. Thanks!”

Yaphet MurphySenior, Baruch College, New York City

Check out my blog post on goths at this link!

“we’re going out friday night. join us.”

-Z, Organizer, Midnight NYC Meetup Group

Venue: Ward 6 @ Lucky Cheng’s, 11:45pm

5 Pointz Work In Progress 4

I’m wasn’t sure if I can use these photos because I chose to cover 5 Pointz in Queens. This is from an art gallery in the Bronx. I figured this can bring a close to my project because many graffiti artists would love to have there work be shown publicly in a formal setting like an art gallery. Many of the artists’ whose work is displayed used to tag on trains back in the 80’s when it was really dangerous to. Many of the artists were there for the opening too. Revolt was one of the artists I met briefly. I also got to meet Martha Cooper, who is a photographer famous for documenting New York graffiti in the 80’s. One of the artists named Mare139 talked about how lucky he was to do what he loves and makes a living from it. He said that he always reminds himself, “Never mistake the business of art with the reason of art.”