Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Change of Pace

I'm usually interested in photographing people almost exclusively but the change in season has me looking beyond the normal subjects and more at nature and my surroundings.... that sounded a lot deeper than I meant it too. Anyway, here are a few pics from the last week or so. ' Chasing the Light

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


10 days ago I received a phone call from my sister saying I had to get to the hospital right away. My 91 year old grandmother was very sick and doctors were saying she had, at best, two hours to live. She's been in and out of the hospital the last few years so I wasn't all that surprised to get that call. I was prepared as I could be to handle the situation but still, I felt a touch of panic come over as I made the drive. The hospital is about an hour away from where I live and so my fear was by the time I got there and found the room, it might be too late to say my goodbyes.

But that hour drive also gave me time to think and compose my thoughts. I was able to remind myself of just how tough my grandmother really is. Like I said, she's been in and out of the hospital many times in the last few years and I can think of at least a half dozen times where it looked like she wouldn't be able to regain her health but without fail she would defy medical logic and doctor predictions. After reminding myself of that, I knew I'd get to her bedside in time and my panic vanished.

When I got to her room I was surprised to find, not a gravely ill woman clutching to life, but someone smiling, laughing, and requesting chocolate candy. Most of my family was already there and she was clearly enjoying all the attention. A Reverend from the hospital had been lingering and after a while suggested she lead us all in a group prayer. I guess it was supposed to be a sort of last rites prayer in the eyes of the reverand because she spoke of having family together at this dificult time and the importance of cherishing these final moments. When it was all over I noticed my grandmother looking around at the room with a puzzled expression on her face as if to say, "what's all this fuss about?"

Those two hours came and went and as of right now, March 2nd, she's still with us. Her condition has fluctuated between quite good, to bleak, and then back to good again. The doctors have warned us not too get optimistic, that the end is near, that there are just too many issues to address... that at her age and strength, its only a matter of time. She's now back at home thanks to the good people at Hospice, but as anyone with experience in these matters can tell you, its not a good sign when Hospice is involved in your medical treatment.

I took a couple pics of her last night as my mother was feeding her dinner. She had shown very little in terms of physical strength or awareness most of the night (nights are tough for her), but when we teased her that she had oatmeal on her face that might mess up her pretty smile, she was able to lift her hand to wipe her mouth off and then even gave a little giggle as I took the picture.

I don't know how much longer she can hold on, but I know this... she was raised in the mountains of West Virginia... during the depression... she's been through more than her share of hardships and difficulties... And she's going to fight until the end. That's what Granny does.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Just Pho You

Corny title aside, I decided to bring the trusty old 30d with me to dinner last night at my favorite Vietnamese Pho Noodle places. I love me some pho.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New York Minute

Washington Square Park, NoHo, Coney Island, and High Line Park.

Washington Square Park
Picnik collage
damaged pele
Picnik collageIMG_3266a
dyp 4
dyp 2


Monday, October 25, 2010

Shavon Interview

I met Shavon, street name "Seven", while I was out taking photos in a Northeast neighborhood she asked me not to disclose. The area is a kind of a last stop for street workers who are down on their luck. It's a block far removed from the glamour and allure of some of the city's other sex trade locations. These women are not looking to make big money or feel the rush of the hustle, they're only chasing their next high. The vast majority smoke every dollar they make minutes after they make it. Many are also homeless or something close to it. And most are dealing with serious mental health issues in addition to their drug addictions. In general, they aren't very approachable.

Shavon however seemed friendly and carried herself with an aura of self confidence that made me want to know her story. When I offered to pay her for a quick interview she enthusiastically agreed. We drove to a near by residential neighborhood away from cops and stick-up kids and began to get into her story.

Shavon 1

Originally from Chicago, 43 year old Shavon came to our Nation's Capitol back in 1999 looking to escape some legal trouble that she didn't want to talk about while traveling as an exotic dancer throughout the Midwest.

"I was just gonna stay for a couple weeks until the heat died down but that crack got me and I've been out on these streets ever since."

In her life as a dancer Shavon had snorted cocaine but says she was nothing more than an occasional user. Then shortly after coming to DC she smoked crack for the first time with a man she met and her life immediately changed.

Before smoking crack Shavon was focused on making money and enjoying the lifestyle. "I loved everything about it. I loved the money, the attention. I loved traveling places and meeting people. I went all over too. Milwaukee, all over Iowa, even North Dakota. I was the only black girl out there but I think they liked being with a black girl that had some sense about her. I dated some of the guys back then too, you know, after the shows and shit, and I made a lot of money. I was really pretty back then. I mean I looked good!" she beams.


All that changed here in DC. She says that after that first time smoking crack it became the entire focus of her life. She was turning tricks on the street within a matter of days. As a dancer, she would send home money to her daughter who she had left in the care of her mother.

"Whatever my baby wanted, she got. I would send them money every week and when I would go home I would buy her clothes, CD's, candy, anything she asked for. I took care of her."

Once lost in her addiction she began to send less and less money until finally there was nothing at all to send.

"They knew something was up when I couldn't send that money anymore. I mean, they knew what kind of lifestyle I lived but when I stopped sending money my mother knew something was wrong but they didn't really know what until I had my son."

In 2001 Shavon gave birth to a baby boy. She had no idea who the father was and worse yet, they baby was born with cocaine in his system. Social Services was notified and she had to place the child in the custody of her mother to avoid it being placed into foster care.

"That's when they knew for sure what was going on with my life."


Since then her life has been pretty turbulent. She started working for a local drug dealer, helping him sell on the street in exchange for freebies. It kept her from having to turn tricks and she says the two of them grew very close and were begining to start a relationship when she was arrested. She had to spend nearly two years in prison, butdecided to use her incarceration as an opportunity to get clean. When she got out she resumed her relationship with the dealer and they fell in love. This time however, she says she was able to stay clean for him.

"I don't know why I could do it for someone else but could never do it to help myself," she laughed. "I guess I'm just fucked up like that."

In total she was clean for 37 months but when they broke up she relapsed... hard.

"That's why you see me out here. I just been fucking up, getting high too much."

She says she used to work another neighborhood near by where the "dates" and the money came easier. But the police cracked down in that area. She works the neighborhood where I found her because the police don't hassle her and because you can work anytime of day. But the money isn't as good and the streets aren't as safe.

"Motherfuckers out here don't wanna pay nothin' and they'll rob you quick. I've had to really degrade myself out here," she says looking away.

The Look Away

At that point things get quiet and she seems to be lost in the moment, lost in her thoguht. She eventually asks me to take her to a nearby beauty supply shop where she picks up a pony tail extension and some cheap makeup.

Throughout the interview she has been open with me but still cautiously guarded. As we talked she's been unconsciously clutching the money I gave her, as though I might suddenly change my mind and try to take it back. But when she gets out of the car to go into the store she trusts me enough to leaves her purse with me and when she comes back she is noticabley more upbeat and at ease.

She begins to tell me a little more about her daughter. "She's about your age," she says. "She went to school. College and all that. She owns a day care, has a house, two cars... her and my mother are doing good. Real good."

"I think I'm going to go see them this year for Thanksgiving," she continues. "You know, my daughter doesn't judge me. I can tell her everything going on in my crazy life and she just loves me. She hugs me a lot. Sometimes we just lay in bed together and talk."

As we drive back to where I picked her up I tell her to promise me she'll actually make that Thanksgiving trip. She responds that it's very hard for her to make plans with the lifestyle she lives. "I never really think past this week but once I make my mind up about something, I do it. I'm gonna go this year."

She gets out of the car and I ask to take a picture of her in a nearby alley where we find a spot of shade to hide from the harsh sun hanging overhead. As soon as I pull the camera to my eye she begins giving me poses like a model, laughing at herself as I snap a final couple of pictures.

Shavon Triptych

As she walks away down the alley I imagine her getting on a bus and riding across country to see her daughter. I think I believe her when she says she'll really go.

Lost in Trinidad

This story was originally posted on my good friend Claudia's photography blog in October of 2009. Claudia, aka cad, is an amazing photographer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and I strongly suggest you go check out her work when you have a minute.
I first met Cheryl back in August when I was taking pictures in a Washington, DC neighborhood called Trinidad in the Northeast section of the city. Even before getting into street photography I was always fascinated with Trinidad. Like many of the poorer neighborhoods in our Nation’s Capital, Trinidad is infested with drugs, gangs, and prostitution, but what’s makes it unique is its eclectic mix of people.

The world’s first and only university for the deaf, Gallaudet, is located right there in the heart of Trinidad. The D.C. Farmer’s Market is close by as well and each weekend brings in crowds of shoppers looking for a deal at the open-air flea market.

It is not uncommon to see deaf students walking the same blocks as the flea market shoppers, drug dealers, prostitutes, and ordinary working people just trying to get by. It makes for some of the most compelling and unique scenes in the city.

So it was only natural that as my interest in street photography grew, I would begin to take my camera into Trinidad... That brings us back to August, when I first met Cheryl.

She was turning tricks on West Virginia Avenue and had noticed me driving around the neighborhood. She approached my car while I was at a stop light and asked if I was looking for a “date”. I explained that I was only there to take pictures. I raised my camera as proof and she flashed me a bright smile, inviting me to take one of her. I did and here are the results:


We spoke briefly and I remember thinking at the time that I wanted to know her story but I wasn’t really sure how to go about asking. And to be honest, I was a little nervous to be seen talking to her. The neighborhood is always crawling with cops and stick-up kids roaming the streets. I didn’t want to fall victim to either so we quickly parted ways. When I looked back at the picture later that evening I couldn’t help seeing it as a lost opportunity.

I didn’t really think about her again until I was out taking pictures last Saturday. As is often the case, I found myself driving into Trinidad. Once there I saw a group of community workers out cleaning up trash and planting flowers as the drug crews and old ladies watched on suspiciously from their porches. Unfortunately, the slight drizzle that had been persistent all morning suddenly became a hard rain and I was forced to take a break and wait for the weather to clear up.

That’s when I saw Cheryl walking alone in the cold rain. If I was ever going to get her story, it was now. I pulled over and spoke to her as she approached my car window. She had a vague recollection of our previous encounter. I showed her the camera again and told her I wanted to take a few pictures and get her story. To my surprise, she quickly agreed and got into the car.

I pulled into a fast food parking lot a few blocks away and we began to talk.

“So what do you want to know?” she asked me.

“Whatever you want to tell me,” I replied.

And that was all it took. It was as though she had been waiting for the chance to tell her story for quite some time.

Chertl Story 1

She started off by saying that she’d been hustling part-time for about eight years, but had been really begun working the streets steady for the past four years when her crack addiction had spiraled out of control.

“What happened four years ago?” I asked.

“I had a baby that died.” The statement hung in the air for a while and for a moment, I thought she might not say anymore. But then she took a deep breath and continued on.

She said she had known many addicts and prostitutes that had either given their children away to relatives or had lost them to social services. She never wanted that for her child. She tried to stay as clean as best she could while she was pregnant and kept the baby with her after it was born.

It was a baby girl, and she named her ‘Chermiia’, a combination of her and her best friend’s name. Having the responsibility of taking care of Chermiia gave her a purpose and a sense of importance she had never felt before. She was able to keep her addiction under control during that time. She was still working the streets on occasion, but was desperately looking for a way out. Then Chermiia passed away one night due to what Cheryl said was SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). She was two months old.

Cheryl Story

“After that, I just didn’t see the point in staying clean,” she said as the tears began to form in the corner of her eyes. She told me Chermiia was buried in Mt. Olivet cemetery which coincidentally runs parallel to West Virginia Avenue, the very same street Cheryl hustles on.

“Sometimes when I’m walking these streets, I talk to her. I think she keeps me safe. I should be dead right now, but I believe in god and I think that’s what’s kept me safe all these years.”

She said she did get clean for a while last year when she was living in a halfway house. At this point her mood starts to brighten. She says she had started going back to church, gotten her driver’s license, and even found a job at a local grocery store.

She takes out the driver’s license from her purse with pride and hands it to me… “I looked pretty good when I was clean didn’t I?” she beams as I look at the picture. And indeed, she did.

After she left the halfway house she moved in with a boyfriend who lived in an apartment not far from Trinidad. She started to come back to the old neighborhood and that was it. She relapsed and was back on West Virginia Avenue soon after.

I hand her back her driver’s license and notice that her fingers are cracked and blistered. They are the hands of someone that has lived much longer than the 29 years Cheryl has lived. She must have noticed me looking at her fingers because she begins to tell me about them.

Cheryl Story 3

“I try to paint my nails everyday, but it’s useless. When I smoke the pipe gets hot and my fingers blister. Then the paint comes off. That’s something I’m embarrassed about when I’m with a professional man. My fingers give me away.”

She says she tries to pay attention to her looks even though it’s very hard when you’re living this kind of life.

“A lot of girls out here wear the same clothes every day for weeks. They smoke every penny they get. I try to at least buy some lip gloss or eye liner from the dollar store when I get a chance, but it’s hard to keep that stuff because people are always stealin’ in the places I stay. If I fall asleep when people are around, they’ll steal everything. Makeup, clothes, even underwear.”

Cheryl Story 4

Before she leaves, Cheryl tells me that she has a court date coming up next week. She was arrested for solicitation and possession of drug paraphernalia a while back and she is about to be sentenced. She thinks she’ll get put into a drug treatment program and says she’s actually looking forward to the opportunity to get her life back in order. She says she no longer has the desire or energy to live this way. She got a glimpse of what life could be like when she was clean last year, and she’d like another chance.

“I’ve been praying for it,” she says as looks off into the distance. I take one last picture before taking her back to West Virginia Avenue.

Cheryl Story 5

Before she gets out of the car I ask her if she has anything else she wants to say.

“Yeah,” she pauses for a moment, “I love these streets… but I don’t want to die here.”

Blog Archive

Thanks for taking the time to check out the blog. My main interest is portrait photography but I also have a passion for story telling as well and this is my attempt to combine the two genres. I hope you enjoy what you see and read, hopefully I'll have more interviews to post in the near future.

You can check out more of my work on my flickr page here and I can be reached via email: