Host Intro: Over the last couple of years, the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem has seen an increase in the number of white residents and newly built condominiums. These new faces are definitely attracting attention, seeing that Harlem is majority African American and Hispanic. Along with the new residents, trendy new businesses, as well as increasing rents have also made their way into the neighborhood. Also, the idea of rebranding the name of South Harlem, into “SoHa” has also raised many eyebrows. Many residents of the neighborhood are outraged at these changes, and have been attempting to make their voices and concerns heard. Imani Clement has the story.
I live in East/Spanish Harlem, and I wanted to do a piece on how people from my neighborhood feel about gentrification. There’s been a large spike in the number of high rises and stores that are being built in Harlem, and in turn they are increasing apartment rents in the neighborhood. Many of these high rises or lofts/condominiums are going for over 100 thousand dollars, and a majority of their buyers are white. Of course Harlem is historically and today majority Black, and many see this surge of new white tenants as threat to their neighborhoods. So I hope to talk to some people from my block to see what their opinions are about how their neighborhood is rapidly changing.
Jessica Earnshaw is a Brooklyn-based photojournalist, who focuses her pieces on criminal justice, health care, and music. Using funding from the Rita and Alex Hillman Foundation Fellowship & Grant, Earnshaw was able to gain unrestricted access into Maine and Indiana State Prisons, in order to photograph aging within American prisons.
Earnshaw’s prime reason for documenting this particular story was her interest in what happens when you are cut off and isolated from society, after being imprisoned for decades. Earnshaw’s piece focuses on aging inmates, who are either on death row, or have been serving long prison sentences for crimes committed nearly 30+ years ago.
Earnshaw first began to contact multiple prisons across the country, and as a result, two Maine state prisons, one a women’s and the other a men’s correctional facility were among the first to grant her access.
Earnshaw essentially shadowed four inmates, one of them being Norma, who at 74 years old, is the oldest female inmate in Maine. Norma is serving a 70 year sentence, and has a shocking 56 more years in the Maine prison system. Norma has three children, all of whom have ceased contact with her, and she hasn’t had any visitors in the 14 years that she has been imprisoned.
Prison sentences this long, especially when the inmate is as old as Norma, piqued Earnshaw’s curiosity, and mine as well. Yes, someone who committed a heinous crime 20-30 years ago at the time was violent, but the real question is, are they still violent today? When they are old and senile is it really imperative that they continue to spend the rest of their days in a penitentiary? Earnshaw questions this, and also wants to know how these inmates are doing after spending so much time in prison.
Before visiting Norma and the Maine Correctional Center, Earnshaw visited Maine State, where she spoke to Robert and Albert. Robert, (above) is 70 years old and has served 30 years in prison for murder. When Earnshaw left the prison, he told her that speaking to her about his time in prison was the best day of his life.
Albert (above), is the oldest inmate in Maine State prison at 82 years old, and has successfully escaped from prison four times. He has been in and out of prison since the age of 16, and has served a 10 year sentence in solitary confinement. He says that he spent that sentence reading, writing, and designing a home.
Overall, Earnshaw’s experience within the prisons was smooth, considering major factors: the inmates have been imprisoned for so long that they missed the new technological advancements which in turn gave them “no reservations or self-awareness about being photographed”. Also, given that many of them are alone most of the time, human interaction, especially with someone who wants to know about their lives, was easily a highlight of their lengthy prison sentences.
Earnshaw hoped that her time in the prisons, and her subsequent article, would help to humanize those who spent so long in prison, and show people that they are humans as well.
I have two ideas that I can’t decide between for this photo essay.
- Since we’re in the season of US Open tennis, I decided to visit Arthur Ashe Stadium and the surrounding tennis courts to document the going-ons this weekend. Being a huge tennis fan, especially when the major is brought to America this time of year, I thought that it would make sense for me head to Queens to photograph this event. This would also be a prime opportunity given that there is a large possibility that two American women could be playing in the final this Saturday. This also means that there will be more fans, and people who will or won’t know who to root for. Furthermore, since it will be two American women at the only tennis major in America, there will definitely be a buzz at the courts that will be great to document. Although I don’t have tickets to any of the matches, it is free to go onto some of the smaller courts, and there are always large crowds that gather outside of the bigger courts to watch the game on some of the large screens outside. The women’s singles final takes place this Saturday @ 4:00.
2. My second idea is to visit the Smorgasburg food market in Williamsburg. Being an avid food lover, I would like to document all of the different foods that will be featured at the market. There will also be a large number of food vendors there that I could interview. Possible questions could be what food are you selling, why did you decide to come to Smorgasburg to sell your food, and what do you hope to get out of this experience? Smorgasburg is a free event, so it will be easy to go there and photograph all of the different food and vendors there. I of course plan to take pictures of the food, as well as the vendors I will try interview and possibly patrons who are there to just try out the different foods.