White sheets. Tousled hair. Weathered t-shirts. Sleepy eyes. These are what Saturday afternoons are made of.
Today, Meredith Adelaide welcomes us into her sun-drenched Brooklyn apartment as she stirs about in a perfectly broken-in Wildfang t-shirt. We chat about music, hipsters in Portland vs. NY, her recent self-portrait project and adjusting to life out here in NYC.
Jodi and I met back in 2009. I worked as a reporter for the college newspaper and had the pleasure of interviewing her for a feature story. I mustered up a wrinkled blazer and a scrappy notebook, trying to conjure up some semblance of a formal interview. It was one of my first stories, ever. I was nervous as sh*t.
Jodi sported a chic bob back then, with orange highlights. She was as graceful as they come. The rigid Q&A that I had rehearsed over and over in my dorm room thawed into fluid conversation. Soon enough, I had set my notebook down on the side table. We ended up having a two-hour conversation about our childhoods and what brought us to this nondescript border town in upstate New York.
This time was no different. Nearly five years later, we reunited at her cozy apartment in Harlem. Jodi’s hair was now cut short and adorned with a beautiful scarf; my blazer was replaced with a frayed hoodie and a camera bag. Jodi greeted me with the same grace that she had greeted me with years prior, except this time, we had the entire afternoon to catch up and wander around her neighborhood.
Less than a minute into our wander, we were met with a friendly holler from across the street. It didn’t take me long to learn that this was a regular thing in Harlem. As we strolled down Striver’s Row, I could see the Harlem Renaissance unravel before my eyes. The weathered brownstone walls and ornate railings seemed to radiate with a quiet prestige, a deep and perplexed triumph riddled with the pain of betrayal and cultural alienation.
Later we ducked into the Shrine, a beloved neighborhood world music venue. An intimate space with beautiful hardwood floors, it was a most welcoming venue adorned with funk paraphernalia and old school boom boxes. The weathered white brick walls were covered in art work, from faded photos to frayed vinyl records to vivid paintings by local multimedia artists. I could feel Jodi instantly relax as she sat on the old refurbished bench by the window. “This is where I feel the most true to myself,” she told me.
Born and raised in Jamaica, Jodi possesses a refined elegance and mindful poise that is difficult to come by in this ego-driven society. Conversations with her rarely begin with small talk; her carefully crafted words seem to aim directly at the marrow of your soul. She is one of those rare individuals who never ask people what they do — rather, she asks them what they love to do.
Jodi’s passions lie in creative writing and teaching. She hopes to instill confidence in intercity youth through collaborative projects such as performance arts and documentary filmmaking. A talented slam poet and performer herself, Jodi believes in the transformative power of presenting a labor of love to a larger audience, and how deeply validating that can be to a child during his or her formative years.
Jodi, describe yourself in one sentence:
Kata for water — dissertation of a homeless thought.
Oscar and I met back in 2009. A couple of friends and I had driven five hours down from upstate NY to spend the weekend in the city. We polished off some six-packs, brown-bagged the rest and walked across the Williamsburg Bridge into the dead of night like poster children of restless urban youth. We wore beat-up Chucks and sh*t-eating grins. We were proud, invincible, young.
Fast forward to: five years later. Here we are, in the same city, once again. Except this time, we’re on a rooftop in the middle of lower Manhattan and instead of cheap canned beer we’re drinking fancy bottled beer like the chichi adults we are. It’s 30 minutes to sundown and the mild September sunlight is simmering down to a warm shade of pink. We chat about the places we’ve lived and the people we’ve loved over the past five years while I, inevitably, point a camera in poor Oscar’s face.
Oscar was born in Colombia and immigrated here at the tender age of 12. It didn’t take him long to learn that New York operated on its own set of rules and agendas, especially within the ethnic enclaves. In the years following he remained an attentive son to his mother and a fierce protector of his younger sister while forging an identity here in the Lower East Side.
“I grew up in a family of women,” he tells me. Indeed, this is manifest in Oscar’s open, easygoing and deeply intuitive personality. As we came down from the rooftop and made our way down Clinton St. in the cooling dusk, he pointed out the very few establishments on the street he grew up in — a billiard room, a food stand, a bodega here and there — that remain the same. Everything else has been replaced by busy cafes and overpriced restaurants. “A lot has changed around these parts,” he offers wistfully. We leave the streets behind us as the night rolls in.
Oscar, describe yourself in one sentence.
A charming young man that embraces life and the arts around him.
I met Rachel during my first weekend out here in NYC. She was performing at the Paper Box in Bushwick, Brooklyn and I was immediately taken by her sultry, smoky tenor vocals combined with chilling electronic bass lines. In contrast to her commanding presence onstage, Rachel is a mild-mannered and endlessly kind woman with a single-minded devotion toward music and its profound ability to promote spiritual unity and tolerance.
Though she was born in Wisconsin, Rachel spent most of her formative years in Jamaica. Upon moving to New York City during her early teen years, she dove headfirst into a foreign world of American culture and insular high school politics.
“I was definitely an outsider,” she recalls.
A performer since childhood, Rachel eventually found solace in musical theatre. It provided her with a much-needed creative outlet as well as an impassioned, tight-knit community that carried her throughout adolescence. Community has since become an essential part of Rachel’s musical career. Aside from writing and performing as the Storyteller, Rachel actively supports emerging artists as the event coordinator of Mixed Pleasures Open Mic and Showcase at The Delancey every first Wednesday on the Lower East Side.
Rachel and I met up on a grey Sunday morning at The Bodega off Flushing and Troutman Ave. for a quick shoot and brunch afterwards. We walked from one block to the other, admiring the life-size wall art adorning the streets. Rachel posed gracefully as I pointed the camera at her standing right smack in the middle of the street, much to the dismay of Sunday bikers and drivers. Surprisingly, I didn’t get yelled at once.
Rachel, describe yourself in one sentence.
I am an outspoken listener and observer — a rebellious yet tolerant individual with a warrior-type mentality.
My heart fills to the brim when I think about all of the talented artists and musicians I have had the pleasure of meeting here in NYC. Stay tuned for more installments of the Portrait Studies series.
Portraiture is perhaps the most formidable form of artistic expression. I’ve steered clear of it due to an inexplicable fear that I would “do it wrong.” Being a hopeless introvert hasn’t helped, either. How presumptuous would I be to expect someone to unravel themselves when I myself reveal so little?
But after moving to New York and taking it upon myself to feverishly document the sights I’ve seen, the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met — I’ve ensconced myself to a new level of comfortability and a newfound desire to capture the beautiful souls I’ve been blessed to come into contact with. So, dear friends, I would like to present you with a new series on this little blog of ours — let’s call it Portrait Studies.
My first subject is Angel, a born-and-raised New Yorker of Dominican heritage. Angel and I met in the winter of 2009, during my semester-long stint at SUNY Plattsburgh. Ironically enough, our very first exchange was when he had approached me to take a photo of him in front of some shutters in the dining hall. Ever the OCD photographer, I asked him if he wanted a specific angle, a wide shot, a close-up — to which he answered, “Do what you feel is right.” We’ve been friends since.
Angel wears many hats, one of which includes being the program director of CFES: College For Every Student. He firmly believes in the power of higher education to increase social mobility and transform lives; he hosts workshops and speaks at public events to instill leadership and social entrepreneurship amongst at-risk youth.
At times bold and boisterous, at times quiet and thoughtful — Angel is an eclectic mix of zen mindfulness and Dominican jubilance. He frequently opens up his space to friends and loved ones and welcomes them with open arms and home-cooked meals. He is hands-down one of the most generous and ridiculously loyal individuals I have ever known.
Angel, describe yourself in one sentence:
A modern nomad with a keen sense of knowing when to stay still and quiet.
Stay tuned for more installments of the Portrait Studies series!