Jenny Stratton receives Volunteer Award

Congratulations to Jenny Stratton, who was given an “Inspirational Leadership” award by partner organization Children’s Aid and Family Services of New Jersey. The award recognized her for her “positive impact with our clients and all of us” at CAFS.

Jenny Stratton

 

Apply for the 2017-18 Lewis Hine Fellowship!

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Photos created through Opportunity Youth workshops at the Brownsville Community Justice Center with 2015-16 Hine Fellow Nicholas Pilarski.

Applications are now being accepted for the 2017-18 Lewis Hine Documentary Fellows Program at the Center for Documentary Studies. 

The Hine Fellows Program is offering three ten-month fellowships for 2017-18 in the New York City area. The application deadline is 5 p.m., EST, Monday, March 20, 2017. Apply via slideroom hereFor more information, please visit Becoming a Hine Fellow. 

Applicants may be recent Duke graduates or seniors with experience in documentary work, graduating Robertson Scholars from either Duke or UNC-Chapel Hill, graduates of the CDS Continuing Education Certificate in Documentary Arts, or graduates (including Class of 2017) of the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts Program.

A Reminder

by Jenny Stratton

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Photo from CAFSNJ group home, by Jenny Stratton

In Dr. Robert “Bob” Jones’ office hangs a painting of a mother and child.

In this painting, titled “Comfort” by Amanda Dunbar, a mother holds her child close; both mother and child are wearing white dresses and their heads are turned so that neither face is visible. The heavy brush strokes of white oil paint bleed together requiring time for the eye to distinguish where the mother’s dress ends and her child’s dress begins.

Dr. Bob Jones is the CEO Emeritus for New Jersey Children’s Aid and Family Services (CAFS). He has served as the CEO for thirty years and before that worked as Executive Director for the former Counseling Service of Ridgewood and Vicinity. I have quickly realized that long tenures of service are not unusual at CAFS. Most of the staff I have been introduced to have worked at CAFS for at least a decade and remain deeply connected to the organization’s mission: to preserve and protect vulnerable children, and when needed provide families for them.

Bob, who in addition to his multiple medical licenses and decades of experience in child welfare, has a great interest in primatology, informs me that to understand the purpose of displaying this painting I need to understand a herd of macaques.

He tells me about a study in which a herd of macaques in the Yaeyama islands were fed grain on the beach. As they ate the grain they would unintentionally ingest an undesirable amount of sand. After several days, the adult female macaques carried the grain from the sandy beach to the water. The water washed the sand off the grain and they would proceed to eat it sand-free. The next day their offspring followed their lead and also deposited the grain in the water prior to eating it. After a little over a week the entire herd followed the mother macaques’ behavior; the quality of their meals improved.

The study is a parable, the painting a reminder.

Walking the halls of CAFS’ offices these kinds of powerful reminders appear everywhere once you start looking for them: from handwritten letters, to photographs, to tokens and crafts gifted from children, to even a reproduction of Dorothea Lange’s migrant mother photograph on a 5×7 postcard. Each artifact has its own remembrance story.  Each traces back to the people and communities CAFS aims to serve. I am given my own purposeful inspiration for my time at CAFS through Lange’s image and words: “A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.”

Children’s Aid and Family Services was originally established in 1899. In addition to a long institutional history, the organization runs a wide array of holistic programs and services to aid vulnerable children and their families. Their complex scope of work is ever-evolving and currently includes adoption and adoption support services, therapeutic foster care, childcare, and early childhood education, drug and alcohol abuse education and prevention, eldercare, and community outreach. While their central office is located in Paramus, NJ, the organization manages several different kinds of group homes and programs throughout northern New Jersey.

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Drawing from CAFSNJ home, photo by Jenny Stratton

Most of the children and young mother’s living in CAFS’ housing have endured trauma in their lives, have little or no family support, often struggle in school and are at high risk for a life of poverty. According to the study, “Getting Ahead or Losing Ground: Economic Mobility in America,” a child born into poverty today is five times more likely never to escape poverty than children who do not experience poverty.

“There’s no place like home.”

Betsy repeats this phrase excitedly as she clicks her sneakers together and holds up a blue dress. It is only two days until Halloween and Betsy will be dressing up as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. She has been showing me around her room including her doll collection, photographs and favorite outfits. Betsy lives with three other residents in a Children’s Aid and Family Services’ managed home dedicated to providing 24-hour care specifically for adults with developmental disabilities. This is the sixth and most recently acquired home CAFs runs as part of their Disability Support Services program. Following state-wide implementation of the Olmstead Act, CAFS is creating community-based homes for both youth and adults with developmental disabilities. Six of these homes have already opened their doors, with plans for more under way.

After Betsy is done showing me her room, we sit and crochet together. Betsy is crocheting a yellow dress for one of her dolls. I am crocheting a basic green scarf. In the time it has taken me to finish my first row, carefully following a pattern saved on my phone, Betsy has almost completed one of the dress sleeves without missing a stitch.

During my first six weeks with the organization I have been welcomed with open arms to learn, observe and engage with as many homes, departments, programs and individuals as possible. This crash course has included sitting in on different department meetings, spending time with staff, volunteers and children, touring CAFS’ facilities, participating in public events, after-school activities and dinners at the different CAFS managed group homes, as well as enrolling in the same training required of prospective foster and adoptive parents. Eventually I may work in one location, group, program area etc. but with this thorough overview, I am getting to know the interconnected nature of the different societal issues CAFS works to address and people they serve.

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Artwork from CAFSNJ group home, photo by Jenny Stratton

One such connection can be found in The Center for Alcohol and Drug Resources, which formally joined CAFS in 2009.  In the wake of headlines about the growing epidemic of heroin and opioid use in Bergen County, the center’s work overlaps with the needs of many of the children living in CAFS’ therapeutic group homes and their families of origin.  Another cross-pollination between programs has emerged from the establishment of a crocheting club for the children living in therapeutic foster care. Their first project will be to crochet baby blankets for the young mother’s living in the CAFS group home called Zoe’s Place. Betsy will be one of the crocheting club mentors.

With the complexity, crossover and magnitude of CAFS’ work I am being graciously exposed to, I see how the unique reminders displayed by staff in their work spaces act as personal compasses guiding them out of the weeds. CAFS Director of Communications, Sheila Riccardi describes these reminders as “grounding” and adds that they are “expressions of the emotions that come with what we do, which can run the full gamut on any given day.”

During this first month, I have been thinking about the nature of trauma-informed photography and storytelling; how photography can be used to translate the complexities and dualities inherent in traumatic situations; how shared vulnerability has the power to produce strength. Lewis Hine defined a good photograph as “a reproduction of impressions made upon the photographer which he desires to repeat to others.” I think about how impressions here might echo.

 

Kamal Badhey 2016-2017

kamalKamal Badhey is a photographer, educator and visual urbanist from New York.   She has focused on ideas of dispersal, diaspora and origin pilgrimages, using photography and the narratives of places, people, and objects to stitch together stories. Her work and sense of home follows the childhood saying told to her in Telugu, ’Katha kanchiki, manam intiki’,  ‘The story goes far far away, and now we are back in our homes’.  Her project Portals and Passageways is part of a collection of photographs from a reconstructed family album. They are based on the collective story of her extended family in Secunderabad, India, starting with her oldest known ancestor and great great grandfather, jeweler Annam Rathnaiah.

Kamal’s work in the Exhibitions Program at the Center for Documentary Studies with Courtney Reid-Eaton allowed her to re-envision the documentary canon.  She received her MA in Photography and Urban Cultures from Goldsmiths, University of London and her MS in Museum and General Education from Bank Street College.  She has engaged with a variety of communities, but her most significant experience was as a visual arts teacher at Cypress Hills Community School in Brooklyn, New York, where she taught for seven years.   Teaching art allowed her to create opportunities for spontaneity, pure expression, and dialogue as well as share agency with her students.  Her belief is that places of safety and creativity allow people to build on their strengths while creating a deep sense of autonomy.  She says the Hine Fellowship gives her the opportunity to listen deeply, as well as bridge her love for people, storytelling and photography.

Kamal will be working with Friends of the Children of New York. To see her work, visit her website.

Lauren Henschel 2016-2017

hine-bio-henschelLauren sees documentary arts as a catalyst for empathy. Diagnosed in 2009 with psoriatic
arthritis, a painful autoimmune disease, she turned to her art as an escape.  Instead she discovered a way to express her struggle, and people listened. Lauren’s journey through pain inspired her to turn her lens and soul outward – attempting to help others suffering find solace through the documentary process and inviting viewers to observe.

Emboldened by her goal, Lauren chose to continue her education at Duke University (AB 2015) largely because of its Center for Documentary Studies. There she found peers and professors who affirmed her passion and nurtured her talent. Though her technique and skill evolved, Lauren remained committed to a humanistic approach to her work. Lauren’s thesis and first major project, “Indelible,” is an art installation – utilizing still images, audio narratives, and video footage – that presents anonymous stories of individuals with scars and the manifestation of that pain on the human body. The piece was displayed in its original form as black and white photographs at Carnegie Hall and continued to garner acclaim at Duke University as an installation.

After graduating with highest distinction, Lauren utilized funding from a Benenson grant, the Louis Sudler Prize in the Arts, and a few other sources to travel to Peru to seek the roots of a story about a mother and her daughter who abandoned their lives and family in rural Peru to seek improved opportunities in the United States. On her return to the US, Lauren co-founded The Shared Divide, a pending non-profit that creates multimedia content as a narrative for social change. By specifically focusing on the historical narratives of underserved communities, The Shared Divide works to archive endangered historical stories in order to promote the education of future generations about the history of their communities.  Currently, she is working through The Shared Divide with members of the underrepresented Riverside community in South Hampton, New York, to archive its rich history, which traditional historical venues have repeatedly overlooked.

About the Lewis Hine Fellowship Lauren writes, “I am humbled and honored to be a Lewis Hine Fellow and to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Red Hook Community Justice Center. I look forward to being part of a community that is challenging existing structures of justice and creating a more equitable system to build upon. Working in such a uniquely creative and resilient community over the next year will challenge me and help me to grow both artistically and as a person. I look forward to developing documentary projects in collaboration with the Justice Center and residents of the community.”

Lauren will be working with the Red Hook Community Justice Center. To see more of her recent work, visit her website.

Jenny Stratton 2016-2017

jsbiophotocroppedWe photograph from who we are. Jenny Jacklin Stratton’s work springs largely from her migratory upbringing in the Naval Special Warfare community. Over the years her inclination to know more about her own family and surroundings has evolved into a means to engage deeply and share stories with others. Her work often involves long-form collaborations; collectively grappling with personal ethnographies and relationships between how we see and what we know.

Jenny earned a MFA in Experimental & Documentary Arts from Duke University and completed a U.S. Department of State FLAS fellowship in Arab Language and Middle Eastern Studies in 2014. With a background in earth science, she aims to better understand and amplify connections between individuals, communities, ecologies, geologic time and soil. Her thesis, American Soil explores environmental and national narratives of war and the difficulty in understanding transitions made by military and refugee communities. Most recently, American Soil will be on exhibit at the 2016 Terra Madre Salone del Gusto (Turin, Italy) and as part of the Farmers’ Union Women in Agriculture series. Another project, Survived By chronicles the daily details of loss, sense of place and resiliency of surviving spouses and their children. During her time at Duke, the form of these projects grew from from primarily making stop-motion animations and photographs to also include video, writing, sound, recipes, living plants, detritus and reactivating archival materials.

Concurrent with making documentary work, Jenny facilitates workshops and courses for academic institutions, non-profit and grassroots organizations including Vision Workshops, Jana Urban India Foundation, Platteforum Art Lab, Acta Non Verba, The Partnership for Appalachia Girls & Education and Duke University Franklin Humanities Institute.

Jenny is grateful to be a 2016 Hine Documentary Fellow. She writes, “I am incredibly excited by the powerful legacy and premise of the Lewis Hine Fellowship to support humanitarian organizations by utilizing documentary arts as an effective tool for social research and reform. I see this as a meaningful opportunity to work closely with a community, to listen closely and to be fully present in that shared time.”

Jenny will be working with Children’s Aid and Family Services of New Jersey.

To see some of her recent projects, visit National Geographic and this Platte Forum feature.

 

With Great Appreciation to WILFREDO PEDRERO

by Brenna Cukier

“Describe Freddie in one word.”

This was the question I asked all of Freddie’s nearest and dearest, AKA: his co-workers at the Center for Family Life in Sunset Park.

Each time, the recipient of the question took a moment to reflect before carefully selecting a word. These were a few of their choices:

“Loving.”

“Caring.”

“Gentleman.”

“Superman.”

Their responses were included in a short video I made for CFL’s Celebrating Community fundraiser, which is an annual event that brings together CFL employees and benefactors to celebrate the non-profit’s impact on the community. Each year, one of CFL’s 250 employees is chosen to be honored at the event for their hard work and dedication. This year, that recipient was none other than Wilfredo Pedrero, who, of course, is the star of my documentary Super Freddie.

It was a Thursday night at the end of May. New York was just starting to get hot, but it was already humid enough to break a sweat on the walk from the subway to the event, which was held in a trendy for-rent loft in Soho.

Freddie certainly broke a sweat in his newly-purchased maroon suit, which was unforgiving in the city heat.

“I got a bunch of compliments on the train here,” Freddie told me, dabbing the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief. “People thought I was going to a wedding or something like that.”

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After an unsuccessful attempt to procure a hot dog outside the venue, Freddie headed to the fifth floor of the building, compulsively straightening his bowtie using the reflection of the brass elevator doors on the way up.

Enter Freddie. A room full of CFL employees and supporters buzzed with chatter as they sipped on cocktails and nibbled hors-d’oeuvres. Julia Jean-Francois, the executive director of CFL, spotted Freddie out of the corner of her eye and immediately went to greet him.

“You look incredible, Freddie,” she beamed. Freddie humbly accepted her compliments before trying to find his closest friends, Smilie and Frank.

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Everyone spent the rest of the evening in anticipation of Freddie receiving his award. Not wanting to miss a moment, I mic’d up Freddie with a wireless lav as I captured video footage from across the room, so I was privy to his innermost thoughts for the duration of the evening. The thing is, Freddie has no innermost thoughts, because he says almost absolutely everything he thinks aloud.

“Is my bowtie on straight?”

“No, really — is it straight?”

“I wonder who all these people are?”

“Do you think I can get onto the roof?”

“How am I going to go to the bathroom with this microphone on?”

Another forty or so minutes went by with Freddie making his rounds in the room, all to the tune of his inner monologue and a mariachi band playing in the corner (Freddie: “why would they get a mariachi band for this event?”). About ten minutes before the scheduled presentation of Freddie’s award, he asked if we could go outside for a cigarette.

“I’m really overwhelmed,” he confided in me once we were in the elevator. “Nothing a cigarette can’t fix, though.” Outside, we stood in front of the building as Freddie watched more and more people dressed in suits (though none in maroon suits) enter the double doors.

“Who are all these people? Do I know them?”

He ran his hands over the many different pockets of his ensemble in a desperate search for his cigarettes. Relief washed over him as he located one, brought it to his lips and lit it in one swift motion.

“I never got an award like this before. I’m nervous.”

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We stood out there for what felt like a while, Freddie getting a puff of his cigarette in between mouthfuls of conversation, before someone had to come and get us because they had already started the presentation of his award.

“Oh, shoot!” Freddie said, as he stubbed out his cigarette and stowed away the remainder in his jacket pocket for later. We hurried upstairs and made it to the front of the crowd that had gathered to listen to Julia’s speech about Freddie.

For the first time all night, Freddie was silent as he listened to what Julia had to say about him and his work at CFL. At the end of her speech, Julia presented Freddie with a thick, glass placard engraved with the words, “CELEBRATING COMMUNITY AWARD…presented with great appreciation to WILFREDO PEDRERO.”

Then, the video I made for the occasion began to play:

When the screen faded to black, everybody angled themselves in the direction of Freddie (who had now sought shelter in the back of the room) and clapped. They clapped for a long time. Freddie humbly received their applause, followed by a round of hugs from his teary co-workers who had appeared in the video.

I had a hard time keeping tabs on Freddie for the rest of the night, because he was constantly being pulled into groups to take photos or shaking hands with people who were congratulating him. At one point though, just before the very end of the event, we ran into each other seeking refuge on a couch in the back of the room, which had a plate of obscure-looking appetizers placed on a small coffee table in front of it.

Freddie pointed at the plate, “What is this stuff? Some kinda vegetable?” He held up an ominous-looking mush on top of a cracker and inspected it.

“I can’t eat this stuff. I’m starving,” he semi-whispered to me. “I can’t wait to get back home and have some chicken parmigiana.” The crowds started to trickle out and not long after, Freddie decided it was OK to head home, too. But before he left, he obliged my request for one last interview (and cigarette) out on the street.

Freddie looked like he’d walked off a movie set; the cigarette hanging cooly between his fingers as he brought it to his mouth, standing in his maroon suit in front of candy-colored Soho buildings in the magic hour light.

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For a moment, he seemed like a completely different Freddie to me. Without his superhero t-shirt or his backpack of comic books, outside the confines of the food pantry without a box of groceries to shelve, it was like meeting Freddie for the first time in an alternate universe.

But the illusion soon faded when Freddie made a confession.

“I hope I don’t gotta wear another suit like this for a long time,” he said, backing up so my camera could take in the entirety of his outfit. “I know I look good but…these shoes are killing me!”