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Funerals: Pre and Post Covid19

2020 is now book-ended with funerals for me.

I try to avoid funerals, but my elders are passing and I feel honor bound to show up in some way. This month, I attended a service via Zoom for the first time. Honestly, a remote memorial doesn’t feel quite real.

Service via Zoom

My paternal grandmother died in December 2012. The following spring, her surviving four sisters hosted a memorial for her in Chicago. I was the only member of my grandmother’s line to show up, though she had three surviving children, many grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. My dad preceded her in death, as did my brother. My sister had been hard to connect with after our brother’s funeral. I had been living in New York City, isolated from family, so the thought of connecting with my grandmothers sisters was ambrosia for me. They knew who I was and I was familiar with one or two, but I didn’t really grow up around them. So, I was eager to sit and listen to their stories.

In April 2013, Great-Aunt Juanita hosted her living sisters and their descendants in honor of their recently lost sister, Jurl, my grandma, near Chicago. I traveled with my camera and captured some great candid shots, family groupings and intimate portraits. The sisters also brought along photos of their gatherings through the years. I’ve photographed a few funerals and gatherings in honor of loved ones over the years. As morbid as the subject may sound, the images are full of joy and love.

In 2015, I returned to Chicago for a conference and was happily able to connect with three of my great aunts at Great-Aunt Faye’s home in South Chicago.

In November 2019, I was compelled to attend my Great-Aunt Cherrie’s funeral in Gary, Indiana. She was the eldest sibling of thirteen Stuart children born in a small town near Little Rock, Arkansas.

On December 1, 2020, Great-Aunt Faye left us for the light on the other side. Her daughter reached out to ask if I had any photos of her from Aunt Cherrie’s funeral last year. I found quite of few of her from last year and my prior visits in 2013 and 2015. She was a light and a joy.

The Sisters

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Test Shoot: Rhonda, “Delete the rest.”

I may go to friend jail for this, but I think it’s worth it. An old friend, Rhonda, visited last week to celebrate her 50th birthday. I told her to bring something she wants to be photographed in and to think of her Woman word for my I AM WOMAN Project. When she got here she gleefully said she was happy to take pictures for the project, because when I was in Milwaukee (where she lives) in July she wasn’t in a good place to participate.

No worries. No offense or judgment. Keep it moving.

I told her I had a new lens – it’s a Zeiss Batis 85mm portrait lens – I wanted to practice on her during her visit. Being a woman of my word, I did exactly that. She was in NYC for three full days. Her entire trip was essentially chronicled through my lens. Though that wasn’t my intention, I got some amazing shots.

On the second night, during our visit to the Brooklyn Bridge, I knew instantly the close-up images of her with Freedom Tower as her backdrop, where the images to use for I AM WOMAN. I told her right there, in the moment, “These are your money shots!” I also told her she was a natural in front of the camera. The images I was getting were simply amazing. To me, anyway. And perhaps I’m biased on three levels: as friend, photographer and project curator.

My goal was to avoid turning her visit into a counseling session and simply do things she had expressed an interest in. I stayed silent and performed as her personal photojournalist – with a good deal of excitement initially.

While on the Brooklyn Bridge, I asked her what her word was. She said a couple of words that didn’t represent her at all. I then framed the question for her, “I’m not asking for an aspirational word, a word you hope to become. I’m asking for a word that represents how you see yourself. Or what your womanhood means to you.” She said she would think about it and get back to me. I explained that I use the word as a guide for the shoot. A reminder that the shoot was in progress…. She never consciously gave me her word.

I thought about posting her I AM WOMAN image as “I Am [unknown].” However the core of this project is about how Women SEE and IDENTIFY themselves. So I took a step back. I sent her image gallery to her as something of a memory book. Images I knew she liked and wanted as well images I like (some of which were images she insisted she looked “ugly” in and immediately insisted I delete. I refused on the spot. The images she defamed as ugly were taken at the 9/11 Memorial Fountain at Freedom Tower and across the road in front of the Oculus. The images are somber, unmasked, and intriguing. Frankly, I think they’re beautiful.

But again, this isn’t supposed to be about me!

I AM WOMAN is a project about womanhood. All of it. Everything it means to be a woman. The first phase of this project is focusing on the experiences of Black Women in America. By and large, we embody pain, disappointment, rage, resentment, bitterness and frustration. Yet in the same body and space we are joy, love, loyalty, commitment, faith, grace, forgiveness and eternal hope. For most of her adult life, Friend Rhonda has only focused on the dark emotions. The residue of her constant focus is visible. It’s audible. It’s painfully disturbing to witness.

The short of her response to her image gallery was, “Thanks for all your hard work! I see sickness in most of my photos…. I choose the ones I like…. I ask that you delete the rest.”

I was stunned, angry and very much offended. Not only did I see the images as work product, they also represented a great time in the City with an old friend. Over the last few days, I released my frustration over her request and comments. I literally have much bigger issues to deal with. However, at the same time I don’t want to dismiss this episode as inconsequential, because it is not. It actually speaks to heart of my project. The juxtaposition of ones womanhood not being anything to celebrate against fully embracing ones womanhood with all its pain and glory.

Basically, I think her images and her comments add a great deal to the larger conversation of Black Womanhood in America. How we internalize our grief and disappointment. How they solidify and weigh us down in a deep abyss of cyclical suffering. How we can become incapable of seeing pass that one thing (situation, heartbreak, betrayal) that first knocked us down. I do believe she can’t see pass the sickness within her. I also believe that sickness is the result of years of anger, resentment and bitterness that she has consistently refused to let go of. We become what we harbor and feed.

I would love to hear your thoughts, not just on the images but on story as well.

Equipment: #SonyAlpha7iii, #ZeissBatis85mm

She liked less than 20 images. Some are below.

These are some of the ones she wants deleted.

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Test Shoot: Friend R, “Delete the rest.”

I may go to friend jail for this, but I think it’s worth it. An old friend, R, visited me in New York City to celebrate her 50th birthday. I told her to bring something she wanted to be photographed in and to think of her Woman Word for my I AM WOMAN photo essay project. When she got here she gleefully said she was happy to take pictures for the project because when I was in Milwaukee (where she lives) in July she hadn’t been in a good place to participate.

No worries. No offense or judgment. Keep it moving.

I told her I had a new lens – it’s a Zeiss Batis 85mm portrait lens – I wanted to practice on her during her visit. Being a woman of my word, I did exactly that. She was in NYC for three full days. Her entire trip was essentially chronicled through my lens. Though that wasn’t my intention, I got some amazing shots.

On the second night, during our visit to the Brooklyn Bridge, I knew instantly the close-up images of her with Freedom Tower as her backdrop, where the images to use for I AM WOMAN. I told her right there, in the moment, “These are your money shots!” I also told her she was a natural in front of the camera. The images I was getting were simply amazing. To me, anyway. And perhaps I’m biased on three levels: as friend, photographer and project curator.

My goal was to avoid turning her visit into a counseling session and simply do things she had expressed an interest in. I stayed silent and performed as her personal photojournalist – with a good deal of excitement initially.

While on the Brooklyn Bridge, I asked her what her word was. She said a couple of words that didn’t represent her at all. I then framed the question for her, “I’m not asking for an aspirational word, a word you hope to become. I’m asking for a word that represents how you see yourself. Or what your womanhood means to you.” She said she would think about it and get back to me. I explained that I use the word as a guide for the shoot. A reminder that the shoot was in progress…. She never consciously gave me her word.

I thought about posting her I AM WOMAN image as “I Am [unknown].” However the core of this project is about how Women SEE and IDENTIFY themselves. So I took a step back. I sent her image gallery to her as something of a memory book. Images I knew she liked and wanted as well as images I like (some of which were images she insisted she looked “ugly” in and immediately insisted I delete. I refused on the spot. The images she defamed as ugly were taken at the 9/11 Memorial Fountain at Freedom Tower and across the road in front of the Oculus. The images are somber, unmasked, and intriguing. Frankly, I think they’re beautiful.

But again, this isn’t supposed to be about me!

I AM WOMAN is a project about womanhood. All of it. Everything it means to be a woman. The first phase of this project is focusing on the experiences of Black Women in America. By and large, we embody pain, disappointment, rage, resentment, bitterness and frustration. Yet in the same body and space we are joy, love, loyalty, commitment, faith, grace, forgiveness and eternal hope. For most of her adult life, Friend R has only focused on the dark emotions. The residue of her constant focus is visible. It’s audible. It’s painfully disturbing to witness.

The short of her response to her image gallery was, “Thanks for all your hard work! I see sickness in most of my photos…. I choose the ones I like…. I ask that you delete the rest.”

I was stunned, angry and very much offended. Not only did I see the images as work product, they also represented a great time in the City with an old friend. Over the last few days, I released my frustration over her request and comments. I literally have much bigger issues to deal with. However, at the same time I don’t want to dismiss this episode as inconsequential, because it is not. It actually speaks to the heart of my project. The juxtaposition of one’s womanhood not being anything to celebrate against fully embracing one’s womanhood with all its pain and glory.

Basically, I think her images and her comments add a great deal to the larger conversation of Black Womanhood in America. How we internalize our grief and disappointment. How they solidify and weigh us down in a deep abyss of cyclical suffering. How we can become incapable of seeing pass that one thing (situation, heartbreak, betrayal) that first knocked us down. I do believe she can’t see pass the sickness within her. I also believe that sickness is the result of years of anger, resentment and bitterness that she has consistently refused to let go of. We become what we harbor and feed.

I would love to hear your thoughts, not just on the images but on the story as well.

Equipment: #SonyAlpha7iii, #ZeissBatis85mm

Related posts:

She liked less than 20 images. Some are below.

These are some of the ones she wants deleted.

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Small Business: Howard, B&B Owner

Howard: Bed & Breakfast Owner

During the summer, I stayed in my first Air BnB. Howard, owns and operates hi bed and breakfast out of his home in the center of Milwaukee, WI. He’s a very congenial hosts with colorful and eclectic decor. His personality and home provided the perfect opportunity to practice capturing personality and energy through my lens. Below I share some of my favorite images of the BnB property and Howard, the Innkeeper.

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Small Business: Howard, B&B Owner

Howard: Bed & Breakfast Owner

During the summer, I stayed in my first Air BnB. Howard, owns and operates hi bed and breakfast out of his home in the center of Milwaukee, WI. He’s a very congenial hosts with colorful and eclectic decor. His personality and home provided the perfect opportunity to practice capturing personality and energy through my lens. Below I share some of my favorite images of the BnB property and Howard, the Innkeeper.

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Update: I AM WOMAN Essay & Portrait Project

I spent the summer photographing women.

In February, I quit my corporate job with a determination to pursue my creative interests. Specifically, writing and photography. In the late spring I decided I wanted to chronicle this moment we’re living in by putting a camera and a mic in front of everyday women and asking them what their womanhood means to them.

I AM WOMAN is an essay and portrait book project that was born from a desire to give Women a platform to describe themselves. The catalyst for the idea was the state-sanctioned assault by police officers on Chikesia Clemons at a restaurant in Alabama. In the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3eI5F-AUVw) you can see two male officers yank on her arms, pull her out of her seat, throw her to the ground, sit on her, threaten to break her arm, choke her, expose her breasts, then flip her around by her neck and belt to put her face down on the restaurant floor. A third officer stands over her the whole time. Unfortunately, these videos are not uncommon. However, what stung was seeing male patrons in the background continue eating as if a dehumanizing physical, racial and sexual assault was not taking place in their presence. The only person trying to help Chikesia was her female friend who also filmed the assault. I am hard-pressed to imagine men sitting by so calmly had a white woman been so brutalized in their presence.

The foundation of the project is the desire to combat the idea of women as sexual objects. There has long been an extremely visceral hyper-sexualization of womanhood, girlhood, and the feminine form. For Black Women and Girls, we are sexualized, used, abused and discarded without even the defense of our humanity. We are inundated with images and words that render women as no more than shallow, one-dimensional receptacles for men/boys to deposit their disdainful waste into or to fixate on as a waste depository goal.

The title of the project derives from a combination of Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” and the “I AM A MAN” signs used during the Civil Rights Movement in 1968. It’s unsettling that anyone still needs to declare their personhood in 2018, but here we are.

As a Black Woman, I want to explore and present the experiences of Black Women in America as the first stage of the project. I want to share the every day woman’s perspective of herself in an environment, culture and country that is intent on not acknowledging her except as a dehumanizing stereotype. Basically, I am tired of hearing and seeing what the world thinks of Black Women. I want to know what Black Women think of themselves.

Overall, in the larger Sisterhood of Womanhood, I know the struggle is universal. Across the United States, no matter what demographic groups we fall into, Women are essentially telling the same story. We aren’t seen. We aren’t valued. We are not respected. We have to fight for any measure approaching equality to a standard set by men. We may have different starting points, but for the most part we are all chasing the same goals: love, acceptance, appreciation and respect for our contributions.

I didn’t have any defined expectations for the contributors when I began, but I am surprised and humbled by the messages (read: heart) shared by the Women and Girls who have participated in the portrait sessions and submitted poems and essays so far.

Though the written submissions for Phase 1 is focused on Black Women, the initial portrait sessions were open to all women. From June to September, I offered free portrait sessions open to anyone interested in participating in the I AM WOMAN project. During this time, I photographed fifty-five Women and Girls across the country, including New York City, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Phoenix. The goal of the photo-shoots was for the Women to represent the word they used to describe themselves. “I AM WOMAN. I am _________________.” Quite a few used more than one word. Of the sixty-three words collectively used to describe the participants of the portrait sessions, I’m glad to report “sexy” was not one. The most common words used for self-description were: Strong, Powerful/Power, and Love.

img_1969-e1538082503936.jpg
Word cloud of words used by portrait participants to describe themselves.

Happily, I have more than enough photos for the portrait portion of the I AM WOMAN book project. However, I am still seeking written contributions for Phase 1: Experiences of Black Womanhood in America. If you would like to contribute, please email Shawnda@Spirit-Harvest.com.

img_2001
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.

img_1391
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.

img_1390
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.

img_1389
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.

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Update: I AM WOMAN Essay & Portrait Project

I spent the summer photographing women.

In February, I quit my corporate job with a determination to pursue my creative interests. Specifically, writing and photography. In the late spring I decided I wanted to chronicle this moment we’re living in by putting a camera and a mic in front of everyday women and asking them what their womanhood means to them.

I AM WOMAN is an essay and portrait book project that was born from a desire to give Women a platform to describe themselves. The catalyst for the idea was the state-sanctioned assault by police officers on Chikesia Clemons at a restaurant in Alabama. In the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3eI5F-AUVw) you can see two male officers yank on her arms, pull her out of her seat, throw her to the ground, sit on her, threaten to break her arm, choke her, expose her breasts, then flip her around by her neck and belt to put her face down on the restaurant floor. A third officer stands over her the whole time. Unfortunately, these videos are not uncommon. However, what stung was seeing male patrons in the background continue eating as if a dehumanizing physical, racial and sexual assault was not taking place in their presence. The only person trying to help Chikesia was her female friend who also filmed the assault. I am hard-pressed to imagine men sitting by so calmly had a white woman been so brutalized in their presence.

The foundation of the project is the desire to combat the idea of women as sexual objects. There has long been an extremely visceral hyper-sexualization of womanhood, girlhood, and the feminine form. For Black Women and Girls, we are sexualized, used, abused and discarded without even the defense of our humanity. We are inundated with images and words that render women as no more than shallow, one-dimensional receptacles for men/boys to deposit their disdainful waste into or to fixate on as a waste depository goal.

The title of the project derives from a combination of Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” and the “I AM A MAN” signs used during the Civil Rights Movement in 1968. It’s unsettling that anyone still needs to declare their personhood in 2018, but here we are.

As a Black Woman, I want to explore and present the experiences of Black Women in America as the first stage of the project. I want to share the every day woman’s perspective of herself in an environment, culture and country that is intent on not acknowledging her except as a dehumanizing stereotype. Basically, I am tired of hearing and seeing what the world thinks of Black Women. I want to know what Black Women think of themselves.

Overall, in the larger Sisterhood of Womanhood, I know the struggle is universal. Across the United States, no matter what demographic groups we fall into, Women are essentially telling the same story. We aren’t seen. We aren’t valued. We are not respected. We have to fight for any measure approaching equality to a standard set by men. We may have different starting points, but for the most part we are all chasing the same goals: love, acceptance, appreciation and respect for our contributions.

I didn’t have any defined expectations for the contributors when I began, but I am surprised and humbled by the messages (read: heart) shared by the Women and Girls who have participated in the portrait sessions and submitted poems and essays so far.

Though the written submissions for Phase 1 is focused on Black Women, the initial portrait sessions were open to all women. From June to September, I offered free portrait sessions open to anyone interested in participating in the I AM WOMAN project. During this time, I photographed fifty-five Women and Girls across the country, including New York City, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Phoenix. The goal of the photo-shoots was for the Women to represent the word they used to describe themselves. “I AM WOMAN. I am _________________.” Quite a few used more than one word. Of the sixty-three words collectively used to describe the participants of the portrait sessions, I’m glad to report “sexy” was not one. The most common words used for self-description were: Strong, Powerful/Power, and Love.

img_1969-e1538082503936.jpg
Word cloud of words used by portrait participants to describe themselves.

Happily, I have more than enough photos for the portrait portion of the I AM WOMAN book project. However, I am still seeking written contributions for Phase 1: Experiences of Black Womanhood in America. If you would like to contribute, please email Shawnda@Spirit-Harvest.com.

img_2001
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.

img_1391
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.

img_1390
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.

img_1389
Gallery of I AM WOMAN images.

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Tips for a Great Mini Portrait Session

With mini portrait sessions scheduled in New York City (July 8, 22, & 26), Milwaukee (July 12), Chicago (July 14), Tucson (August 18), and Phoenix (August 25), I thought it would be helpful to provide some tips to get the best results in front of the camera.

We are extraordinary beings, but sometimes our lives are quite ordinary. I want to share the beauty in an ordinary day, a simple smile, a calming faith, a quiet life – the things that make up the majority of our lives.

  1. This is a mini portrait session because the estimated time in front of the camera will average between 5-15 minutes, depending on number of participants (registered and walk-ups). Come prepared to work it from the beginning in order to get your best shot!
  2. The project is called I AM WOMAN because womanhood is the focus. Acknowledging and celebrating who we are – highs, lows, the glorious, the inglorious. Think of one word you would use to best describe your womanhood and prepare from there. The world may label you one thing or a million other things, but none of those labels may reflect who you see yourself as. That is what this project is about: You telling the world who you are as a woman.
  3. Think about how you want to represent yourself. Your audience will be young girls, younger women, older women and women your age. What do you want to share with them about how you have experienced womanhood. Are you expressing pain, joy, neglect, grief, gratitude, etc? Is it about your accomplishments or your ability to provide for yourself or your household? Is womanhood a pursuit or a state of being? How do you think about it? How do you represent it?
  4. This is NOT intended to be a beauty or fashion focused project. That doesn’t mean beauty and fashion won’t be on display.
  5. Be natural. Be you.
  6. If you are wearing make-up bring something to touch-up with.
  7. Bring a towel to pat away perspiration.
  8. Plan for comfort. If you are uncomfortable in your skin and your clothes, you will look uncomfortable in the photos.
  9. Props are welcome. If you want to bring something to add aesthetically to your session, you are welcome to. Make sure it’s something that represents how you see yourself.
  10. Use location and time to your advantage. There’s no guarantee that the background/location will be identifiable, but the space may provide inspiration for your session.
  11. Download the PHOTO RELEASE FORM form and complete it in advance if you can. Bring it with you. It will allow for more time in front of the camera.
  12. Tell someone you know! Help spread the word about this project. Have a friend or family member sign up with you for back-to-back mini sessions.
  13. Participation in a portrait session does not guarantee any or your images will be selected for publication. Notification of selected images will be happen in September 2018. All participants in the portrait sessions will be eligible to receive a complimentary e-copy of the finished book. Publication is planned for mid-2019.
  14. Have fun! This whole project is about you! It’s a celebration of womanhood and how we choose to express it. I see you. I appreciate you.

I look forward to sharing this journey with you!

Best,

LaShawnda

 

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