As a media maker, my life generally revolves around being behind the camera. So when approached by the wonderful Rene Alegria (of Mamiverse.com the (online hub for Latina moms and families to be featured in an online video for Charmin, I was excited. I have been on television, short form video and shows many times before but this time felt a little different - perhaps because it’s been a while. Working with Lindsay Allen () of Say Media (@saymedia), who produced the piece was really amazing. Her kindness and talent is only matched by her professionalism. Magnet Media () was the amazing group who shot and directed the piece and it’s always fun to see other production companies do their thing and do it well. 

Here is a “Behind the Scenes” look at the experience shot by Julian Gerena-Quinones () of Create The Remarkable, Inc. () Please appreciate the courage it takes for me to let you see me in curlers ;) 

To watch the video itself visit : http://bit.ly/1eR4i7b

"The Master's Tools"

I finally have a photograph of my father’s right hand as a reminder of the 30 years he couldn’t close it. I can finally share the image of that slightly swollen mitt with cracked canyons and calloused mounds that once lived solely in my mind. Even without an image, I remember the way it felt when I held his hand and how he hardly ever caressed my face as he knew it would feel like sandpaper against my delicate cheek.

As I grew up his hand embodied my dad’s sacrifice to us. For me, deformed and all, it was amazingly beautiful. Although my dad’s hand was a huge physical vulnerability for him, to me it was a symbol of his greatest strength – his dedication to raising his family.  Both my parents worked feverishly in garment factories for the majority of my youth. My dad was a pattern cutter and my mom was a machine operator. Although they continuously told me not to tell anyone what they did for a living, I was always secretly extremely proud. 

You would never know how much he (and we) cared for that hand. Every night he would sit with an emery board and attempt to sand off the hand hoping to be able to close it before going to bed. I would wrap it for him in cotton strips after saturating it in Vaseline. On the worse days, usually in the dead of winter, the cracks would bleed. He would tape up the joints of his fingers with electrical tape in the morning and go straight to work. He never, ever complained.

There are countless workers in America whose bodies become distorted as a result of the intense and often repetitive work they carry out. Some endure life altering injuries. Some even lose parts of their bodies.  These workers are diligent, dedicated and above all dignified. It is with honor that I announce my new project, “The Master’s Tools”, where I document these workers and their bodies throughout the United States with a series of intense and intimate portraits. The project is shot primarily in medium format film. The documentary component has short films that document the experience of capturing the images and meeting these great people.

Please join my mailing list by contacting me at shirleyshoots@gmail.com to receive updates and to learn more about how you can get involved. Please visit my site at www.shotbyshirl.com for more information on me and to see samples of my work. 

Taking a shot and seeing the signs

I am incredibly good at kicking myself in the ass for missing out on an obvious opportunity. It is my nature to be controlling at times so it sometimes takes a pretty big thought process to just pause to experience a moment - even when it comes to taking an image.  I took the train today - which I rarely do - and as I did I passed up the chance to capture a moment  I absolutely should have paused for. As I transferred from the L to my next connection, there was a jovial man wearing an electric blue and submarine yellow suit holding a large hand-written sign.  He stood above the 6 train platform holding his message which read:

"Smile! You are beautiful. " 

I, perpetually in a rush, convinced myself that my tardiness was the reason I couldn’t stop to get the shot - although I composed and lit it in my head. In retrospect I see I was perhaps afraid of engaging in the moment he presented: actually stopping for a moment to contemplate my own existence, beauty and actually, during my crazy day stop and smile?

As I walked a few hours later, there was a young man asleep on the sidewalk outside of Paragon on Broadway. He held a sign, half written, and his hand holding an opened marker suggested he had actually fallen asleep while writing out the sign - his plea for some sort of help, compassion, understanding, humanity… It reads:

"Just Tryi…"

I turn away and start to walk, never quite knowing what to do - Wanting to help, but knowing that  money I could leave in the cup of this sleeping young man would likely be stolen.  If I took out my camera and actually photographed him, what would that say about me? Would that be wrong; an exploitation? I ponder and over-ponder , as I always do and finally decide. Perhaps by capturing the moment I could help in a different way.  I walk back towards him, take out my camera and take the shot.

A block later,  I revisit another sign I passed hours earlier. Abandoned it has a similar message that I finally stop to read:

"Just trying to live. Anything helps. Thank you. God Bless."  

I walk past it, come back, pause and take the shot.

I get dinner and walk over to the train to make my way home with my meal. As I walk down the stairs, back to the L, I see another sign. This one is held by a young man who is looking down at his feet as he sits legs crossed up against a pillar. As swarms of people pass him, he is invisible and so is his sign. It reads:

"Homeless.  Anything helps.”

I too, walk on by. The message of the sign echoing again in my head as I consider walking back to take the shot. As I reach the bottom of the steps my train pulls in. I am tired. I, as always, am running late but decide to miss my train. I turn around,  walk back up the stairs and bend down to look in his eyes.

"Hi", I smile, "Would you like some soup?".  I hand him a small bag with the hot soup I had just purchased. He smiles back, thanks me and asks me the time. After our quick exchange, I wish him the best and make my way home.

I didn’t get the “shot”, but at least I won’t look back and feel as though I missed the sign.  

My serendiptous & flirtatious encounter with a face & a fruit dish

I didn’t necessarily come to see you. I had no clue you were there. But there you were: amidst a collection of beauty and wonder I glance across the room and see you. Unexpectedly, my heart and mind react as if I were seeing a familiar stranger. Somehow I know you, although we’ve never truly met. My heart flutters questioning if you could actually be there. I turn away, coyly, somewhat embarrassed by my excitement over the benign act seeing you, a “mere” piece of art, albeit one of my favorite pieces, in actual person. From across the room I glance over to see you again, selfishly hoping that those standing in from of you would walk away so I could get a better second glance. I am slightly jealous; they don’t get you like I do, I arrogantly think to myself. As they walk away, I start towards you, half-heartedly observing some of the other pieces in your path as if playing some childish flirtatious game I probably would have played in high school. The path finally clears and I glide over to you, holding my breath, not knowing how to approach you. I stand close to you at first, my eyes going over you quickly as I try to actually come to terms with the fact that I am actual standing before you – trying to contain my excitement. I came to see Monet, who inspires me to accept my obsessions, but to serendipitously encounter you, my Dali…
 
So, seeing you, “Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach”, my first Dali piece I see in person, an image I have related to only in books, really blows my mind. I’ve always felt connected to you and many of Dali’s other pieces. For me, you provide a satisfaction and a completion difficult to find in everyday life. I remember, as a child, realizing I thought and saw the world differently – essentially we all do. However, to see images like yours look so much like the ones that both blessed and haunted my mind - especially my dreams now and my night terrors as a child make me feel momentarily understood. Your imagery reminds me of how I think, how I could easily get lost in that world of thought and how I have spent so much time avoiding the very thoughts and images that personify me because of their lack of practicality. These are images, because of my schedule; I happily and secretly visit during the most amazing and personal moments in my day such as I drift off to sleep. Just last night cascade emerged from the light of a half-drawn curtains and the warm hue of an evening lit room transformed into a pale sunrise in a fall forest – where stenciled trees grew quickly into the scenery that began with watercolor splashes of amber and gold. Silhouettes consistently regenerated to become landscapes, then peaceful faces – beautiful children, and then as the images transformed into deformities I jolted up out of my half awaken state to shake it all off. 
 
Doesn’t everyone see the world like this? Can’t everyone sit at a café, stare off and see real situations manifest themselves into charcoal sketches that disappear with a blow of the wind? Can’t everyone see stark shadow or harsh light and distort faces and people making them both beautiful and indistinguishable? It can be overwhelming at times to see so much and not know how to share it – so at times I shut it off. I recently have been conscious of attempting to reignite the passion these images ignite in me and it is allowing me to “see” so much more once again. I am once again beginning to understand that not everything needs to be practical or explained. Although in this case, I dare try. 
 
My eyes very slowly slid over your components, as if it were my fingers are feeling each individual stroke that comprise you;  Tiny lines holding more colors and depth than I could conceivably measure. Strokes whose textures I memorize and revisit the way one recalls at the way the sparks of light bounce in the eyes of a lover. I look at your elements, wanting to consume your profoundness in its entirety but knowing I can’t nor should. As my vision mimics the desire of my sense of touch, I feel you with my eyes - how each line must feel, and thus how it feels and speaks just to me. Your face and goblet satisfy my thirst to relate yet remain obscure. You are complex and  I could spend an entire lifetime revisiting you,  marveling in your beauty and the intricacy and symbolism behind each of your fragments - always finding something new to help me understand myself as I understand you and our elusive world just a little bit more.

You show me pain, fear, beauty, joy, compassion and solitude through what may be seen as a collection of arbitrary objects. But aren’t we the product of the arbitrary objects in our own worlds? I think of myself and objects in my childhood, smells, textures, moments, dreams, and people that shaped who I am in ways no one could ever understand and I relate to you. These are mostly intangible now but engrained in my heart with as much texture as each stroke I see in you.  I think about how memories are fragmented and at times even zoomed in to just show a piece of the moment – open for your own definition of it.
 
The pink plastic ballerinas that held my birthday candles for every cake throughout my childhood although I can’t remember one single birthday gift I ever received. The cracks in my dad’s left hand; how and how light seemed to seep under a door to invite me into the world. My green rocking chair when I was a baby and the wonderful feeling I experienced in my stomach whenever I sat and rocked in it. The smell of anis tea in the morning, the staleness of the factory buildings, and Saint Lucy’s eyes staring at me from the charm hanging around my grandmother’s chest. The wooden angel I stared at as I drifted to sleep hoping I would be spared a nightmare that evening. 
 
Seeing you is looking into the eyes and soul of someone I love and swimming in the reflection. I feel momentarily understood, complete. After starring, feeling, consuming you in my mind and my heart, I know I must walk away, at least for now. Revisiting my flirtation or more honestly my connection with you in my mind; I wish I could take you home and stare at you forever – seeing myself in you and seeing something new every single time. Although in a really interesting way, I know I carry a snapshot of you in a pocket in my heart.