Botanical Gardens, last April.
Royce has never missed a class. The first time we met I asked him where he was from in Brooklyn and before responding took off ahead of me twice as fast as I was walking.
Arco Iris / Color Spectrum: When I was hired for the position I met with the then-Coordinator. I very naively and insensitively asked, "So, what are their fixations...?" She looked at me kindly and before schooling me she said, "Well, to start, we don't call them 'fixations.' We call them passions."
Royce's usual response to questions is to smile. Sometimes I look over at him and he is on the brink of hysterical laughter, but has to keep it in, for unspoken reasons, like I'm giving a speech and he'll get in trouble if he can't contain himself. What I imagine him to be thinking inside is, I'm sure, not quite, but I imagine it anyway.
Detail of A Plant We Saw With Plant Eyes (at the Botanicals)
Akeem is a mature guy, by all accounts. He is prompt, attentive, comes with his own camera, and is in the process of making a book with Rehabilitation Through Photography. He is as much of an overachiever as you ever knew in your High School AP classes, if you took those. I didn't. I offered to help edit the text for his photo book but he assured me it was all correct.
Being together in our classroom or in public is no different; everyone acts the same whether in or out. There is no real need to remain invisible or discreet in public space, like the train. This differs from my entire experience as a person, a female, a photographer, a commuter, etc.
Akeem is the group's archivist. This is from his archive.
Miss A does not treat these students like children, which I respect because I have seen the opposite, and it is embarassing.
Rahill has bright eyes.
Rahill has bright eyes.
Sometimes I do not know completely what they are seeing through the camera, even if the image comes up on the screen. I would be lying if I said this wasn't sometimes the case with me.
Hers are the brightest eyes. Sometimes, with successful photographs, we are privileged enough to see how a person chooses to see the world.
Royce and Miss E, the night we went to shoot at Grand Central.
Miss E has the most beautiful cheekbones I've ever seen up close. I know she's a good Mother; I see it all the time in everything she does. Her voice is also beautiful.
Kenneth is a tough guy. I write that playfully. I haven't seen him in class in a while, but I remember his handshake: soft hands, a shake that lingers.
This was before we got tired of the store and bought a bunch of candy and sat down to wait for the rest of class. I know Royce has a sweet tooth, and I can't help but cater to it.
This day was so gorgeous. We found a puffer fish, that, after a few minutes of playing dead, spit in my face. We ordered from Nathan's and sat under umbrellas eating hot fried food under a hot fried sun. When they ordered food from the cashier I experienced what it's like to be watched as they are watched.
Young M is a beautiful young man. His face can turn serious or smiley on a dime. Here he is not looking at the camera for the group photo. Gabe can also be seen here, avoiding the camera, immersed in his ipod.
Young M has talented, intelligent parents. He is big on the drums these days. I know immersing him in music is a fantastic idea because of the time we went to Coney Island...
After lunch, we walked down the boardwalk out along the docks where fishermen and bikes and seagulls and tourists co-mingled. Upon passing two shirtless men blasting Van Morrison on their behemoth boom box, Young M stopped and began to dance. I had never seen him move like that. He did not smile, per sé, but he was moving. We joined him as the shirtless men relunctantly turned up the song. When the song ended, Young M returned to business as usual. I had seen him sparked and that which moved him moved me.
By Rahill. Recently she had become keen on recounting an instance from earlier in the week when 'Justin Sanchez' fell down and bumped his nose. I didn't know she liked to write or I would have given her more time to do that during our photo reviews.
Joseph smelling a flower at the Botanicals.
Joseph is the heart of the entire class. He is uninhibited, highly sensitive, caring, curious, talkative, and polite. Joseph and I are constantly searching for the blueprint to life, the map to correct choices, the answers from past instances that can inform the future. We are scared of the unknown and of fucking up and are looking for a leg up. There isn't one. The chaos of all possible instances is often too much to handle.
Gabe only joined us for a few classes but I desperately wish he were still a part of our meetings. Here he thinks he is out of frame, but I was always looking for him.
Tough Guys are always hard to read, and yet they aren't, because everything that says one thing has the opposite closely entwined inside.
I have too many good memories of Gabe and the type of person he showed himself to be in such a small time. Once, on the train to Rockefeller Center, Gabe was on his iPod, watching clips of The Three Stooges. He was laughing. I asked him if he liked acting, if he'd tried it. He said he did. I said I bet you'd be pretty good at it. He said, "I am." And I said well why don't you pursue it? He said no. I asked why not?! He looked around the train as if scouting for hidden cameras and leaned in to whisper in my ear very quietly, "Paparazzi."
At our fundraiser last May, I stood by while Akeem and Joseph graciously and maturely read their speeches, neither of which I was expecting. A few minutes later, I was forced to get up and say a few impromptu words myself. Once at the podium I turned to thank the boys for such wonderful speeches, and as I turned my attention back to the crowd of lawyers and city officials and parents I smacked my forehead audibly on the microphone.
The group photo.
Until now, I haven't really spoken about this group. In October we rode on a boat around the island of Manhattan. One of them is always sneaking photos of me which is fine in that I want them to take photos of people. He thinks he is being sly but I have always been aware of eyes on or off of me. The other young men there that day gazed out over the boat above the freezing spray and saw a whole lotta space. I say "What about the water? what does that look like through the camera?!" "I say "Hey, look at that person at the edge of the boat, isn't her coat fabulous!? What does that look like through the camera?" I say "Royce! Can you get over this rope? What does that look like in the camera?! Can you flash it?!" But mostly each one lives his reality, instead, staring out at the world, thinking que sé yo, underneath a tiny, high moon in a digi-blue sky, preferring the violent wind in his eyes to a viewfinder shoved hard against his face.