Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beautiful Heart

"Beautiful Heart", 3/11, NYC. Juliana Beasley

"Take off everything except for your underwear and put this on, " the nurse technician said, as she passed me a paper gown. I hadn't done this for years.

"Oh, tie in the front." She closed the door and I began to undress, hanging my clothes on the back of the door. I took off my beat up sneakers and socks, shoving the latter into the former. I placed them side by side next to the examining table.

I had called the week before to make an appointment for my yearly physical with Dr. Orbach.  We hadn't seen each other in over ten years. I sat down on the hygenic tissue paper rolled out on the examining table, my legs swinging and dangling like a bored child in a waiting room. And I did feel like a child. Soon enough, the nurse technician returned. She wore a pair of standard scrubs with a little flair: a pastel design motif that accentuated her youthful appearance. In between taking my blood pressure and taking my pulse, she pulled out from her pants a cell phone protected in a hot pink case that matched her long fingernails. She glanced at it quickly and put it away.

"Lay down. Please."

She untied my robes and put suction cups on my breasts connected to tubes hooked up to an EKG machine. When she was finished, she asked me to stand on the scale.

"Please, don't tell me how much I weigh, " I asked as I stood backwards on the scale.

There were several years that I had refused to know how much I exactly weighed, whenever I went in for a check up. I didn't want to know anything definitive. Now, I know more or less. I just don't want to hear it come out from someone else's mouth, as they jot it down permanently in a records.

"Now, Ms. Beasley, just let me measure you." She balanced the metal rod on my head.
"How tall am I? " I asked.
"5'2"", she said.
Shit, I had lied for more than half of my life about my height. And I planned to continue lying and adding an inch to the truth for the rest of it too.

"How is everything", I asked when she finished.

"Everything is normal," she said. "Dr. Orbach will be with you shortly."

Really, everything is normal?

That unchartered passage that exists between the time the nurse technician leaves you alone with sterilized cotton balls and stainless steel cabinets, until the time when the doctor walks through the door can be agonizing and tortuous. Or at least, it is for me. I'm bored, I'm nervous. I have no purpose except to sit, wait. trust. I looked down at my hairy unshaven legs.

What will I say when she comes in? And where are those osteoporosis and golfing magazines? I'm trapped. Why do doctors always over schedule their patients and make you wait?

I pull out my mobile phone and start checking to see if I have any new e-mails or text messages. Nothing there. I am not on my time. I am on doctor time and that means I am completely out of control. And I am wearing nothing but a  disposable napkin.

The door opened and a thinner older Dr. Orbach walked in. She looked good.

"Hi!", she said. It had been over ten years since I had last come to see her. The last time I saw her I was still working as a stripper and living in the East Village.  I could still afford to pay for health insurance out of pocket. I had seen other doctors after I stopped going to her, but this was my first doctor's visit in more than 3 years.

"Wow, " she said, "Look at you! You have grown up." I imagined she was eye-balling the grays contrasted against my dark brown hair. I suddenly felt very self-conscious. I was already anxious in her presence but now, I felt like I might be noticeably trembling.

I knew Dr. Orbach beyond the normal patient/doctor relationship. I had picked her name randomly from a list of doctors that my health care provider had sent me. I picked her based on two things: she was a woman and I could take the crosstown bus to her office. But, the strange coincidence occured way before I was born, we had already made a connection. She knew my father, but she never knew that I was his daughter.

One day when I came in for a routine visit. At the end of the appointment, she became very serious.
"I have something to tell you, " she said. "I've known for a while. And I think you should know."

She informed me that my father had interviewed her as a young pre-med applicant to the medical college where he worked as the dean of admissions. She adored and admired my father. When she received word of his death, she was shocked to discover a photograph of me standing next to him printed on a memorial card sent to her in the mail.

"You can come up anytime and we can order in lunch," she said to me. I did. I ate a bagel with cream cheese and chives and drank a coffee. We were sitting in her office. I had nothing to say. I felt awkward, yet priveledged. I never went back for lunch after that.

Dr. Orbach was and is a very nice cardiologist and GP. She has four kids and often travels to Israel. She has a cousin that is a very famous writer. I don't know more.

I started to relax. I think I stopped trembling. After a three minute update on my life over the last ten plus years, we got to business. She asked me the usual. "What medications are you on?" "Do you smoke?" "Do you have a history of any illness in your family?"

And then she had me roll over on my side and repositioned my body.

"I'm going to do an ultrasound of your heart."

She applied a cool jelly and moved a microphone-like device around my chest. Thump, Thump, Thump.
And than I could hear delightful sounds that reminded me of being underwater, something I imagined, a pregnant woman might hear when getting a sonogram of her unborn child. I have heard it on TV.

"How does it look?", I asked.
"Beautiful! Beautiful!," she said.
"Are you sure?"
"Just beautiful", she reassured me.

I was beaming.

She ripped the long strip of paper with my heart prints from the printer and looked at them in the light.

"Can I have one of the photographs? " I asked.
She folded the paper, ripped off a section, and handed it to me. She showed me the different chambers.

She left the room, I wiped the gel from my body and looked at my heart.

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Brittany in 2006. Brittany in 2011.

I first met Brittany in 2006. Kerri, Joanne's daughter had introduced her to one summer day in August. She was walking down the Boulevard, carrying a grocery bag in her hand. She was young and pregnant.
Few words were exchanged, I took a photograph of her, she smiled and I got her mobile number.

I could never track her down and sometimes when I ran into some of her friends, I would ask for her. I could sense she was avoiding me. After, leaving several messages on her voicemail, I tried to get through one more time to find that the phone had been disconnected. This never shocked me.

 "Brittany Pregnant", Rockaways, Queens, NYC, 2006. Juliana Beasley

"Brittany with Her Child on the Boulevard", Rockaways, Queens, NYC, 2011. Juliana Beasley

I'm putting this photo up just now because in my last post, I put a photograph of her this St. Paddy's Day.
That chilly day, she was standing again out on the Boulevard, this time with a stroller. The interaction was quick. We were in a crowd of people on the sidewalk waiting for the parade to pass. I took her photograph and in the commotion, I believe she told me this was her second child. I took her number again and wondered if maybe this time, she would return my calls.

I decided to repost the image of Brittany from a couple of weeks ago to show the contrast of her five years ago and her now.

Monday, March 28, 2011

I Photographed On St. Paddy's Day in the Rockaways, #2

The photographs and story begins in the post below.

"Brittany with Her Child on the Boulevard", Rockaways, Queens, NYC, 3/11. Juliana Beasley

Our first stop was right next to the subway entrance, my favorite diner. It had become part of my regular routine.

"Would you like something to eat?", I asked Amy.

She declined. We found a table, set down our bags. The waitresses rushed by, one set a two menus in front of us and said she would be right back to take our order. I always got the same thing, two eggs or medium, home fries, whole wheat toast (toasted with butter on the side) and bacon. I looked around the diner to see if I could recognize any of my old chums were sitting at a table drinking holding onto an empty cup waiting for their next refill. No, one in sight. I was hoping to see Barbara, the woman who delivered the paper early in the morning and then spent her mornings and early afternoons drinking coffee there.

I called Charlie, my old friend who had always let me sleep on his floor if I spent a couple of nights out there. The last time, I called he was stuttering and I had a hard time understanding him. He told me he had had a stroke. I could barely understand him on the phone. He apologized for his inability to form words.

"Call back later" he said, "You can talk to Sheri."

Several minutes later, a woman with a thick Caribbean accent picked up the phone. It was Sheri. She explained that she was Charlie's home health care aide.

"We were on our way to the Kerry Hill, " I said. "Can we meet in 45 minutes at the diner?'

"Ma Smoking at Her Kitchen Table", Rockways, Queens, NYC, 3/11. Juliana Beasley

The day was not as it was expected. But, then it never is when I go out there. I can't seem to make any plans; they normally fall through. My time was not spent photographing the the onlookers of the St. Paddy's Day parade. I ran into people that I knew on the boulevard. Kerri had another baby and so, did Brittany. Katrina had grown up from a eight-year old into teenager and had no interest in talking to me, let alone stand next to me. I exchanged a few words and laughs with them. I was informed that many no longer lived in the neighborhood but had moved out to Long Island or to other boroughs. They simply said there was nothing to do out in the Rockaways.  They were only in the neighborhood for the day to gather in a celebration that bound their Irish patriotism.

I didn't recognize anyone in the Kerry Hill except Margie, the bartender and Carmel the bar owner. I ordered a double Jamenson with a side of Diet Coke and chugged it down.

"Would you like a drink", I asked Amy. No, she didn't. Before 12pm, the bar was packed, not with the regulars I once knew, but with a cheerful bunch decked out in green hats and necklaces.

We soon left and walked out the door and onto the Boulevard. I could see Charlie and Sheri in the distance coming towards us. They had their elbows linked as they walked slowly together. I yelled Charlie's name, ran up to him and gave him a big hug. Upon seeing him, I had forgotten how much I missed him. I missed his reserved and quiet good nature. I remembered how years ago we would watch old films together on the Turner Classic station in his room and how he had to wake me up several times during the night because I was snoring. Times had changed. I got to know him before he was sober and in the worst condition, now he was sober, older but his living conditions were better. We had both gotten older.

"St. Paddy's Parade Spectator", Rockaways, Queens, NYC, 3/11. Juliana Beasley

We had Lipton Tea together at the diner. Charlie and I shared simple words. When it was time to leave, I offered to pay the check. He wouldn't have it and I let him have his way. He asked if we would stop by his place later, "Yes," I said.

I could elaborate on all the things that happened that day but instead, for now, I can only write my sentiments and what was most impressive to me during this one day trip out there. Like I said two years had passed since I had gotten off the train at 116 Street.

Despite the fact that Charlie had had a stroke, I was happy to see Charlie in good hands. He was getting the care that he needed. He was no longer alone sitting in his room. We went and visited him later during the day. For the first time, his room was tidy and his bed was made and his clothes were in a closet. He pulled out photographs that were nicely kept in a basket sitting on his dresser. He was proud to show me photographs of his new granddaughter and old pictures of himself from much younger days.

We stopped off at the boarding house where I had met Ma in 2009. I knocked on her door and for the first time, I entered her home. The photographs in this entry and my last are from that meeting. A friend of hers had recently died and she shared images of him. She was still in mourning and clearly lonely without her friend. I took some photographs. Amy listened intently. I could see that she was happy to have the company and someone to talk with.

"Green St. Paddy's Kids", Rockaways, Queens, NYC, 3/11. Juliana Beasley

The trip was quick. I had shot very little film. I worried and regretted. Yet, I was truly inspired and my enthusiasm was once again on fire. I knew I would go back again and spend more time... the time it takes to really sit down with someone and give them your full attention, the time it takes to take a meaningful photograph, one which speaks of both subject and photographer. I had just put my feet back on the ground.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Photographed On St. Paddy's Day in the Rockaways, #1

"Portrait of Ma", Rockaway, Queens, NYC, 3/11. Juliana Beasley.

On April 7, I told my friends that I was going to photograph the St. Paddy's Day Parade out in the Rockaways, my old stomping ground.

 "No, " they told me. "St. Paddy's is on the 17th." But, I knew differently. The real St. Paddy's Day is celebrated in all it's green glory out in the Rockaways.

I hadn't been out to the Rockaways since 2009.

In all the years that I have been commuting back and forth to the Rockaways, I never had a chance ( I was out of town, I forgot the date, I was unmotivated) to photograph the parade in a town once called "Irishtown" because so many Irish immigrants had settled in the community. I knew some of the old timers, the real Irishman and women who were born and raised in Ireland and still maintained a healthy brogue. I also knew some of the second generation Irish Americans, as well as, some of their kids.

Last minute, I wanted to find an intern/assistant. In desperation, only, a few days before the event, I was considering posting the day's internship to attract a possible candidate. I wanted to bring two different cameras and needed help carrying one bag to lighten my load while shooting. I put the word out to fellow photo friends. My friend David returned my text and thought he might have the perfect match for me. He told me she was a student in the photography program at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

"Go friend her on Facebook, " he said.

And I did. I needed an intern right away. I didn't have the time to be so selective. I found her on Facebook.

I looked through her photo albums on her page. There were all the usual photographs of her goofing with friends at parties. The drinks, the laughs, the mocking and perhaps, a couple of people throwing the ubiquitous popular gang signs. She was pretty. She had lot's of friends. But, honestly, none of this really mattered. In the deceptive world of Facebook, everyone wants to portray themselves as a winner and not a loser. I wasn't necessarily looking for a winner, I was looking for someone enthusiastic, helpful, and eager to learn something on a weekend afternoon.

And then I found a great self-portrait of her with her cat. The way she held the cat and looked into the camera, I felt whether true or only a projected fantasy on my part, that this girl was kind. In another self-portrait, she held a medium format camera. Ah, I could see she was in her early twenties and yet, had opted to shoot film instead of digital.

She accepted my friendship request. She was interested and free on Saturday.

Her name was Amy. It was Wednesday. There was no time to meet for a casual interview.

Between, text messages, e-mails and then a brief phone conversation, I explained the basic things I expected of her. I told her what I needed and the rest I could explain on the subway out to the Rockaways.

We set a date for 9am on the platform at Chambers St. in lower Manhattan. I told her I was petite--not short--and had short dark hair. She was also, not so tall and had long brown hair.

The next item on my shoot list was to find a way to blend in, a way to mix with the native parade onlookers.

Find green cheap and green clothes.

"Green Girl at St. Paddy's Parade", Rockaways, Queens, NYC, 3/11. Juliana Beasley

I went to the local Rainbow store where I knew I would find some cheap green shirts. I walked out the store and went to the nearby Duane Reade's, looked through the selections of green nail polish and green eyeliner. Picked up one of each for both Amy and me.

I dialed her number and left a message, "Amy, if you can, wear green nail polish." I couldn't possibly expect her to paint her fingernails on the subway.

And then to an outside market, where I bought a green knit hat that looked very funky and fashionable at that moment, so, I bought it.  Later, it looked like a frumpy hat that an eccentric older woman might sport. Nevertheless, the thought of dressing up and taking pictures in one day felt like good fun to me.

As I walked down the quiet and almost empty platform at 9 am that Saturday, I noticed a young woman sitting on a bench. "Amy?", I yelled.

Yes, it was her, she walked towards me and smiled. We got on the next train.

The subway cars were pretty quiet for a Saturday morning. I took the time to show her my equipment, explain her responsibilities. Once above ground, I pulled out my mobile and started to call the numbers of people that I knew out there. I called Charlie, Trailer Bob, Michelle, Margie and Bobby. No one picked up. I left messages. Bobby and I had already made a tentative date to meet at Roger's Pub. He told me to come early, get a seat before the parade ended the bars became crammed.

The closer we got to our destination, I noticed the St. Paddy's vendors pushing shopping carts onto the train filled with green stuffed animals. We got off the end of the line. 116th St.

More text and images soon. Very soon.

I did these scans quickly, so, they are not of the best quality. They are, in a sense, work prints for my project and edited from contact scans very quickly.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Congrats to the Open Walls 18! Come to Open Society!

Samantha Box's photograph from her project on LGBTQ

I've been to past shows and I am always blown away with the work.

Here's the location:

Open Society Foundations
400 West 59th Street
New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.
Tel. 1-212-548-0600
Fax. 1-212-548-4600

At  5:30 pm to 8 pm 

Moving Walls is a documentary photography exhibition produced by the Open Society Institute that features in-depth and nuanced explorations of human rights and social issues.  These images provide the world with human rights evidence, put faces onto a conflict, document the struggles and defiance of marginalized people, reframe how issues are discussed publicly, and provide opportunities for reflection and discussion. 

The Moving Walls 18 photographers join an illustrious roster of over 100 documentary photographers featured in the exhibition since 1998. Through Moving Walls, OSI honors the brave and difficult work that these photographers have undertaken while visually highlighting the mission of our foundation to staff and visitors.

Work was selected through an open competition process. Over 200 submissions were received and final selections were made by a committee of foundation staff and the exhibit curators, Susan Meiselas and Stuart Alexander.

Moving Walls 18 Photographers

  • Samantha Box: LGBTQ homeless youth in New York City
  • Gabriela Bulisova: Iraqi translators in exile in the United States
  • Benedicte Desrus: Anti-gay and LGBTI rights movements in Uganda
  • Andrea Diefenbach: Labor migration from Moldova
  • Carolyn Drake: Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers and the cotton harvest in Central Asia
  • Abdi Roble: Somali diaspora in the United States
  • Tadej ┼Żnidarcic: Portraits and interviews of gay and lesbian individuals in Uganda
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