Monday, April 26, 2010


This Saturday, I took part in interviewing three influential figures who all had plenty to say about the changes in Harlem. Dr. Muriel Petioni, a lifelong Harlemite, was definitely the most helpful one. Her insight on the matter made me look at the entire project in a different light. She said while gentrification occurred, the culture of Harlem will survive. With this message enforced several times throughout the interview, I could truly say that my thoughts about the project were rocked. After hearing so many contradictory statements in my readings, such a passionate person who cared so deeply for Harlem and has (and still does at the age of 95) fought for it was telling me something that was so different than anything I heard. I can truly say at this moment, I had a breakthrough. My one reason to getting into this project was to see how Harlem's culture would be persevered throughout it's "cleansing". While the displacement of the lower class is concerning, the gentrification of Harlem, according to Dr. Petioni, has brought much more good than bad. The faster emergency response times, better schools, cleaner streets, and a more beautiful Harlem have made the neighborhood she has grown up in and loved a much better place. The culture will always be there she said. The morals and ideas brought to us by the Harlem Renaissance will always be present and they will survive. While whites are moving in, there has also been a resurgence by the black middle class.

I plan to get two more interviews done by next week. Those interviews are scheduled, and after they are done, I should be on my way to completing my book. Since I have the basic layout down, all I really need to do is pick and choose quotes and pictures. I am very excited to finally be done and get this book sent in. My only real obstacle is attempting to get funding by the FOCUS program. While I would be able to spend the necessary funds to get the books, it would definitely be helpful if the FOCUS program had enough in the budget to help pay for the books. This would take a large burden off of me and my family as we prepare for college and all the expenses that come with that. I plan to send an email to Mrs. Schwartz regarding this, and hopefully we can establish an agreement.

Creating the Book

As I wrap up field work, one thing that will be very crucial for me is how my book is presented. My book will make or break my final project grade, and therefore, I have dedicated the past week to really making sure that I have a proper layout when everything is wrapping up. I have decided to go the route of using one of iPhoto's premade books while designing pages in Photoshop. In order to do this, I have to design every page on a page by page basis and then import it into iPhoto. While this is very tedious, this will allow me the freedom to make the design whatever I desire. It will allow me to be able to play with font, picture placement, and text in a creative manner that can also effectively put my message out. I have decided already decided on fonts that I would use throughout the book. For bigger texts (titles of chapters, important quotes, etc.), I decided to go with "Arial Black" or "Elephant". Both of these fonts offer me a bold and clean type that I can play with creatively. For smaller text (such as quotes and titles of pieces) I decided to go with either Helvetica or Georgia. Both are very simple, yet clean and effective.

In terms of the other aspects of my project, I am progressing nicely. I have added a few more photographs to my portfolio which should be developed soon, as well a couple of interviews have been done. I got in contact with my mentor, who gave me some sound advice about my pictures. She said as I progress with my project, I should focus more on the people and "personalities" of Harlem rather than just the physical changes. She encouraged me to enhance my story telling while still maintaining my good eye and composition.

Monday, April 12, 2010


While I have had several informal interviews, I fail to have achieved formal interviews so far. It is not because I haven't scheduled them, but rather they have either been cancelled last minute or due to weather I could not get into the city. However, in these last three weeks, I have scheduled my formal interviews with some pretty amazing people who will have a lot of insight on my topic. I am really excited to continue to meet with people and learn more about the topic at hand. Picture wise, however, I really need a couple of days of concentrated walking. This is going to be expensive, however, because I will have to buy about 5 or 6 rolls of film for about two days of pictures, however in the end, it should all be worth it. Mr. Emery suggested I focus now more on people rather than the architecture, which I agree with. The one fear I have to get over is taking pictures people even when I don't know them. I either have to be extremely discrete, or just get the courage to just do it. Considering I am not breaking any laws, I don't see the reason to not be somewhat "nosy" with my camera. If this project is to succeed, I am going to have to conquer my fear of being seen.

While the interview aspect of this project has proved to be annoying and frustrating, I am confident that everything will turn out very well. What has helped me persevere and succeed so far is my hopefulness and my willingness to adapt. These last three weeks of field work will provide me with a time to compile everything I need, and hopefully developing this book won't take a long time. I need to research publishing sites, page sizes, etc., and really explore how I am going to design this book, which shouldn't take more than a couple of days. One thing that concerns me is my budget. I really need to think of cost efficiency, and how to save as much money as possible.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Looking at What I Have

As I prepare for Pull Out Day, I realized I really have to analyze where I am and what I have. While I definitely have enough material for me to survive on Pull Out Day, I realize that during Spring Break, I am going to be doing a lot of work. I have not met personal goals that I set in the beginning of the process, which is worrisome, yet can easily be fixed by putting in a lot of days during the Break. I still managed to look back and see what I had and what I was working with, which was surprisingly a great foundation. I have a few pictures I could use in my book which really show a couple of things: contrasts and emotion.

This is by far my favorite picture. This was taken right off of 125th, depicting these new beautiful apartments. In the corner, however, is an older black male who isn't quite letting go. He kept screaming things as people walked by, and while I couldn't understand him, he seems to be a usual to the area. People who walked by smiled, as if he was a familiar face in this area. In order to stay discrete and keep the validity of the image (in other words, make sure the image is raw, and not staged), the photo doesn't give a great view of the man's expression or facial details. This makes me think about what lenses I am using. The three I have at my disposal are a 28mm lens, 50mm lens, and a 135mm lens. The 135mm would give me a close up view of the man, but at the same time, I lose the entire background (buildings and architecture). If I use the 28mm, I get everything in one image, but lose details up close. I have to make decisions like this on the fly and ensure that everything I desire to be in the image is in there while still getting all the detail I could possibly fit in one picture.

While this isn't an image that I would want in the final product, I like how this picture shows what Harlem is becoming. The background shows new buildings, while the graffiti covered ones are fenced off, preparing for demolition, and another brand new building will rise. A struggle in this picture was composing it well enough to see the barren ground that now is there while still getting the buildings in the background. Also, I didn't want the fence to be a distraction, but I wanted the viewer to see that it was there. While this photo was difficult to compose, I was still happy with the end result, but don't think that it has the quality or the meaning to really go into the final book.

This picture is the final one from 125th that I really liked. It really showed the true essence of my project, which is change. While on others I felt as if underexposure (meaning the picture is darker) served the image well, I don't think underexposure in this picture made it any better. I might bump the contrast up in photoshop and mess around there to get the look I want. The images message, however, is the exact one I was hoping to depict to the focus panel.

*NOTE: images are cut off (width). Click on the images for the full pictures*

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Start Developin' Those Photos!

I can finally deem this week a successful week. I had my fair share of research this week, which was focused around photography. I then took to the streets twice (Friday and Sunday) for some real extensive photography sessions. I got a few really good shots, however I used another two rolls of film. I haven't really addressed the issue of efficiency of every frame I shoot, however I feel as if I'm going to do this project right, I will have to take over 200 pictures and pick the best twenty. While that seems like a waste, it is the best way to approach this because out of my hundreds of pictures will come a good amount that will having a lasting image on the viewer and answer guiding questions.

I read a couple of articles about street photography this week, which allowed me get in the mindset of a street photographer. While this is the main style I shoot with, I needed to remind myself of the very basics. Everything from camera to what you wear makes a huge difference. I own two cameras that I will use extensively during this project. One is my Olympus OM-4, which should be effective for more obvious "streetscapes". My other camera is a Yashica Autofocus, which is very quiet and doesn't require all of the attention my Olympus SLR does. The Yashica is just essentially point and shoot, which will give a very raw photo. I will use that for more on the street portraits, and will use that when I am being discrete, meaning I will not be looking through a viewfinder. This style is called "shooting from the hip". It gives a different perspective and feel that is much more raw than a staged photo.

While I have only scratched the surface of what is my focus project, I am happy to say that where I am is a great place. I'm starting to grow a level of comfort in Harlem that will allow me to venture deeper into it. So far I have only been to the main parts of it (125th, Frederick Douglas Drive, Malcolm X Boulevard). I feel as if my deeper and more interesting discoveries will be made in spots that I won't expect to look in. While I haven't had any "breathtaking" discoveries yet, I have met a few personal goals of mine, which make me feel really good about my progress.

What is frustrating is my inability to develop my film until Wednesday. I really wanted to show my progress photography wise with my class. What I really need to do is think of an efficient way of storing my negatives for the long term. I used to store my negatives in envelopes, but after a while they got dusty and scratched. I need to start buying plastic sleeves that will safely store my negatives until I get them professionally printed.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Snow Snow Snow

So far, my project has been being ceased by a little something called snow. I have had to cancel interview after interview because snow seems to love Friday's and I get snowed in my house. Unfortunately, Friday's are my main day to do interviews, so I have been getting really annoyed at that. Luckily, I was able to hop into Harlem today and get some nice pictures of 125th. I'm currently waiting to get the film developed, but as soon as that happens, I'll scan them and post them. While I stated in my project proposal I might do a lot of digital, I realize that as an artist, that is not something I want to do.

What I have been really focused on in these last weeks has been the guiding question "is there a depleting culture in Harlem, or have things stayed the same?" My struggles have simply been that I haven't had enough time to see Harlem. I need to start vamping up my visits if I truly wish to answer this question. What I have found through books and research has been quite revealing though. Several sources have been contradicting others, and I think this really calls for me to go to Harlem myself and really analyze this guiding question. Some sources are saying that now a days a majority of whites have been taking over housing and commerce in Harlem, while other sources are saying there are just as many blacks in Harlem, but just a different socioeconomic class of blacks are living there.

Another thing I have had to think about is budget. Through buying all the chemicals, film, camera batteries, metrocards, etc., I figure I have to plan how to use my materials efficiently. In two hours alone, I used two rolls of film, which is good and bad. I figure that it is good to have a lot of photos, but at the same time, I don't know if I can afford to keep up that pace for too long. I need to plan a way to make more of each picture I expose.

The snow days have hit two of my Friday's, and I was sick one, causing me to lose three. It is extremely frustrating to lose such a key day. This makes the whole process frustrating because I haven't been getting enough data to analyze and make conclusions from. What I need to learn is to how to use the hours I have more efficiently. As with the my film and photography, time needs to be used just as carefully. I feel as if when I'm in Harlem, I seem to get lost in such a world that provides so much wonder to me and is right now so mysterious to me. While I studied it carefully in the fall, the world that I see now through my own eyes and lens is one very different that no book could possibly prepare me for. I need to start making plans to learn the city through an experts mouth rather than attempt to learn it all through my eyes. While that style of learning has merit, I don't think for a project of such academic standards it would be the best possible approach. I think comparing my observations with the thoughts and opinion of an expert (such as someone from the Schomburg), I can learn a lot more.

These past weeks have proven to be tough, though I'm starting to overcome some obstacles due to some things starting to come together. While before I was really focused on interviews, I now focus on photography. Interviews being canceled multiple times can be frustrating, so I decided that for right now I would focus on my photos and make sure that I have a solid foundation to work with and answer some guiding questions with. I want this project to show how much of a research tool art can be, and I hope that my art can help me answer a few guiding questions. While one could explain with words and essays, I feel as if one picture is powerful enough to explain the exact same thing.