Newspaper Squad

By Amanda Berg

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South Bronx United Newspaper Club selfie during the last day of after school tutoring. From left to right, Samuka, Amanda, Moriken, and Ayouba.

My dad tells a story about the scars on his knees. He learned to play baseball on the asphalt lot behind his school. For years he played on that blacktop, with chalk marks for bases and a chain link fence as the boundary. A slide into home meant a bloody knee.

When he moved from the Bronx to suburban Long Island his new school had a baseball field made of grass and dirt. He wondered why it was not paved over.

One day a friend, the first in his neighborhood to have a color television, invited him over to watch a Yankees game. The game flickered on the screen and the outfield glowed green. The color tubes were less surprising than the grass.

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Picture Poem by Samuka Kenneh for the SBU Press.

I forgot about my family’s connection to the Bronx during my first few months working with South Bronx United. Both of my father’s parents grew up here and my dad was born here. One of my very first memories taking documentary photos was freshman year of college when I asked my dad to go back to his childhood home on Tenbroeck Avenue with me.

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The front page of SBU Press, a community newspaper published by students of the South Bronx United after school tutoring program.

Facilitating the newspaper club at South Bronx United was a great learning experience in terms of teaching youth and considering my documentary approach. It was a fun adventure, exploring and bonding through creative expression, getting to know a place where I have roots but am not familiar.

The main members of the club are Samuka, Ayouba, and Moriken. They prefer to call it the “newspaper squad.” Everyone contributed to the writing, photography and design of the paper. I love how collaborative the process has been. Sometimes one person would do the interview and another write the story, while a third person would take pictures and make key edits. We covered everything from the Bronx African Cup of Nations Soccer Tournament to the local community farm. One of my favorite stories written was about being young and Muslim during Ramadan in the Bronx.

The newspaper gave us all an excuse to be together, ask questions, and take a closer look. The club was a reminder of the kind of community engagement and self-reflection that drew me to photography in the first place.Draft007_commVoices copy-600

The Bronx is Thawing

The clock skipped ahead an hour and the sun rose with a purpose last Sunday. After months of freezing temperatures and early sunsets there was finally a high forecasted above 32 degrees. It was 48. Warm enough to lift my spirits but not warm enough to melt the layers of ice and snow off Macombs Field.

In the shadow of Yankee Stadium players and coaches of South Bronx United gathered together to shovel over 7,000 square yards of wintery mix off their home turf in an attempt to assist the sun in clearing the field for next weekend’s soccer games. I admired their dedication and thought, what is worth shoveling 7,000 square yards of snow for?

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U16-U19 South Bronx United players shoveling Macombs Field the week before their first outdoor soccer game is scheduled to be played. Photo by Amanda Berg

South Bronx United is a non-profit soccer club that uses soccer as a tool for social change. Their programming is equally focused on education, character development, and soccer skills. I have spent most of my time as a Lewis Hine Fellow with SBU at their after school tutoring program. Helping someone with homework is no small task. I know from experience that a simple take-home worksheet can cause real anxiety. I remember what it felt like to be in middle school and it seems just as difficult and formative now as it did then.

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SBU student athlete working on his homework during tutoring. Photo by Amanda Berg

Last week I sat down to help a 6th grader named Brayon do an English language assignment. The task was to describe a journey through pictures. My eyes lit up when I read this. Brayon was on the Internet googling images of his hometown in Mexico. Everything he searched was in Spanish. I realized he understood part of the assignment but was new to English and was confused by the word “journey.” We went back and forth brainstorming what he wanted to describe. As we talked he searched for other images. I could tell his ideas were forming but I wasn’t sure what exactly he was going to draw.

First he drew an intricate picture of a church. He wrote underneath, “the first journey I went on is when I went to church to talk to God that nothing happen to us.” Next he drew a plane shooting upward into the sky. He then depicted trees with snakes hanging from them and a large wall in the distance that he called the frontera. The last image was of cars driving away. One by one he worked out his captions and wrote them under the pictures. Brayon depicted his journey immigrating to the United States.

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Brayon’s journey. Photo by Amanda Berg

 

The student athletes at SBU are incredibly diverse. Their life experience is unparalleled. They have powerful personal stories and unique perspectives on the world. The challenge they face is in believing their stories are important. With a slight shift in self-perception, a personal narrative can transform. Expectations rise. Doors open. I think this sort of shift is crucial to an individual’s success, happiness and shared cultural understanding, especially a young person who is faced with the task of imagining their future. This is central to why I love visual stories but also why I love sports.

Sports give you a compressed narrative, a clear beginning middle, and end. There is obvious tension, opposing sides and an undeniable outcome. Life is not always so well defined but most of the stories that get us through are. As a player you can be anyone you want for the duration of the game. You can risk failure and always try again. You can imagine the future, the win, the lose, the playoffs, your college teams uniforms, your loved one watching you… You are given a literal field of possibilities to explore. I think sports and photography are ideal metaphors for what it means to be alive. Both give us the tools to explain our human experience.

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The SBU Newspaper Club skyping with Mike McCray, digital content coordinator at the Dallas Morning News. Photo by Amanda Berg

 

As part of my role at South Bronx United I am leading a Newspaper Club. We meet every Wednesday during tutoring. Our goal is to explore how stories create change and ask our selves what stories matter most. The club is practicing journalistic photography and writing techniques that we will use to creatively document the community. By the end of May we will take what we have reported, design pages, send out to print, and distribute our newspaper. By then the Bronx will be in bloom and the fields will be open for play.

The Crossing

By Amanda Berg

One of the most challenging parts of moving to a new place has been introducing myself. People ask, “Who are you? What do you do? Why are you here?” It doesn’t feel like enough to say, “I am a photographer from New Jersey.” Am I a Lewis Hine Fellow from Duke? Or a recent Graduate from North Carolina? Am I just a photographer? Why am I here, really?

In an attempt to be honest, I stumble.

My daily commute is a long one. For the first time in my life that doesn’t mean I am the driver. Sitting on the NYC Subway each day has given me a time and place to read.

The first book I brought along for the ride was And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger. I identify strongly with his writing. I arrived in the city and immediately felt something was missing. The horizon. The limit where vision ends and the sky meets the ground. I spent the last six years practicing the art of observation. Looking as far as I could to see as much as possible. Here distance is not measured by the same plain line. The absence of a horizon has left me feeling a little lost.

nyc_instagrams_006Waiting for the elevated subway, By Amanda Berg

John Berger wrote about home as the center of the world in an ontological sense. “Without a home at the center of the real,” he explained, “one was not only shelterless, but also lost…without a home everything was fragmentation.”

Berger said home was the center of the world because it was the place where a vertical line crossed with a horizontal one. He believed that the crossing of these two lines, the reassurance that their intersection promised, was part of us all since embryo. My physical body is my vertical line. It comes with me everywhere I go. Where will I find a horizontal line to cross in this city of skyscrapers?

nyc_instagrams_004Eric Garner protest in Manhattan, By Amanda Berg

Lewis Hine moved to New York in 1904 from his hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He was invited by friends to teach geography and natural history at a new progressive school on the Upper West Side called the Ethical Culture School. He became the school photographer and began to explore the city with his camera. He used the images he collected to teach his students about current social issues. As Hine documented urban life he established the base of his practice on a foundation of photography and social work. He called his approach “sympathetic photography” and his pictures “levers for social uplift.”

Hine began by going to Ellis Island, then paid witness to child laborers across the country, moving on to document refugees in Europe during WWI, and ultimately, for his final project, Hine climbed to the top of the Empire State Building as it was being built and documented its construction. From there he could see everything. Yet, he chose to focus his lens not on the landscape but on the men at work.

Hine found his horizon in the working class. He saw himself reflected in the shared experiences of the people he photographed. For him “the crossing” Berger mentioned was that of individuals and society.

nyc_instagrams_003The commute home, By Amanda Berg

In his classic address to the National Conference of Charities and Correction in 1909, Hine said “the picture is the symbol that brings one immediately into close touch with reality.” In this sense, the picture is the shelter at the center of the real. The photograph is home.

I imagine; if I could introduce myself with one picture, what would it look like?