Laura is a community artist and educator who believes in the transformative power of creative expression and storytelling in the lives of young people. She has spent much of the past twenty years creating opportunities for girls to be heard in their own voices. Through video, audio, writing, theater and visual arts, Laura has worked with girls from underserved and marginalized communities in the Appalachian mountains of KY and WV, the immigrant communities and inner-cities of NYC, Queens, the Bronx and DC, and Jordan’s Syrian refugee camps and urban areas, to express their experiences through various artistic approaches to storytelling. She has seen the tools of documentary arts give girls a sense of agency and power over their own stories and dreams, and is constantly thrilled to see the amazement in girls, whenever they share their artistic work with the public, as they realize the value their voices and visions carry in opening up channels of understanding, dialogue and change. She graduated from Duke University with an MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts in 2013.
On working as a Hine Fellow, Laura says: “I feel incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity to work with an organization full of people who are deeply invested in finding innovative approaches to supporting young people in their communities. I’m excited to see where the young people I will work with take us as they engage with the documentary arts process – using these tools to find a voice that’s distinctive and undeniably their own, and drawing upon their surroundings, memory and imaginations to shape their stories. I hope that together, this young collective of media makers can create a complex and vibrant portrait that reflects what they most want to share about how they see and move through their worlds in this particular landscape of home and time in their lives.”
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.
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.
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.