#NotMyPresident - Philadelphia Protests Bigotry & Hate

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected to be the 45th President of the United States of America. 

I have never before experienced the combination of disappointment, confusion, loneliness and terror that I did that night. I never thought that I would live to see my country, a country that I love deeply, a country which has given my family so much, commit such a deplorable act onto itself.

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Catching Up - My Day With Theo & Andrea

Ok, wow, I haven't updated this in almost exactly a year. Lots and lots to catch up on...where to start, where to start....

I had one hell of an impromptu adventure last October. So it's a Saturday morning, I'm sitting in my living room, eating breakfast and watching tv. My phone rings, it's an unknown number. I never pick up unknown numbers. But, just a few days prior, I had given my number to a coworker to hang out, so for once, I picked up.

Wasn't a coworker, it was my former professor, Andrea Modica, asking if I would be willing to drive her up to New England in 2 hours to assist on an assignment for the New York Times. I was speechless and not really sure what to say, considering this was this last phone call in the world I was expecting to get in my pajamas as I was eating pancakes. Having just received the assignment an hour before, she explained that we would be photographing a journalist who was just 5 weeks earlier released from two years of captivity in Syria.

Needless to say, two hours later, my bags were packed, and shortly we were on the road deep into New England. 
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My Captivity

Theo Padnos, American Journalist, on Being Kidnapped, Tortured and Released in Syria

In the early morning hours of July 3, one of the two top commanders of Al Qaeda in Syria summoned me from my jail cell. For nearly two years, he had kept me locked in a series of prisons. That night, I was driven from a converted schoolroom outside the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, where I was being held, to an intersection of desert paths five minutes away. When I arrived, the commander got out of his Land Cruiser. Standing in the darkness amid a circle of men trapped in Kalashnikovs, he smiled. "Do you know who I am?" he asked. 

“Certainly,” I said. I knew him because he visited me in my cell once, about eight months earlier, and lectured me about the West’s crimes against Islam. Mostly, however, I knew him by reputation. As a high commander of the Nusra Front, the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda, he controlled the group’s cash and determined which buildings were blown up and which checkpoints attacked. He also decided which prisoners were executed and which were released.

He wanted to make sure I knew his name. I did, and I repeated it for him: Abu Mariya al-Qahtani. “You are our Man of Learning,” I added, using the term — sheikhna — that his soldiers used to refer to him.

“Good,” he said. “You know that ISIS has us surrounded?”

I did not know this.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Not to worry. They won’t get me. They won’t get you. Everywhere I go, you go. Understand?” I nodded.

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Shortly after one thirty in the morning, we arrived at the house where Theo had been living with his mother in the weeks since his release. We were deep in the mountains, zero cell reception. Theo's wonderful mother was more than gracious enough to allow us to spend the night in the house because it turns out we traveled there in the peak of leaf season, and every hotel in the state was booked. Leaf season. It's a thing.

We awoke to a beautiful frost on the grounds around the house, which were extensive and picturesque, completely surrounded by mountains bursting with every color you can possibly associate with those weeks when all traces of summer are gone, yet its still a few precious weeks until winter truly sets in. In other words, my most favorite time of the year. There was a great feeling of warm, enveloping security, despite the frost, yet also a freedom and liberty that can only be found in the escapes from city and industry. All in all, I couldn't have pictured a more perfect place for someone to rest and recover after the unfathomable experience Theo went through. How diametrically opposed this Rockwellian picture of serenity must have been from his torture and captivity in a war-torn desert for twenty-two months. Being in those mountains for just 24 hours, I began to understand how he was able to run around barefoot, kicking a soccer ball, almost childlike, seemingly without a care in the world. Completely surrounded by nature's last explosion of color and life before it settles in for the winter, and the coming spring as the seasons recycle round and round, this was sheer joy in the simple act of enjoying freedom and life. 

Spending the day with Theo was an unbelievable experience. Even more so was being able to watch Andrea, a master photojournalist, a former professor, and a friend, at work. Andrea works with a large format camera, 8x10. That is a massive, hulking beast of a camera, most publicly known for Civil War battlefield photos. The depth of clarity, and the amount of control over the image is to this day still unachievable by digital. She wields it with precision and purpose. 

Here are some photos I quickly snapped when I wasn't busy with assisting duties:

New Job!

A few weeks ago I accepted a position with John Wind Maximal Art Jewelry Studio down in Aston. I am very very excited about this new chapter and the fresh challenges that it brings. This is an environment in which I feel that I'll really be able to grow and learn as an artist. 

You can see my work at Maximal Art

Here's a few candid shots from my first day.

Huey McBanjo

Did a quick promo shoot with Huey McBanjo, a fantastically talented banjoer and bluegrass singer, at Connie's Ric Rac down in the Italian Market. Huey will be providing live entertainment at the premiere of Like, a short which I've been working on as production photographer and social media coordinator. Like premieres Friday, June 6th at the International House. 

The Mansions On Lake Martin

I collaborated with a friend on a larger project where she handed out pieces of art she had created over the years to artist friends, who then went and created another piece of art inspired by the original piece. This short photo essay is my response to 'The Mansions On Lake Martin'.

The Mansions on Lake Martin

by Jessie Bennett

 

I didn’t know I had an accent till I heard the crazy way Maryland people talked.

 

When I moved North, I told all my new friends that my old house, back in Alexander City, Alabama,

had been a mansion.

Big and blue.

To match my eyes.

And it was surrounded by acres of fairy-filled enchanted forest.

That’s where they grow all the glitter for the rest of the world.

At my old house.

You should be jealous.

My birthplace was the most beautiful in the world.

I never noticed the decay on the double-wide mobile homes.

I would glide past the road kill armadillos,

straight to the ancient Dairy Cream Milk-Shake Shack.

The Piggly-Wiggly made perfect pimento cheese

and I had officially renamed Wal Mart, All Mart.

Cause you could find everything you’d ever want there.

 

I never knew we were poor till my new friends told me.

From then on, every year we went South to visit, I saw my mansion slowly shrink.

It was a modest single family rancher.

The blue had been an accident

and the enchanted forest was infested with rattlesnakes.

Glitter didn’t grow,

but ragweed did

and my fragile nose was now allergic.

I’d get hot and I’d get bored

and I’d often get angry at that tiny racist town and its crusty trim of rust red clay.

 

When I was 14,

I took my kid cousins sledding on the pine needles,

kneeling on old cardboard like I’d done when I thought the world ended past Atlanta.

Catherine slipped and we gave way to giggles.

I’m not a princess from a castle in the country,

but my baby cousin sounds like me when she laughs.

My uncle wears a cowboy hat when he naps

but he gave me my royal blue eyes.

 

He tells me I talk like a Yankee.

 

I’d like to imagine that if I’d never left,

I’d have spent my teenage years enjoying movies 6-weeks later than surrounding states.

That I’d have learned to sail like my mama

and snuck beer on the porch with my four-wheeling friends.

That I’d have been happy.

 

I live in a dirty, beautiful city up North

and I’m proud of things that might make my aunt cry;

I’m a vegetarian bisexual liberal and I date people I have no intention of marrying.

I spend my days talking about luxuries like art

and I dream that I’m not too small to save the world.

 

I heard the clothing factory that sustained Alex City has moved overseas.

That the old trailer park by the water is being knocked down

because outsiders have discovered how stunning Lake Martin is.

They’re building mansions.

Room after room that my relatives will never live in,

And I’m afraid for Catherine and Liz and Emma.

They’re chubby, soft, and sheltered,

and their dad runs the convenience store.

He stretches his dollars to send them to Catholic school 2 towns away

so the children with elevators in their houses won’t tell the girls they’re poor.

One day, there may be a college in town that they can never afford to attend.

 

My family is not poor.

We never were,

even when my grandma lived off turtle soup and her papa made moonshine.

We were simple and wise

and knew we never wanted to be too good to be happy.

Honest and shameless,

sipping Sam’s club soda crowded around the kitchen fan.

The house wasn’t meant to turn blue,

but it still matches our eyes.

 

I’ll teach my cousins that,

even grown in the shadows of sanctuaries to the God’s of greed,

they’re still beautiful.

The forests may not be filled with diamonds

but dollar-store glitter shines just the same.

You can be worldly and restless and move to Manhattan,

or stay where you’ve always been.

But never be silenced when they say your accent is silly,

your family is not poor.

I Like Black&White

Spent the afternoon today in a dark and moody bar (Connie's Ric Rac in the Italian Market) shooting for a web series that's currently in development. (Working title is 'Hanh, Solo')

Stay tuned later on this week. We're finishing up rehearsals for 'Like' and begin shooting asap.

Big things coming!!

Been reworking the site the past few nights, and will probably continue to make tweaks here and there over the next few days. 

In the early stages of planning some very big, very exciting projects for February.