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New York City | Dancing Underground

I apologize for this late post as it is a series of photographs from my recent trip to New York City this past summer where a chance encounter led to an amazing experience. To my defense I have been extremely busy working on a variety of projects here in Calgary and committing to a total renovation of a home I recently purchased. Again my apologies and I hope you enjoy this post. It was July 13th and I was leaving New York City in three days after already spending an incredible three weeks in the big apple. I was taking the express train from Harlem into Manhattan to return a set of stands that I had rented for a previous shoot for a Tap Dancing Company a couple days prior. As I made my way onto the train squeezing myself into any available space I could find, I jammed myself up against a door mid way down the cart, with my stands tucked between my legs trying not to injure anyone in the process. As soon as the train started to proceed to the next station, there was this sudden "WHAT TIME IS IT?" at the top of someone's lungs immediately followed by "IT'S SHOWTIME" from what sounded like a few other young boys. Then again the same words repeated"WHAT TIME IS IT?" ....then "IT'S SHOWTIME". That's when it all happened. A group of five young boys started dancing in the middle of the train cart accompanied by a very loud portable speaker system that was strapped to a make shift grocery dolly playing some old school funk. In the span of 3 minutes these boys took turns dancing in a space that was no larger than six feet by six feet successfully landing and performing head-spins, front flips, freezes, floor work, table tops, and even gymnastic flares. Their feet, hands, and bodies came within centimeters of the commuters where even the slightest change of their positions would have left someone severely bruised or badly injured. Some people watched in absolute amazement, others did not even look to see or acknowledge what was going on. At one moment one of the boys jumped above someone sitting down where he grabbed the hand rail above the woman then threw his body into a complete flip pushing himself off the bar and landing back on his feet in front of the same woman sitting down. She did not even flinch as she was on her phone.

Once the music stopped, some people started clapping, cheering, and began taking photographs with their phones. The group of boys thanked the crowd and made their way around the train cart with an empty baseball cap in their hands accepting any cash people were willing to give. I waited till one of the boys came past me where I handed him five dollar note. Immediately I thought to myself I have to follow these guys around for a day. The train was about 30 seconds from the next stop so I quickly pulled one of the boys aside and told them who I was, what I was doing in New York, and if I could photograph the five of them for an entire day. They gave me their number and told me to call them that night to set up a time.

The next day I met up with the five boys; Angel, Ouba, Aidan, Josh, and Stefy. Angel and Josh are brothers and the other boys came from other b-boy crews where they  created their own called "2 Real 2 True 4 Breakin". The boys do not just choose any train to dance on, they choose to ride the same route all day getting on only the express line and returning to the loop over and over again which allows the group to dance longer with fewer stops. Once the group arrives on the platform they quickly choose their commuter cart carefully looking for the group size of commuters to generate more tips but not to many so they are unable to have room to dance. Once we got onto the train and the doors closed, the boys immediately sprang into action. Josh immediately shouting the same words I heard the day before "WHAT TIME IS IT?".... and the rest of the boys responding "IT'S SHOWTIME". The music starts, they clear the space, and they waste no time and start performing as people are still trying to figure out what is happening on their daily commute. Each of boys takes a turn dancing, showcasing their moves while anticipating the trains movement so they don't fall or accidentally collide with any bystanders. The song finishes and they proceed through the crowd collecting any cash they can before the train reaches the next station. We get off and wait for the train to take us back the other way. We complete this cycle over and over again over a span of 5 hours running from car to car to find the best train cars to dance on.

Sometimes when trains are running late the boys will practice moves and techniques on the platform, listen to music, count the tips they have made, or chat with other crews that are also dancing on the subway to earn some extra cash. On average the group earns about $250 in three to four hours and all money is divided evenly amongst the group. The five of them are all born and raised in New York and they live in Bronx. Some of the boys parents support what they do, others do not as they are are encouraged to pursue other avenues of earning extra cash.

 

New York City | Dancing Underground

 

 

Love: Stranger Series New York City

There is something to be said about going for a walk. I find walking alone especially with a camera can be one of the most calming and exhilarating experiences as a photographer because you never know who or what your going to run into and it forces you to slow down and really look at your surrounding environment. On one particular day as I was just spending the day... you guessed it... walking, I came to the intersection of Tillary street and the entry route onto the Brooklyn bridge. At this intersection I noticed a man walking from car to car as they were stopped at the intersections red light. As I walked a little closer, I noticed the man was quite well dressed and in one arm he had a hand full of the newspapers and in the other hand a stack of ready made six inch pies. Now I have seen people in other countries selling flowers, fruit, and even tombstones to people in parked cars but never pie and the daily news from a single person. As I made my way over to the side of the road where he was conducting his business with the temporarily stopped cars, it was surprising to see he was making quite a few sales in the short amount time I had since noticed him. The street light turned green, the cars drove away, and the man waited patiently along the side of the road for the next set of traffic to stop at the lights. I walked over to see this man and asked him what he was selling. It turned out to be sweet potato pies and the local newspaper. When I asked for his name he stumbled his words and said "Ahhh... My name is Love". I was surprised by the name but didn't question how or where he got his name from. I tried asking him more about his life but he insisted right away he did not want to talk about himself, so Instead I asked if I could take his picture. Again his demeanor changed instantly from the smiley happy pie and paper salesman to becoming a little anxious and questioned me why I wanted to photograph him. I told him what I was doing, where the photographs would end up, and for more peace of mind I gave him my business card. By this time more cars had stopped at the intersection and I told him to think about it and go look after his customers. After the light had turned green, Love walked back to where I was standing and happily agreed.

 

 

 

Ahmed: Stranger Series New York City

As I was walking the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City this past summer (2013), I noticed a elderly man on the pedestrian path was selling water out of a portable cooler on a dolly. Now if you have never been to New York City in the summer time it gets ridiculously hot especially during the heat waves, and just my luck the entire three weeks I was there it was 35 degrees every day. As soon as I heard this man shout out "COLD WATER.... ONLY ONE DOLLA" in his Arabic accent I could not resist. Gulping down the water as quickly as I gave the man my money I decided to see if he would allow me to take his photo. The man graciously said yes and we exchanged names. His name was Ahmed and he had been in New York for the past 6 weeks and was headed back to Egypt to see his family at the end of the summer. After our small and brief conversation Ahmed immediately asked a passing tourist to take a photo of the two of us on his mobile phone. We thanked each other for the encounter and we went our separate ways.  

Intimate Interviews in Pabna: Portraits and Words From Two Sex Workers

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 03:32 PM PST On the bus to Pabna I met two fantastic Bengali’s who offered to take me around the town of Pabna by getting me access to anything I so curiously decide to photograph. In my previous blog post you had the opportunity to see inside the mental institution where Reza and Licholn were able to volunteer their time and them-selves helping me gain the access I needed. Reza and Licholn also work for a local initiative where basic health education, STD testing/treatment, condoms, and support is offered to the thousands of sex workers (8,000-10,000) that call Pabna and the surrounding area home.

This blog post is dedicated to the woman and children that are continually being exploitive around the world through trafficking, prostitution, and abuse. This is a topic that has always interested me. I do not know exactly what specifically it is about this topic that interests me but I can not help but think how sex workers have no alternative choice in a life when there are no other options available.

One evening Reza, Licholn, and I were walking through one of the markets after dinner talking about the organization they work for. Suddenly, a woman came up to the two of them and started enthusiastically joking with them. She was short, wearing a beautiful dark maroon Sari that was covered in sequence and gem stones. Her hair was beautifully curled and her make-up done as if she was about to take part in the next up and coming Bollywood film. Suddenly Reza opens his bag and hands this woman what looked like to be about 20-30 condoms. After the three of them saw my reaction they immediately started laughing and told me that she was a very close friend, she was also a sex worker in Pabna.

This woman was smiling, laughing, and I could not help but notice how confident she carried herself through her posture, body language, and how open she was open about her sexuality in a Muslim society as she joked around with the three of us, Reza obviously doing the translating. My curiosity got the best of me and I couldn’t help but wanting to seize an opportunity asking her if she would be open to an interview, followed by having her portrait taken, and if she knew any other woman that would be open to this suggestion. Without hesitation, tilting her head to the side with a cheeky smile letting me know she would be more than happy, not before expressing how excited she was to get all dulled up for a photo-shoot and having her photograph taken. We agreed on a time, date, locations, we then said our goodbyes, and parted ways until the interviews the following day.

The day of the interview, Lobani (Woman I met at the night market), Reza, Licholn, Bornna (Lobani’s friend and sex worker), and I went to a guesthouse where the owner of the guesthouse gave us a meeting room free of charge. When we entered the room there were couches and chairs surrounding one main table in the center with two windows offering ample enough light to take photographs. I briefed Reza and Licholn before the interview on what I was going to ask Bornna and Lobani and what I needed from them in regards to translating. As always they were SUPER awesome, supportive, and cooperative.

I sat Lobani and Bornna down and told them what my intentions were behind the interviews, asking them to answer the questions honestly, and to not feel obligated to answer or talk about anything they felt uncomfortable with. I wanted them to be as comfortable and open with me as much as they would allow me to.

When I first met Bornna she had a stone cold sarcastic attitude about her. She was very direct and to the point. She walked with confidence and would speak her mind without hesitation to anyone her challenged her, including men. I found loyal characteristics in her personality surviving on her “treat me as how you want to be treated” attitude or you will feel this woman’s wrath…. Literally.

At first glance Lobani is very short in stature with curves similar to Aretha Franklin. Her eyes are bright allowing her to smile with her eyes like a shy eight year old with a subtle carefree softness to her personality. I found her a bit mysterious yet her smile and child like attitude could melt anyone’s soul with pure love.

The interviews lasted about 1.5 hours, which included a list of questions that I asked both Lobani and Bornna.

The following text will go through the interview so you have an idea of what was asked and how they responded.

LOBANI INTERVIEW:

How old are you?

L-I am 32 years old.

Are you married?

L-I was once married but my husband left me. He left me for another woman when I was 19.

Do you have any children?

L-I do not have any children.

How long have you been a sex worker?

L-Ten years.

 

Lobani immediately breaks down and we take ten minutes so she can regain her composure.

 

Where are your parents?

L-My parents have passed on.

Who are the men that come to you for sex?

L-Police, politicians, husbands, NGO executives, charity workers, and single men.

Where do you live?

L-I live alone in town and usually every two months or so I have to find a new place to live, as my landlord does not want a prostitute living in his building.

How much are you able to earn from each man that comes to you for sex?

L-I make on average about 300-500 taka per session ($3.50-$6.50) it works out to be around 10,000 Taka per-month ($125.00)

Do you see yourself getting married again?

L-No

Why not?

L-I have lost faith in ALL men, and I will never trust another men as long as I am alive.

 

BORNNA INTERVIEW:

How old are you?

B-I am 27 years old.

Were you ever married?

B-My husband left me just like Lobani’s husband left her for another woman.

Do you have any children?

B-I do, her name is Shonile and she is nine years old.

How long have you been a sex worker?

B-Eight years.

How often do men come to you for sex?

B-It depends; some months and weeks are busier than others. It is never consistent it’s always up and down.

Where do you live?

B-I live with my mother.

Does she know you’re a sex worker?

B-NO.

What would your mother do or how would she react if she found out about your situation?

B-…(Making a choking action with her hands).

Have you re-married?

B-No and I will never get married again.

Have you ever suffered from any physical abuse from the men that come to you for sex?

B-Every week.

What exactly do these men do to you?

B-Spit on me, kick me, punch me, call me names, and rape me when I don’t want to give them sex.

How many times have Lobani and you been raped?

B-It happens about twice a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. On some occasions groups of men will come where only one person commits to payment and the rest of them will rape me.

What do you Lobani and Bornna hope for in life?

B-We pray for when life will get better, to stop doing things we are ashamed of, to live a life with happiness.

 

Lobani.

 

Lobani.

 

Lobani.

 

Bornna.

 

Bornna.

 

Bornna.

 

Bornna & Lobani.

 

Reza.

 

Licholn.

Bihari Refugee Camp

Posted: 12 Dec 2011 04:24 AM PST This series of images is of the Bihari refugee camp in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Having trouble getting detailed information from some of the residents, I did some research and found a fantastic article on this particular topic. Now I have never been in a refugee camp and from what I have seen from other photographers images, media, etc. this particular camp is more of a local community/town rather than a camp. Their are schools, markets, businesses, and even entertainment where daily life seems to be manageable within this community, not to mention many smiling faces and the most amazing hospitality… but that is is pretty much what to expect anywhere in Bangladesh..HA!!

Article:

The word ‘Bihari’ literally means a person who belongs to the state of Bihar of India. In Bangladeshi context any one who speaks Urdu is considered to be a Bihari whether that person comes from Bihar or not. Before the Bangladesh Liberation war in 1971, Pakistan Biharis came to East Pakistan in different phases. They were considered as citizens of Pakistan. After the independence of Bangladesh, the Pakistani army evacuated and these Biharis were left behind. Bangladesh scorned the Biharis for having supported the enemy and an anti- Bihari sentiment instigated political persecution and their homes and properties were taken over by the Bengali’s. After the creation of Bangladesh, almost all Biharis were fired from their jobs on various pretenses. Bihari children were expelled from schools. Bihari pensions, bank accounts and investments were seized. Most Bihari homes and businesses were declared abandoned/enemy properties and therefore confiscate under cover of law. Several Government promulgations facilitated the dispossession of Bihari properties. As a result, by mid 1972 nearly one million Biharis found themselves in temporary camps set up around the country.

Bangladesh Government announced the Presidential Order 149 in 1972- as a step towards offering the Bangladeshi citizenship to these Bihari people. According the Government sources nearly 600,000 Biharis accepted the offer. Later, these people assimilated with the larger population and settled down properly. But at that time, a survey was conducted by the ICRC which found that 539,669 Biharis wanted to go back to Pakistan as it was their country of nationality. ICRC started registration for the repatriation of these people without any legal sanction from both the countries.

Later, Pakistan refused to recognize all these Urdu speaking people as her bona fide citizens who already declared themselves as Stranded Pakistanis by registering with the ICRC. Islamabad showed little interest in repatriation because to them they were basically Indian refugees. During the first year of post liberation period this community was quite confident that Pakistan would welcome them as their loyal citizens. From their side, all efforts were made through ICRC and other sources to influence the concerned authorities that the only solution to this problem was repatriation to Pakistan.

In December 2008 general election in Bangladesh, a portion of these Bihari people who were born after 1971 were able to cast their vote for the first time as the citizens of Bangladesh. They are also registered for the National ID card which is associated with getting many benefits in social, economic and political life. In September 2008, Caretaker Government of Bangladesh took this laudable step to reduce their stateless situation.

TO READ THE FULL ARTICLE PLEASE VISIT: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=9&ved=0CGEQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fakira-foundation.org%2FDocuments%2Ffellow%2520product%2520%28Tasmia%29.pdf&ei=Yt_lTr-XNY3prQeDl7CXCA&usg=AFQjCNF-ThfA4NULaIllXmxmF43yMEOPgg&sig2=h8h3P4EMPtb0s1i-b1XJPw