Until 2011, as a photographer, and former public school art teacher, photographing Brooklyn families was my primary focus. In the Presence of Family: Brooklyn Portraits, celebrates family relationships in the myriad forms they take -extended family, LGBTQ and interracial families-- in an era that increasingly turns even our most basic relationships into news bites or consumer transactions. Inherent are issues of race, gender, class and diversity.
In 2011, I began research on women’s oppression by reading on the subject of women, homelessness and mental illness. I discovered that, ‘Widespread homelessness among mentally ill New Yorkers became a fact of life in the 1980s due in large part to the combination of a huge loss of low-cost housing through gentrification and the failure of policy makers to create adequate community-based care for mentally ill people released from long-term hospitalizations.’*
I began working, as a professional photographer and a teacher of art, with the women who reside in the Park Slope Women’s Shelter in Brooklyn, a part of CAMBA, Inc., a MICA shelter (Mentally Ill Chemical Abuse), ‘CAMBA began operating the Park Slope Women’s Shelter in 1996. CAMBA operates this homeless shelter for 100 mentally ill, substance-abusing women at the Park Slope Armory in Brooklyn. The supportive, structured and therapeutic facility provides temporary housing, nutritious meals and comprehensive services and assistance. The Park Slope Women’s Shelter enables mentally ill and often substance-abusing women to stabilize their condition and move toward permanent and/or supported housing. Meals and onsite medical and psychiatric services are provided.
Services focus on rapid re-entry into the community to minimize the impact of homelessness while meeting their immediate needs.”*
After volunteering for four years in the Park Slope Women’s shelter, I've grown to recognize the qualities these women offer to themselves and to me. They are stronger, more resilient than one might think. They learn to cope with their disabilities and struggle to recreate their lives. Moving into their own apartment is paramount. Shelter, as with anyone, is their first step for getting back on track.
In my photographs, these women are subjects calling on us, the observers, to consider our relationship to their humanity and how our own actions might play a role in allowing the destruction of community and the social safety net. What I do is portray these women, who we might look at as 'not like us', who we might not even notice, as having the same dreams and aspirations as everyone, even though they have been deemed mentally ill.