Natalie Minik 2013-2014

NatalieBioNEW_550
Natalie Minik graduated from Duke University with an MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts in 2013. Her commitment to documentary practice started nine years ago at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies where she studied documentary writing. Since her introduction to the field, she has branched out into photography, moving image and multimedia approaches to storytelling. As a student in the MFA program, she combined photography, audio interviews and moving image to consider women’s lives in relation to their responsibilities and to their dreams. Additionally, she is co-founder of One, One Thousand | A Publication of Southern Photography.

About being a Lewis Hine Documentary Fellow Natalie says, “What excites me about this Hine Fellowship is the chance to honor the stories others have already created by using the documentary arts to get to another level of understanding. The Hine Fellowship legacy is broad and impressive, and I am thrilled to revisit moments in its history, to look back but also to look at the contemporary lives of the people and organizations portrayed. My hope is to create work that shows how documentary can help to give perspective to our lives, and to create pieces that foster a sense of shared community in Boston and beyond.”

Jennifer Carpenter, a 2010-2011 Lewis Hine Documentary Fellow from the Center for Documentary Studies, spent 10 months working with the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) in Boston, MA. For one of her documentary projects, Jennifer chose to focus on a community of retirees who met twice a week for an afternoon of ballroom dance.

Generation Dance  is a story about social dancing from a generation that witnessed a whirlwind of war, revolution and nation-building. By interweaving 20th century Chinese ballroom dance history with personal accounts from Chinatown’s residents, this story offers unique insight into the value of self-expression & community-building through dance.

Generation Dance will be exhibited at the Wong/Yee Memorial Gallery from June 15 – October 31.

To learn more about the exhibition and see photos from the opening, visit: http://generationdance.weebly.com/press.html

 

A Different Way of Seeing

By Chris Fowler

Spring. Brighter light and longer days are here. The rigorously contemplative winter is making way for an active and fruitful vernal season.

I am very pleased to report that the documentary photography class that I taught at The Eliot School in collaboration with UFORGE Gallery was a great success. The four-week class took place in Jamaica Plain on Tuesday evenings. During those meetings, our class looked over a great deal of work by documentary photographers ranging from Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine to Mary Ellen Mark and Darcy Padilla. After studying images in the documentary canon we turned our attention to the students’ own work and practice. They shared images from their projects and we discussed issues technical, ethical, and practical. I am also happy to relate that each of the wonderful students who participated have at least one photograph (and in some cases more) from projects started in our class hanging on the wall at UFORGE Gallery through the end of April.  It was very rewarding to collaborate with the local community arts scene and share what I could with folks interested in making this kind of work.

On a related note, the class Evidence with Bill Burke at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts recently concluded. It was a great privilege to participate in that course and to have the guidance and encouragement of an artist whose work I admire so much. The time in Burke’s class introduced me to many photographers, historical and contemporary, with whom I was previously unfamiliar. I feel that a great gap has been filled in my own photo education. Burke’s portraits, like the one below, were made using Type 55 Polaroid film in a 4×5 camera. This method allowed Burke to photograph strangers and instantly connect with them in a deeper way than other formats might have allowed at the time. He was able to share the positive print with his subject and get an immediate reaction, begin a more involved conversation.

“Family, Kermit, West Virginia, 1979” Photograph appears courtesy of the artist.

I was intrigued with this method of photographing and considered ways that I might achieve similar results. I acquired a 4×5 camera and began experimenting with instant film. Alas, the positive/negative peel-apart Polaroid Type 55 is long gone. Fuji produces an instant ISO 3000 black and white film that produces a positive image, as well as a negative-like paper-backed image that is only usable if scanned and digitally manipulated. The high speed of this film, coupled with the relatively slow shutter speeds of my antique Crown Graphic, present interesting challenges for me as someone who is used to the flexibility of relatively fast electronic shutters and low ISO numbers. The entire endeavor forces me to slow down, be more deliberate, think. As well as the rewards of this process—my pace, film’s inherent aesthetic qualities, instant visual gratification, an image to share with potential subjects, a tangible print instead of zeros and ones on a memory card—I am also interested in the idea of having to digitally manipulate the “negative” that this film produces in order to make more prints. These digitally mediated analog pictures somehow seem appropriate for me, being of this time—born digital—and with my feet straddling both of these worlds.

“A different way of seeing.” Photo by Chris Fowler

I have recently acquired a refurbished photo printer and am now able to make prints to share with folks in the community. This has been an important tool in building trust and strengthening relationships. Recently I find myself printing lots of portraits from a series in the Dudley Greenhouse. One afternoon a week, with the help of Danielle Andrews and Jennie Msall, we invite folks from the community into the part of the greenhouse where the tomatoes are growing to have their portraits made, like the one below.

Travis Watson, Community Organizer for the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. Photo by Chris Fowler.

As programming and produce ramp up at The Food Project I will be increasingly busy with them. Just a few weeks ago we installed a seventy-two inch tall sign featuring my photographs on the side of the Dudley Greenhouse. I look forward to getting to know the youth who are coming on board for the Summer Youth Program and learning their stories. I also look forward to cataloging, formally and photographically, the things that TFP produces (which I think I mentioned in a previous letter). I am also, selfishly, very excited to spend some time out on the farm and in the sunshine.

Repetition, Ritual, and Reassurance

By Indaia Whitcombe

In the recent months I have begun to understand the functioning of the Boys & Girls Club on a deeper level. The mission of the Boys & Girls Club is to foster positive youth development and how they do this seems pretty clear to anyone who comes through the doors. The club provides a safe, positive environment, supportive relationships, opportunities, expectations, and recognition for children, all which these kids might not be finding elsewhere. And fun. Fun always seemed in my mind to be the container that all these important ingredients fit into.  If it wasn’t fun, kids wouldn’t want to be there.

Jack, 11 on the stairs of The Boys and Girls Club.

There is one child in particular with whom I share a connection. Jack is eleven years old, thin and lanky with light brown hair, pale skin, and a dash of freckles across his nose. He is arguably the best-dressed young man at the club, arriving each afternoon looking smart in a collared shirt and sweater vest. Meeting him for the first time, Jack appears timid and hesitant, lowering his head and answering in a barely audible tone. But it isn’t long before he is clapping and singing and yelling at the other children to “slow down!” when they are running in the hallway. He has such a presence, on the days he isn’t at the club, it seems there is surely something lacking.

Jack hugging Trudie, a staff member at the Boys and Girls Club.

While Jack is legally blind, it is clear that his big brown eyes do register something- perhaps a combination of shape and color and light. If he knows you and you’ve entered the room, after a moment he’ll sense your presence and recognize that you’re there. Then he’ll start to sing to you, sing your name and ‘how are you today, is it cloudy, is the day almost over?” And for some reason, you always feel obliged to sing back. To enter a room where Jack is, you’ll almost always find a group of singing, laughing people, and Jack at the center of it all. Jack has autism and like any child he is innately curious about the world around him. And like other children with autism, he experiences the world in a different way. I am curious about his world, and his experience of it.

Getting to know Jack and learning more about autism, I had a lot of questions like why there are many different forms of autism and yet each child is still labeled with the same disorder. When I asked Jesse if she could define autism in her own words, she laughed a little, as if the idea was absurd and responded with a sincere ‘No.’ Autism is a spectrum disorder- meaning all cases fall under the umbrella of autism, somewhere on the spectrum. No two cases of autism are the same; they vary widely in terms of the child’s abilities and symptoms, and they can look very different. One person who has autism may show no obvious signs at first. He or she may communicate verbally and display a high level of intellect, but have an inability to make eye-contact when engaged in conversation. On the other hand, another person with autism may have little or no ability to communicate verbally and may have severe behavioral challenges because of this.


Jack, looking out from a window at the Boys and Girls Club.

There are some classic behaviors associated with autism, but still these are expressed across a spectrum of intensity. One of the main characteristics of autism involves routine or repetitive behaviors, like repeating words or actions, or playing in repetitive ways. Jack clears his throat, he smells the back of his hand, and touches his hair. He asks what time it is, and then he will ask again, only minutes later. And then again when that minute has passed. He likes to watch the clock, the second hand making one full circle, and when it has he’ll ask, ‘What time is it now?” Jessie describes this as ‘mind-looping,’ a self-soothing behavior. While ‘mind-looping’ and other self-soothing behaviors are common in autism, they are not specific to this disorder, they occur in many different developmental disorders and are a fairly typical trait. Like a lot of children with autism, Jack gets extremely overwhelmed by noise and over-stimulation in general. So when he asks what time it is repeatedly, often it’s because he wants to know how much longer he has to be in that environment. The question comes from anxiety and uncertainty; the answer makes him feel better. He may ask the same question one hundred times, in order to get the same response one hundred times back.

Jack, looking up towards a skylight at The Boys and Girls Club.

Jessie says she doesn’t buy it when people say, ‘we need to ignore those behaviors because they’re not typical.’ “I think they are typical. Other people just don’t say it out loud. I think we all want the same reassurance. Everyone has times when they feel worried or overwhelmed and we all have different ways of coping with those feelings. There’s a lot of things in the world that are completely out of control and maybe kids with autism have that feeling magnified. We keep calendars and planners so that we can know what’s coming up.These kids need that too, just in a shorter time frame. That’s why we use a lot of tactile things and visual aids,like a schedule you can carry around with you. It’s a lot easier to hold onto than something that’s in your mind.”

I think about why I make pictures.  A lot of the reason is to make sense of my experience and what is happening around me. It’s the same reason I enjoy writing, so that I can say this happened, this was real, and see the words on the page in front of me. Isn’t this how we affirm our memories- through pictures and pages, and the telling and retelling of what has happened. And in doing so, aren’t we simply reaffirming our own lives, again, and again. Isn’t that a self-soothing ritual in itself?

Documentary Reflection: Amanda van Scoyoc

By Amanda van Scoyoc

This photograph was taken on April 12, 2008. Damaris was nineteen years old, Andrea was seconds old, and I was twenty-five. I was in the corner of the delivery room trying to be as inconspicuous as I could be with a Hasselblad camera attached to a large tripod. I remember fumbling around with the manual focusing, certain that I was going to miss capturing the image of Damaris holding her child for the first time.

That year as a Lewis Hine documentary fellow I was collaborating with a group of adolescent mothers to record their experiences. Our end goal was to create a body of work, including their photographs, my photographs, and their words, that could document their reality. We envisioned that this work would tell the entire story of adolescent parenting, including both immense struggle and unconditional love. As a part of working together, Damaris wanted me to be there in the hospital with her to document the moment when she became a mom.

After I took this photograph, I made one nice print, which I promptly gave to Damaris. At the time, I thought that this photograph had less to say about adolescent motherhood than some of the more complicated images of young mothers and their children. The photographs that I ended up choosing for exhibits felt more balanced. They demonstrated love while hinting at the difficulties of being an adolescent while raising a child. This photograph did not hint at struggle. Instead it demonstrated the universal joy of motherhood.

A couple of years later, I returned to Chelsea, Massachusetts and spent a week living with Damaris and 2 year-old Andrea. When I walked into their apartment, one of the first things that I noticed was this photograph displayed prominently on the wall. Seeing it brought me right back to that captured moment, and I realized that this photograph has everything to do with adolescent motherhood and all motherhood. Now, when I look at this photograph, I remember the intensity of emotion in that room and notice the care of Damaris’ open hand enveloping Andrea for the first time. It is a photograph that is similar to many other photographs hanging in many other homes, but it is also Damaris’ moment, and a part of her story that I was there to share.

It has been four years since my time as a Hine Fellow. I am currently in my second year of a clinical psychology PhD program and am planning my dissertation research. For my dissertation, I am working with women who use substances during pregnancy. Although there is plenty of research showing the negative impact of prenatal use on child outcomes, the research that is available does not focus on women’s experiences using substances during pregnancy. Despite working with a very different population of women now, I have the same mission that I had working with adolescent mothers as a Lewis Hine Fellow. I am asking questions, listening, and trying to understand. I need to hear women’s stories and allow their experiences to enter the conversations that impact policy change.

In this work, this photograph reminds me that I need to hear not only about the barriers and difficulties, but also about the love and connection during pregnancy and after a child is born. We cannot forget the wonderful parts of parenting that are common to younger mothers, older mothers, and mothers struggling with addictions. The women that I work with now, just like all of the women that I have ever worked with, adore their children.  Yes, they have unique struggles with addiction, but not every moment hints at this hardship. They also gave birth and held their child for the first time, cradling with caution, and smiling adoringly. When asked about becoming a parent, they look back and remember the unconditional love

Despite the harm their substance use can cause, these women also want to protect their children. Many of them recall trying over and over and over again to stop using during their pregnancy, but lacking support, and being too afraid to seek out help. Their desire to protect is a piece of the story that cannot be forgotten but that is too frequently cast aside. As we consider the best interests for mothers and children whose lives are compromised by addiction, perhaps our greatest ability to help women get clean and stay clean is unlocked by remembering that caring, protective, and joyful moments are also a part of these women’s stories. I believe that our greatest ability to help women may lie in connecting with the love and motivation that already exists inside them. As a researcher working with women who struggle, I have learned that even for women who struggle the most, not every moment hints at hardship. Some moments are just absolutely wonderful.

 

The Third Season at The Food Project

By Chris Fowler, November 2011

Autumn. Bright greens go yellow, then red, while the days get darker more quickly. Haste is made to harvest the remainder of the heartier crops: collards, kale, carrots, and leeks. Care is taken to prepare for the next season. Garlic cloves are planted by hand and hay makes a blanket over them to keep off the cold until the full-grown bulbs may be lifted from the spring soil. Tools are put away and equipment is repaired.

The Food Project follows the seasons. In the same manner as the farm, the organization seemingly slows down and does the less glamorous but equally important work of organizing for the coming spring, even as winter approaches. I find myself following a similar order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although my first official day at The Food Project was October 14, my introduction to the organization took place back in September. A couple of my colleagues in the Outreach Team were working on stories for the organization’s 2010-2011 Annual Report and were in need of images. They kindly offered to fly me up from North Carolina and house me at a coworker’s apartment for eight days. The purpose of this trip was tripartite: 1) For me to photograph the stories that they wanted to tell in their report; 2) For me to meet my new colleagues and get a feel for the culture at the organization; and 3) For me to find lodging. I am happy to say that we accomplished all these goals, and also yielded

an unexpected benefit when one of the images was chosen for TFP’s Thanksgiving Day card. This is, to quote Ki Kim (Director of Communications at TFP), “one of our most important donor cultivation devices, aimed at an important segment of our donor base—folks who give $1,000 and up.” I have attached a digital copy of this card to this report. I hope to share a copy of this Annual Report with you as soon as they are delivered by the printer, both to give you a better idea of the work that The Food Project does, and to illustrate a very direct way how the Hine Program has already benefited The Food Project.

When I returned to Boston in early October, I settled into a quiet little place in Jamaica Plain. Most mornings I left my camera at home. I wanted to get my hands dirty. So far I’ve helped to harvest at the thirty-one-acre farm in Lincoln and at the urban farm in Dorchester. In both places I wanted to get a sense of the work that goes on and to build relationships with the people who are often in these locations. This is a work in progress. I hope that the seeds that I am planting now will grow. Because the weather is getting colder, I aim to begin spending more mornings at the Dudley Greenhouse, where refugee groups in the neighborhood have garden plots—and where it will be significantly warmer.

Because of the season, most of the youth programming is in its annual hibernation mode. The bulk of TFP’s youth activities happen, unsurprisingly, during the warm months. There are, however, thirty high school students who work as interns year round. These interns rotate through different pods over the course of the year to provide different kinds of work experience. I, along with my colleague Ki Kim, have been working with the Media Pod on Saturdays to get interns out into the field and producing words and images. So far we have conducted two photography and writing workshops with each of us leading sections of the workshop related to our particular expertise. Because of the interns differing levels of

familiarity with making images and their limited access to equipment, my contribution to these seminars thus far has focused on the power of images to spread a message and change minds, invoking the name of Lewis Hine, among others. Each of the thirty interns will have the opportunity to participate by the end of my time at TFP. Eventually, as the interns begin to produce and share more materials, we plan to post them to a new, youth-driven Food Project website. We would also like to see the youth run these meetings, and further share their work with others. I envision this program becoming self-sustaining and long running.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
I have big plans. Even though winter looms close and the opportunities for community engagement are less than they will be in the spring and summer months, I have devised several projects to keep me busy until the snow thaws.

The first of these is a portrait project. I hope to photograph members of TFP staff in their home kitchens. This project will serve the dual purpose of making a record for TFP’s archive and fulfilling outreach needs, as well as helping me to connect more closely with the people that work here. Their experiences and convictions could offer some compelling material for me as I craft my final project later this year. Beyond photographing these folks, and at the suggestion of Elena Rue and Alex Harris, I will capture video portraits of everyone and also have a few general, unifying questions to help tie these images together. Eventually, when the weather breaks, I would like to extend this project to include youth and people in the community who benefit from the services that TFP provides.

The second project, which I hope to start next week—timed for the arrival of my winter share in The Food Project’s Community Supported Agriculture program—is a formal catalogue of the stuff that The Food Project produces and the tools it uses to produce them: cabbages, radishes, tomatoes, shovels, spades, knives, and all the rest. This work will provide TFP with visual aids for their educational outreach programs as well as (hopefully) beautiful, compelling images that they can use with their promotional materials.

Finally, I will continue working to interact and collaborate with the larger community that TFP serves, and as prudence and permission permit, will record my experiences and share their stories.

Although I am only one month into my fellowship, I feel very comfortable at my organization and with the goals that I have set. I look forward, from autumn, with excitement to see how all this work develops, and I also look forward to sharing more news with you soon.

Fall in South Boston

By Indaia Whitcombe

Coming off the train at the Broadway Station in South Boston, I am greeted by the clamor of large-scale construction- in a fenced lot along the first stretch of sidewalk, men in hard hats and backhoes are working together on the latest redevelopment project here on the lower end. Just yesterday I had been admiring the charming brick building abutting the Catholic church and the old world pub next door. Today they have been replaced by an excavation, soon to be the foundation of a brand new building, likely one of the modern up-scale condominiums that have been popping up all over this town for the past several years. Young professionals and families move to South Boston, attracted to the neighborhood’s strong sense of community, its close proximity to downtown, and its city beaches and parks. Once, a predominately white, Irish-Catholic working-class neighborhood, South Boston today is different place- both ethnically and racially diverse. But while the face and geography of South Boston have changed, the old town spirit remains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking up West Broadway, the main avenue is marked by restaurants, cafes, and convenient stores, all boasting the title of ‘South Boston’ in their name. Shamrock stamped neon signs illuminate the windows of dimly lit bars and the Irish flag hangs faithfully above the door. Three Clovers Pizza and the Gaelic Day Salon are among the many businesses that pay homage to the old country in their name.

Along the side walk there is the occasional ‘I (heart)  Southie’ scratched into the once-fresh cement and it seems every third person I pass is wearing a sweatshirt that says the same. At the old South Boston Tribune building, a children’s mural is painted across the boarded up facade. It depicts a pretty neighborhood scene full of happy colorful people with a sweeping banner of words and musical notes rising from their mouths- “I was born down on ‘A’ Street, raised up on ‘B’ Street, Southie is my hometown; There is something about it, permit me to shout it, it’s tops for miles around…” This is the town’s very own anthem; everyone knows the words, and they could sing it for you if you asked. And so within the distance of just half a dozen blocks, one thing becomes very clear: people love Southie. I don’t know if I ever been in a place that exudes so much neighborhood pride, it is one of the many things I am curious about, and I am hoping to discover why.

South Boston exists almost as a self-contained world, bordered by the Boston Harbor on three sides and the expressway to the West. It was built on a grid system- West Broadway begins on the lower end and runs through the center of town, intersected by ‘A’ Street, ‘B’ Street and so on. From ‘C’ Street to ‘D’ Street, a brightly colored strip of uniform apartments line the road and spread to cover most of the block to the South. These are the ‘D’ Street projects. South Boston has more public housing projects than any other neighborhood in Boston, they are some of the oldest in the country. Further South from ‘D’ Street are the Old Colony projects, and further South from there, bordered by the South Eastern expressway, are the Marry Ellen McCormack projects- the first public housing in all of New England. Back on the other side of town, West Broadway runs into East Broadway and continues onto City Point, the East Side. City Point, or ‘the Point’ as it is called, is home to big Victorian houses, handsome old Brownstones, and the lovely Castle Island Park, with its wonderful view of the bay. But before you reach the Bay, all the way back at the beginning of East Broadway, and a few blocks South of the intersection- you will find, sitting up on the hill, the South Boston High School.

It was here on these school grounds, where white Southie parents once gathered in mobs and threw rocks at the yellow buses as they arrived carrying the black school children from Roxbury. The forced desegregation of the Boston school system in the 1970’s came with a court order of busing children from black neighborhoods into the white neighborhoods, and the whites to the black. Parents no longer had a choice of where to send their children, the politicians and the courts were now making those decisions for them. This spiked mass resistance from the South Boston community, who through drawn-out protests and boycotts sought to raise barricades against the ‘outsiders,’ and ultimately change. Many Southie kids stopped going to school and dropping out became almost an act of loyalty to their town and their people. The desegregation of schools soon gave way to the integration of the housing projects, which had until then also been predominantly white. These events became the most determining factor in changing the face of South Boston, as seen by the outside world, as well as for the people who lived there.

“When I was growing up, Southie was all schools, churches, and bars,” one local man told me. “We called ourselves working-class,” he said, “but we weren’t even that- we were poor. We were living in a white ghetto. But we didn’t feel poor.” Many of those churches or schools now stand empty, a few have been turned into condos, or have since been torn down. At one point in time it is true that South Boston was considered one of the poorest white neighborhoods in the country- Still many of the locals who grew up during that ti

me recalled it to me with a clear sense of nostalgia for the way things used to be. It was much more family oriented they would tell me, everyone came from a big family- a big family- six, eight, or maybe twelve kids. All the kids played in the streets, and they had fun, and they were happy.  You could leave your door unlocked back then. Folks would sit out on their stoop and say ‘how are ya,’ to the people passing by. Everyone looked out for one another. After busing, a lot of families moved out- South of the city. In some ways there was a feeling of defeat, people didn’t want to stick around to see the inevitable change to come. Many people expressed the feeling that Southie has been given a ‘bad rap,’ and with that still years later, it is grappling with its own tarnished reputation of racism and corruption. But the sentiment of pride is there just the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back on the West side, on the corner of ‘F’ Street and East Sixth, sits the Boys & Girls Club of South Boston, in the same location where it has remained for over half a century. While the neighborhood has changed significantly, this building and its mission have remained constant. On the day of my arrival at the Club, I watched in awe as the director, Harry Duvall stood in the entryway and greeted each child as they came through the big double doors, addressing each by their names with almost no hesitation, as if they were one of his own. With over two hundred and fifty members, the ability to know every one by name is no small feat- it is an organization ideal, one that Harry and the staff live up to, and one that I feel speaks to the very essence of this place. The Boys & Girls Club is an after-school program whose mission is to ‘help young people, especially those who need us most, build strong character and realize their full potential as responsible citizens and leaders.’ This is achieved by ‘providing a safe haven filled with hope and opportunity; ongoing relationships with caring adults; and life-enhancing programs.’ But the respect and attention that is paid to each child is not limited to simply knowing their face. Harry and the staff are just as familiar with their families- their mothers and their brothers and sisters, what their home life is like these days, their daily challenges and triumphs.

Each Monday, our weekly staff meeting is a time where updates, issues and concerns are shared among the group. A large portion of the time is used to talk about our members- whether it’s that ‘Billy had a great time at the dance on Friday, and it was really good to see him having fun,’ or that, ‘Brendon’s father is no longer in the picture, so let’s try to give him some extra support.’ These discussions are always marked with such sincere respect and care. Each meeting is adjourned with Harry’s positive and up-beat reminder that ‘it’s our job to make sure the kids have a good day- whether they’re already having a good day, or a bad day-we could make it better.’

Many of the staff explained to me how most of the kids spend more time at the Club than they do at home. And for many, it is the closest thing to what a home maybe should feel like- a safe, stable and supportive place- this is not always easy to find in their lives. The majority of our kids come from low-income, single mother homes, most live in the nearby housing projects. Drug use and alcohol abuse are particularly bad in the projects, though the whole community suffers from the effects at large. In the time that I have been here alone, there have been four drug-related deaths and one suicide. Alumni of the South Boston Club, are in no way exaggerating when they say that the Boys & Girls Club saved their lives. They faced many of the same challenges these kids do today, and it’s easy for them imagine who or what they might have fallen into, if they did not have this place to got to. For a lot of kids, the club is the one place that’s always there for them- the one place where “the doors are always open.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside those doors the brightly colored walls are filled with drawings and pictures, schedules and outreach flyers. The three-story building was constructed in 1940 and has always been the Boys & Girls Club. Many of the staff are from the neighborhood and grew up coming to the club themselves, so they have a sincere perspective of what the Club meant to them when they were kids, and how it serves kids today. Through six core programs- the arts, education, leadership and character development, life skills, technology, and sports and fitness- the Club works to foster positive youth development. Their key elements for success in this process lie in providing a safe, positive environment; supportive relationships; opportunity and expectations; recognition; and most importantly- fun.

When Harry and I sat down together and talked about what my time here might look like- his foremost hope was for me to document ‘the Club experience.’ Since my arrival two months ago, I have spent a lot of time observing, listening, and making an effort to understand what that experience is. For the first few weeks I moved about the Club, spending time in each different area, getting to know the staff and the kids. Whether it was working with a kid one on one in the homework room, or watching a hockey game from the sidelines- I have tried to get to know the Club and help the people here get to know me. Once I began to feel a bit more acclimated, I took out my camera and have since begun the process of documenting.

In addition to documenting the Club experience, I am focusing on specific aspects and programs within the Club. Inclusion is an initiative that works to create a culture of acceptance- one in which members feel welcomed and embraced as an important part of the club. Being an inclusive Club means supporting all of the Clubs’ members, and giving a bit of extra support to those who need it. While the Inclusion Initiative does put a focus on kids and people with disabilities, issues concerning inclusivity are not limited to that group alone. In the past few weeks I have been working alongside the Inclusion staff, learning just what Inclusion is all about. The best way I have come to understand it is in the phrase ‘recognizing strengths and supporting needs.’ Inclusion aims to teach kids that everyone is different: people have different needs, look different and communicate in different ways; everyone has things they can do well, and things they might need help with; it is ok to be curious about someone with a disability, and there is a respectful and appropriate way to ask them about it. I have been using my documentary skills to construct a story about Inclusion- what it is, how it works and why it’s important. Through pictures and words, I hope to capture this unique part of the South Boston Club which is very much deserving in recognition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the coming months I will begin a multimedia storytelling workshop that aims to elevate kids’ voices and allow them to reflect on the world around them. In working closely  with a small group of youth over the course of several months, I will train them how to use images, sounds, and words to tell stories about their lives. The goal of the workshop is to give kids the training and skill set needed to create a polished documentary piece of their own- and in doing so, empowering them to tell what they as young people are truly facing, thinking and saying.

In terms of developing my own documentary project, I am drawn to the South Boston community- the history of the place, what it used to be, and what it is today. I am interested in exploring issues of change and identity. From the old timers and baby boomers, to the younger generations, I am curious about the people who call Southie their home. For those who grew up in Southie, I wonder what it is like to see such changes- the elementary schools and the churches they attended have been torn down, the world they knew is being turned over into something else almost on daily basis.

Walking the other day on the East side, I came upon a stunning old church where a wrecking ball and a backhoe sat parked in a nearby. I had been photographing the neighborhood, the streets, and storefronts and anything that caught my eye. When I saw this, I stood and watched for a long time, imagining what was to come. Two men passing by confirmed it for me- they were tearing the old place down- half of it at least, the wing that had been a convent back in the day. I made a few pictures of it and went on my way. And sure enough, when I passed by a week later, the convent was no longer there, a pile of bricks stood in its wake. I would like to document this community that is rapidly changing. There is a sense of immediacy in this work, what is here today may not be tomorrow. On the same block as the church, there is a school where the boarded up windows are giving way. I wonder who came here, and how long it’s been empty like this, and how much longer it will stand.

 

 

Alphabet Project Exhibit

Jennifer Carpenter, a 2010-2011 Lewis Hine Fellow from the Center for Documentary Studies, spent 10 months working with the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) in Boston, Massachusetts. Inspired by the Literacy Through Photography

program, Jennifer conducted six workshops with children at BCNC to produce community alphabets. Each class produced a 26-photograph series corresponding to the 26 letters of the English alphabet. The goal of the Alphabet Project was to guide students toward a new appreciation of the power of photography as a catalyst from which to better understand their community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Alphabet Project’s youngest students admire their photographs of life in Chinatown. Carpenter led more than eighty students in The Alphabet Project, with participants ranging from ages five to seventy. Photo by Kye Liang.

 

The Alphabet Project is on display at BCNC and can also be viewed online: http://chinatownalphabetproject.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Alphabet Project
Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center
38 Ash Street, Boston, MA 02111
Mon–Fri, 8:30 a.m.–9 p.m.; Saturday, 12–10 p.m.