Casita Rincón Criollo AKA La Casita de Chema is a beautiful garden sanctuary in the South Bronx on the corner of 157th and Brook Ave. It once used to be an abandoned, garbage-filled lot in the 60s and 70s. Founder José Manuel “Chema” Soto used to pass by this lot regularly with his daughter. Finally fed up by the sights of rampant destruction and neglect, he and fifty other residents decided to clean up the lot – a land that they did not own – and turned it into a casita reminiscent of the Puerto Rican countryside. The lush space has been lovingly maintained by volunteers and community organizers since.
I had the opportunity to meet José who was one of several volunteers tending the garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon. A natural talker and entertainer, José showed us around the garden lined with lush pear and lemon trees. His eyes glimmered as he talked about their abundant harvest year after year. In a corrugated metal shed, another volunteer was setting up a makeshift meat smoker for a massive pig roast that they were planning to put on for Mother’s Day. “You’re all invited,” José told us warmly as he led us into the main casita.
The main casita was adorned with portraits of the great Chema as well as group shots of past and present members brimming with smiles and camaraderie. Sun-bleached frames and memorabilia hung from the low ceiling; in the center of the room were a row of fold-out tables with plenty of chairs to go around. Hell of a club house if you ask me.
Rincón Criollo serves as a thriving music venue and a mainstay of Puerto Rican identity in the South Bronx. The pure dedication of community members turning a dilapidated lot into a lush gathering space for their fellow countrymen is one of the many things that I love about this city.
It’s easy to become jaded in New York City. You are barely a blemish amongst 8 million people crawling in and out of a behemoth subway system lined with asbestos and rat nests. People – myself included – tend to keep to themselves and “stay out of trouble.” Ear buds in, eyes averted carefully beyond the right shoulder of the person sitting in front of you. God forbid we make eye contact with someone and they want to have a chat…
Enter: the busker. The brave individual who offers his or her talents to the public to penetrate the veil of apathy and convention. Thankfully, New York City is brimming with unbelievably talented buskers who draw people like me out of my lonely headspace. Lucy Adamas is one of them. I encountered Eli and Ryan several weeks back playing on the Union Square L-stop subway platform and fell in love with their sound immediately. They are a psychedelic fusion keyboard-and-percussion duo (yep, you read that right – no guitar!) with heavy downbeats and beautifully saturated melodies. They attract hoards of people regularly; often times the entire platform succumbs to their inimitable wavelength. Needless to say, I was beyond stoked when they kindly agreed to let me shoot them in Bushwick one Saturday afternoon.
The name Lucy Adamas is a Latin-derived word and roughly translates to “adamant light.” Through steady sound and radiance, they seek to gently uplift and expand the minds of those around them. The musical chemistry between Eli and Ryan is something to behold – amidst the scattered chaos of the subway platform they are able to improvise and harmonize with acute precision. Passing listeners have commented that their sound is a “little peek into what felt like a deep journey.”
Adamant light, indeed.
Check out their music here and follow them here for upcoming shows!
Ntrs Ra is a three-piece high existence spiritual hiphop group based in New York. Made up of artists/identical twins Kheper Ka M Heru and Ba n Ra and artist/femcee Boshia Rae Jean, Ntrs Ra is an eclectic blend of classic downbeats and progressive lyrics. I had the pleasure of meeting up with them one Saturday morning in the barren warehouse districts of Bushwick. The music was on, the weather was mild, their spiritual connection was beautifully palpable. Thank you for an amazing shoot, Ntrs Ra!
Imani is a dancer who recently made her debut as a theatre actor in Andrew Ondrejcak’s play Elijah Green. “Elijah changed my life,” she told me as we chatted about her dance career, film aspirations and her recent features in Paper Mag and Vogue Italia. A woman of many talents, Imani is currently hatching up plans to direct her first music video while continuing to pursue a thriving dance and acting career here in NYC.
Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Imani radiates a palpable passion for life and its many incongruencies. She is strong yet compassionate, willful yet remarkably endearing. Imani and I met up several days after my return from Japan and her contagious smile lifted my spirit as I readjusted to life back in NYC. Truly, there’s nothing like meeting a new kindred spirit to quell homesickness. We did a quick test shoot in her apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The pale morning sun filtered in through the window as she savored a bedside smoke (or three).
Follow Imani on Instagram to learn more about what she’s up to in NYC.
Tucked in the damp back streets of Nakano, Tokyo, is a small tattoo shop called Freestyle Tattoo. Around these parts the streets twist and turn into dizzying arrays of dead ends and alleyways. Faded graffiti and weathered signage adorn the walls amid a dark yet strangely nostalgic labyrinth of mom-and-pop izakayas. It seems painfully appropriate that Horitsuki-san chose this “shita-machi” district as the venue for his first Tokyo tattoo studio; his wabori work also conjures up a poignant blue-collar nostalgia, bolstered by stained hachi-maki towels and a crushed pack of smokes.
Admittedly, I was nervous leading up to this shoot. Horitsuki-san seemed friendly enough over email; however a part of me struggled to get over the hardy yakuza-affiliated horishi stereotype. Needless to say, I was taken aback when Horitsuki-san greeted me with a polite bow as he ushered me into his impeccably clean studio, complete with wall-to-wall sketches of past concepts and the faint aroma of cigarettes and rubbing alcohol permeating the tidy quarters. He offered me a smoke as he sat before his drawing board. Though he was 13 years my senior, he spoke to me in measured keigo, a formal Japanese vernacular dedicated to speaking to someone of seniority or of a higher status. We chatted up to the very last minute before his next sitting and snapped some shots of his studio and concepts, as well as some of his own tattoo pieces.
Horitsuki-san encountered irezumi in his late teens. “Some say I am mild-mannered for a tattoo artist,” he offers. “But I guess I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak.” In 1999, he began his career as a self-taught tattoo artist, specialising initially in Western tattoos. After several serendipitous encounters at international tattoo conventions, Horitsuki-san developed a renewed interest in traditional Japanese aesthetics. He has been pursuing wabori tattoos since. “My career has been largely shaped by the talented artists and mentors I have had the privilege to meet,” Horitsuki-san says. Perhaps the most endearing quality about this wabori artist is his undeniable humility and emphasis on go-en, or the serendipity of personal encounters, as his primary source of inspiration.