[A Movement Grows In Brooklyn] – AfroPunk Fest

For almost a decade, it’s been called ‘The Other Black Experience’, the meeting of the minds, the Black Woodstock and even the greatest music movement of the new millennia, but most just call it AfroPunk! And for the second year in a row, I had the pleasure of connecting with other lovers of culture, fashion and music (Alice Smith’s vocals were amazing…Erykah Badu and the home grown surprise that was Mos Def tore the house down, the fans loved intensity of the Memorials and Janelle Monae’s crowd dive…EPIC! lol) This year’s lineup was just as insane!

AfroPunk Girls

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[Chicago] – Just Blew In From The Windy City!

If you talk to those who live there, it’s almost on cue that Chicagoans would proudly proclaim it as the greatest city in the world (Hmmm…as a native New Yorker, that title may be up for debate! lol), from their infamous deep dish pizza (Giordano’s pizza was good, but the best in the city is at the Cityscape Bar HANDS DOWN!!), and towering skyscrapers overlooking sandy beaches, to sun-filled baseball games at Wrigley Field, twilight concerts in Millennium Park and free fireworks at Navy Pier — there’s always something happening in Chicago!

It’s been about a month since I got back, and despite some minor bumps in the road — this trip was a great experience! Although there were amazing sights in Chicago, I have to say the thing I enjoyed the most were the friendships I fostered there. Big shouts out to my friend and fellow photographer Chris Wilson! Although it had been about five years since we last saw each other (and he will tell anyone who’ll listen that during his visit to the Big Apple that I left him stranded down in the bowels of the NYC subway with nothing more than a Snickers bar and a bottle of water — LIES I TELL YA! 😉 ), one would never know it as our laughs and the fun stories behind them picked up where they left off and it was just like old times! Thanks for lunch Chris and give my chocolate drops Mia, Colby and Miles big hugs and kisses for me!

Also thank you to Dana Winston who is, in a word: HILARIOUS! We’ve known each other for sometime through social media, but it was actually our first time meeting face to face and with a big hug, some encouraging words and a half dozen Sugar Bliss Mini Cupcakes, he won me over! Dana, your accents are hysterical, but I truly appreciated our talk and getting to know more of the real you! (“Yeah mon!” lol) And lastly, there’s the man whose patience and chivalry should be bottled and sold — Raymond Boyd! In the crunch that was the last few days of my time in Chiraq (the word is now stuck in my head — thanks Dana!), Raymond was one of the best tour guides a girl could ask for! From waiting in line with me at the Willis Tower to get a view of the city or that cheesy tourist photo on The Ledge, to getting eaten alive by mosquitos during our nighttime shoots around town, to having the get away car warmed up and ready to go after being chased by the Secret Service (YES! That really happened!), I am forever grateful! I would also like to thank my family (cousins Rudy, Evelina, Qwendolyn, Quawi and Qorvette) for their warm welcome, generosity and hospitality!! Love you guys!

Chicago is a city of paradoxes, known for it’s extremes. From the weather to even some aspects of city life. But after this experience, there will always be a warm place in my heart for Chicagoland. Oh! and let’s not forget Garrett Popcorn, with whom I should buy stock after all the bags of popped perfection I ate while there! Chicago Mix…where you at?! LOL!!! Feel free to send a tin or two this way on your next visit! 🙂
Check out a few images HERE!

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Embracing The Big Picture

How does someone express love? With a hug? A kiss? A kind or encouraging word? There are many ways that one can answer that question, but the one thing that is certain is, no matter the way one may express how they love; the most important thing to know overall is that they love. Love is meant to be shared. Given with one’s whole heart. And in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the recent storm that wrecked havoc on the Northeast (and continues to have rippling effects), love’s greatest expression was needed in some of our most devastated neighborhoods in ample supply. And with that, a little over a week ago, local photographers, make-up artists, volunteers and even Santa and his elves gathered at the Goldie Maple Academy in Far Rockaway, New York.

Lights, camera, community! With over sixty volunteers and almost two hundred families in attendance, this school gymnasium located in one of the more effected areas of the city, became the site where joy, compassion, goodwill and healing found it’s place. A great example was when after making portraits of a small family of four, the mom pulled me aside, hugged me and said, with tears in her eyes, “This is amazing! You have no idea what you’ve done for us…” Now, I have to admit…I had to do everything in my power, y’all not to burst out into tears on the spot! LOL!

I want to say thank you to all who found it in their hearts to give, including El Puente and the local chapter of the Police Athletic League. But I want to send a special thanks to Will Salomon Orellana and Kendra Alexis for their incredible work in putting this local effort together! And of course, Jeremy Cowart for his innovation in giving. I was blessed with the most amazing hugs, smiles and kind encouraging words and this experience has done more for me than I could ever express — thank you! And I just wanted to let you all know what a tremendous honor it was to participate in this year’s Help-Portrait campaign for Hurricane Sandy Relief. Even a week or so later, I find that I am still brought to tears at what an amazing testament of giving this was, and to know that God has used us all a vessel to serve!!

Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of this world, and there are things you can do to lift the human spirit. Things that are easy, things that are free, things that you can do every day. Civility, respect, kindness and character. Happy Holidays, everyone! Continue to be a blessing to people in your life and embrace the big picture! 🙂

20121223-184639.jpg Photographers Daniel and Joe doing their thing!

20121223-184658.jpg I’d like to thank Christina Whiting for making these two images. Photographer at work! LOL!

20121223-184746.jpg Help-Portrait CEO and Founder, Jeremy Cowart and the jolly old man from up North — Santa! 🙂

Help Portrait 2012 Group Shot The amazing group that I was so happy to have gotten to know and work with! Photo by Michael Dote

Feel free to have a look at how wonderful and life affirming something so simple can be:

A Night At The Gramercy

From her songwriting talents to her melodic voice, this award winning singer/songwriter, whose credits include Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies”, Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River” and Jazmin Sullivan’s “Music (All I Need)”, never ceases to give her all to her fans and this was proof positive last night as Marsha Ambrosius debuted her single “Friends & Lovers” on the Gramercy stage from her upcoming sophomore solo album of the same name. This hour long show gave a snippet into her life, from the remnants of really bad breakup (“Hope She Cheats On You (With A Basketball Player)”) to the loss of a friend (“Far Away”).

Now, admittedly I was a bit skeptical of her showmanship as my last encounter with the songstress at S.O.B’s last year had her at her keyboard bashfully singing and seeming to give her voice to her band instead of her fans. But she more than redeemed herself with this show by engaging with her audience with stories, jokes and even a thank you in the form of the Golden Girls theme song “Thank You For Being A Friend”!

And although photographing shows is always an amazing experience for me, I truly was excited and pleased to soak all of this in as a fan…no fancy camera angles and lighting flares. It was just me, my cell phone camera and my love of music! Be on the look out for the Marsha Ambrosius’ release soon!

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The Evolution of My Life…

It’s been almost 18 years since New York’s own hometown girl, Mary J. Blige dropped her progressive sophomore album “My Life” and revolutionized the music scene. It was her innovative mix of soul and hip-hop, (which at this time in music was unheard of) that earned her the moniker the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Released when she was only 23 years old, “My Life” was her journal of pain and struggle. She became synonymous for sharing her truth with every new declaration, at one point asking us to share her world (“Love Is All We Need”) while at another, adamantly proclaiming that there would be no more drama (“Family Affair”). Her growth has been evident, both as an entertainer and as a woman. She is known as one of the few people in the industry who has made herself both relatable to women and desirable to men (Sorry Mariah!!) And on Wednesday night at New York’s Terminal 5, she stood proudly and let her fans know that in spite of all of life’s ups and downs, her progression continues. Her 10th studio album, “My Life II…The Journey Continues, Act I” was released to solid reviews by various music outlets including Rolling Stone and Spin magazine.

But this huge crowd of her most devoted fans had little interest in what some anonymous music critic had to say; words couldn’t describe who she is to them or her impact on their lives, they just wanted to see “Mary! Mary! Mary!!” As the crowd clamored together and the chants quieted down, she appeared out of the shadows, almost as if on cue. With the crowd’s feverish acknowledgement came the intro…a phone call with Diddy (aka Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy aka P. Diddy aka Diddy Dirty Money aka…you get the picture!!), a reference to the first “My Life” album’s intro and Combs’ executive producer credits. She then swaggered her way down memory lane with songs like “Mary Jane (All Night Long)”, the title track “My Life”, “You Bring Me Joy”, “You Gotta Believe” and “I’m Goin’ Down”.

In continuing to pour her heart out, she sang an impromptu happy birthday to her percussionist Rex and to fellow Sagittarius in the room and dedicated “I Love You” and a moment of silence to her long time friend and fallen comrade Heavy D, calling him a driving force in her career and a big brother to so many. She then spoke directly to the fans thanking them for their long standing support, saying that her hope is to keep blessing and uplifting the masses with her music. “We’re not gonna be perfect until we’re gone, but until then, guess what I wanna be?” This lead to an explosive rendition of “Be Happy”. In acknowledging the past, she now looks towards the future. With that came some of her latest material, namely “Mr. Wrong” and “25/8”.

It’s been said that growth takes place when a person has dared to become involved with experimenting with his own life. As Mary’s incredible life goes on, thank goodness that the journey continues. We can’t wait for ‘Act II’.

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For The Sake of Hip Hop

It felt like I was stepping into another world… A “secret society” of sorts, where cell phones were confiscated and every media outlet in the room (including Spin magazine and the music/pop culture icon known as Rolling Stone Magazine!) had their equipment checked, scoped out and inspected for the slightest possibility of a video leak. (Actually I may have been the only one and I have to admit to still kinda sorta feelin’ a way about that!)

The location was Santos Party House, downtown New York’s latest and greatest performance space. And the artist who appealed to his fans to step away from their connections in social media and networking (No tweeting, Facebooking, texting or video was allowed during the show!! I actually heard a few gasps as young people, who’ve grown up in the age of MySpace and instant gratification sent out those last few texts and tweets before falling into the abyss of music.) was none other than Jermaine Lamarr Cole, known to the music masses simply as J. Cole.

The Fayetteville, North Carolina native and Roc Nation newcomer let the fans know that, in spite of a broken ankle, he came as he wanted no pity. To him, this session was about nothing but the music. “If you came to listen, thank you for coming,” he said graciously. “But if you came to drink and talk and all that, please step to the back. This is ’bout to be some real shit.” ‘Nuff said! Look out for the release of his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story on September 27th.

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