Year of the Rooster

Years ago when I lived in Chinatown, I had only to walk out my front door on Eldridge Street and I would become an incidental onlooker at the Lunar New Year Parade. This year I made the trek from Brooklyn to capture the festivities in Manhattan's Chinatown.

One thing I've always noticed is how the names of the animal signs in the Chinese Zodiac sound better, perhaps more elegant, in English than they do in Chinese. For example, if I were to translate the character for "rooster" literally into English, it wouldn't be the year of the rooster, but rather the year of the chicken. Born in 1985, my zodiac animal is the ox—that's Chinese for cow.

Making History at the Women's March

A few days after polls closed in the 2016 presidential election, I went on Etsy and ordered t-shirts emblazoned with the words "the future is female" for myself and all of my girlfriends. It felt as though no one had taken the blow of Trump's victory harder than the women who had supported Hillary—mothers who wanted their daughters to have a president in their own image to look up to, wives who watched Hillary stand by her husband through the Monica Lewinsky scandal, millennial women who believed that our country was finally ready to embrace gender equality by making a woman the most powerful person in the world.

Disappointment often leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, but the Women's March in D.C. on January 21, 2017 was anything but a pity party. In fact, with marches in cities around the country, the globe, and across all seven continents, the Women's March was the largest protest in American history. The feeling on the ground was awe-inspiring. Women and men, families with young children, circles of friends, church groups, and many more came from everywhere imaginable, some enduring 14-hour overnight bus rides to arrive at the mall in time for the first speeches of the day. Being there was an incredible gift that renewed my sense of optimism.

So what was it like to be a part of history in the making? Well, it was certainly chaotic at times. The D.C. organizers had not expected 500,000 marchers to show up. The metro lines into the city were packed to the gills and I was lucky to get on a train car at all. When I got to the mall, it was difficult to see or hear the stage. So instead of pushing into the crowd, I spent my time talking to other marchers, marveling at their clever and beautifully made protest signs (the logical outcome of Martha Stewart devotees showing up to a march), and just generally soaking in the positive vibes of inclusivity.

While I stood on the sidelines taking photos, a man in his sixties started up a conversation with me. He told me about how active he and his wife had been in local political groups and organizations, fighting for issues like reproductive health rights and equal pay; he told me with a tear in his eye that she had succumbed to cancer the year before, so he was marching in her stead. I gave him a big hug.

At another juncture in the march, I watched a circle of people holding hands surround two seemingly perplexed anti-abortion protestors holding pickets. Then the crowd started chanting "Love trumps hate!" over and over again, as if they were there to protect the anti-abortion protestors. And every time I tried to leave the march—to find a bathroom or get something to eat—I'd somehow end up back in the thick of it. That's just how big, sprawling, and all-consuming it was. If you were in D.C. that day, it was inescapable. 

The most reaffirming part of the experience was the opportunities for connection and conversation with other women across generations, races, religions, and sexual orientations. It made me hopeful for the hard work that's still ahead of us. The message to Trump was clear: we're here and we're not going anywhere. #RESIST

The slideshow below shares photos as well as some of the things marchers had to say (note: the quotes are paired with photos but do not always correspond to the person pictured). 

Nite Lite

"Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world, and the real world?"

Like a moth to the flame, there's something about the glittering lights of the urban nightscape that have always attracted my gaze. My mom recently commented on Instagram that when I was a little girl at SeaWorld, I had been enthralled by the twinkling lights strung on the trees. I stared up at them from my stroller all googly-eyed.

Things haven't changed much in thirty years. If you watch closely, you might catch me mid-crosswalk, looking up at the nighttime skyscrapers and squinting to make the lights go soft and glowy like a kaleidoscope.

This past fall I began prowling city streets at night with a camera in hand. I was naturally drawn to the usual suspects.

These photos were taken using a Canon T4i on lend from ICP, where I took Digital Photography I and finally learned how to use a DSLR. They represent the beginning of a project I call Nite Lite: eerie, fluorescent scenes from urban modernity that are at once familiar and disorienting. 

These images aim to invoke a dream world, the other side of the looking glass, a domain that only emerges after dark.

The thrill for me, as I continue to shoot photos for this project, is figuring out whether I've stepped into a good dream or a bad dream. Which did I take, the red pill or the blue pill?

What Atget Saw

On a recent trip to the MET, I found something I wasn't supposed to find. I was strolling through the Photographer of Paris exhibition, a show dedicated to Charles Marville, the official photog of Paris in the 1860s whose body of work constitutes an exhaustive visual survey of the city, when I stepped into an adjacent room arranged with photographs from other observers of the city.

There I was immediately drawn to a sepia-toned photo of a cafe, its sidewalk tables and chairs organized neatly underneath an awning. A perfect symbol of Parisian life (one imagines Hemingway sitting at Les Deux Magots, people-watching as he enjoyed a coffee or something stronger), except that the seats are vacant and the cafe is ghastly empty. 

I was entranced. The caption said the photo had been taken by a Eugène Atget. Now there's a photographer after my own heart, I thought.

Sometimes I feel the need to apologize for taking photos without any people in them, as if I fear being accused of anesthetizing the experience of a place and its human complications. But the objects of a place, the ornamental details, the colors, the detritus, are simply where my eyes are most often drawn. 

Not for nothing have Atget’s photographs been likened to those of the scene of a crime. But is not every square inch of our cities the scene of a crime? Every passer-by a culprit?
— Walter Benjamin

The casual observer may not notice much of a difference between the work of Charles Marville and Eugène Atget. After all, a photo of a lamppost or a cobblestoned street is ostensibly just that, a photo of a lamppost or a cobblestoned street. Personally, though, I found Marville's photos a bit of a snooze--sterile and archival, too much like the government survey they were meant to be. Yet Atget's photos seem to take on a life of their own, mainly because they are so surreally emptied out and abandoned. You are allowed to imagine the lives that tarried there, and sometimes you catch the smudge of a shadow standing in a doorway.

These images are evidence, documents of the world created by humans and then left behind. Because his pictures isolate scenes that we see every day, they cause us to reconsider the ordinary with a heightened sense of awareness, beckon us to appreciate the beauty in the simple details of our daily existence.

[Atget] will be remembered as an urbanist historian, a genuine romanticist, a lover of Paris, a Balzac of the camera, from whose work we can weave a large tapestry of French civilization.
— Berenice Abbott