I was lucky enough to work on five projects in 2010. Three were personal projects that I set out to shoot, one fell in my lap and the other was commissioned. This post features two pictures from each of the four projects. The fifth one isn’t ready for primetime just yet.
Prison Babies: Essence Magazine gave me the opportunity to go to women’s prisons in New York and Ohio and document prison nurseries. Child care facilities used to be standard in detention facilities for women, but now there are only nine such programs in the country. Modern standard practice dictates that when a female prisoner goes into labor, she is taken to the hospital and handcuffed to the bed. She gives birth and her child is immediately removed from her and either goes to family on the outside or directly into foster care. The nurseries I visited are separate from the general population and they’re surprisingly quiet and meditative places. There is an emphasis on the child’s wellness and to that end there are parenting classes. Charities often provide the special supplies needed for the babies. Most interestingly, the recidivism rate for the ladies in the program is significantly lower. Of course, women have to qualify to be in these programs- no violent offenders. The babies must leave after a year to eighteen months, but in that time, mother and child do some key bonding.
Holy Land Experience: I started shooting this in the summer of ’09 and went back to finish up last February. I’m not a religious person, but I’ve always been quite taken with the notion of deep faith. I’m just not wired that way, but I wholly respect those who are. In my efforts to understand the world and people around me, I study religion. I even seriously considered adding religious studies as a third major in college. Religion continues to be an interest of mine and you are quite likely to see further meditations on the theme in my work. I chose to focus on religious tourism with this story. I would say pilgrimage, but I feel like that word should be reserved for journeys to places of historic religious significance. The Holy Land Experience is a theme park with an emphasis on educating its visitors about the New Testament. Sure, they acknowledge the Old Testament and its wrathful God, but it’s all tempered by a loving and forgiving Jesus. I enjoyed this shoot immensely. The staffers who work at the park are very talented and the visitors are earnest and kind. Many of them could never afford to go to the real Holy Land and are thankful for the approximation in Orlando.
Oil Spill: Watching on tv as the crude gushed into the Gulf of Mexico made me sick to my stomach. I booked a flight in early May and spent a week driving along the Gulf Coast examining the impact of the spill before it hit shore. There were no oil-monster birds on my trip- it was too soon. The week I was there, folks were holding their breath and the anxiety was palpable. I talked to an oysterman who teared up at the prospect of losing his family business. I talked to a furious crabber who was losing his entire salary for the year because the spill happened during the blue crab season and the waters were closed. I tried talking to BP flaks who didn’t respond. I tried talking to the Coast Guard who let me go up in a media flight over the Deepwater Horizon site where the fumes, even from high up in the air, made me sick for days. The Coast Guard didn’t really have much to say when I was there, but later on, we watched as they performed shamefully as BP mouthpieces and “privacy enforcement.” It seems now that the spill is all but forgotten in most of the country, but I can assure you that the impact is still being felt along the Gulf Coast and we will all pay for it eventually.
Six Flags New Orleans: This is the one that fell in my lap. I was finishing up a shoot on my last day on the Gulf Coast after a week of oil spill coverage when I was carjacked. I’d been hustling my ass off and I’d finally finished two days of straight-up hard work. I walked back to my car which was parked in a Vietnamese Catholic Church parking lot. It was around 3:30 pm Mother’s Day Sunday. As I was putting my gear away in the trunk, I looked over to see a young man walking toward me. I smiled at him and continued packing. He grabbed me from behind, and said “M’am I have a gun. I don’t want to shoot you. Give me your keys.” Well, what could I do? I insisted he let me keep the cameras. He wanted the car, I needed my gear (and all of the pictures I’d been shooting all damn week) so he showed some sort of a kindness and left me standing in the parking lot with my camera bags and suitcase. I watched him peel out and thought to myself “What the fuck was that? What now?” I went inside the church, called the police and rental company and waited. After I gave my report I needed a ride to my hotel for the evening. One of the policemen who responded offered to take me and we drove off. Along the way, we got to talking and in an act of good ambassadorship for the City of New Orleans, he asked me if I want to go to Six Flags. I was not particularly in the mood and didn’t much feel like it, but when he explained that it had been abandoned since Katrina flooded it, I changed my mind. We went on a walking tour of the park and it drove home for me the pointed knife of disaster that the city has been dealing with for years. All week long, folks had been saying “First Katrina, now this oil spill? How are we supposed to live like this?” The spill was insult to injury (as well as injury on top of injury) and the abandoned amusement park was just one more insult in a long litany of indignities. Here was a wholesome place where the people of New Orleans were supposed to be able to escape to when they were troubled. Sure, there are still plenty of places in the city where you can drown your sorrows with drink, but you can’t exactly take the family along. The state of Six Flags New Orleans was just one more “fuck all y’all” to the Big Easy from outside entities. I forgive the boy who stole my car. Sure, it was a dick move but the locals have been dicked over plenty and they all seem precariously close to the breaking point under the shiny veneer of Southern hospitality.