The first time I met Zein was nearly two decades ago while she was waitressing at a Middle Eastern restaurant on Atlantic Avenue near my home in Brooklyn, New York. Directing her natural warmth and energy toward my then two-year old daughter allowed for a calm meal, and we quickly forged a unique and lasting connection with one another. Ever since that encounter I would often gravitate toward her and eventually became introduced to her “family” -- women like her who are from upper class families in Lahore, Pakistan. Strict religious values made living in her homeland unaccepted and dangerous. It was this fear of persecution that led Zein to petition our courts for asylum.
I began photographing them to try and understand why these women had chosen to move so far from what was familiar and how this had impacted their lives. I interpret their slightly guarded gaze as a paradox of what it means to coexist here, living as they wish, while also maintaining ties to the traditional customs and rituals of home. I have found that although they have chosen to leave their homeland and embrace life here as modern women, they have nonetheless remain tethered to their roots.
By depicting Zein and her circle of friends as sensual, empowered females, I hope to dispel the notions of how we often view women born into conservative societies. Contrary to such stereotypes, these women define a young, alternative immigrant experience in urban, post 9/11 America.
Suspended is an on-going portrait series that grew out of my passion for photographing adolescents over the course of many years, and at a time when they are perceptibly caught between independence and reliance, responsibility and leisure and maturity and innocence. The relationships I have with my growing children and others in our orbit, have continually sparked a wonder and passion for these complex and transformative creatures; I will often spend considerable time observing both behavior and body language before photographing. There is an interesting push and pull between what is revealed and withheld. Since children who are morphing into young adults tend to be emotionally transparent, the disparate forces they are beset with - vulnerability, sensuality, awkwardness - will often surface simultaneously. And ironically, I often find them to be impervious to the power they posses.
When viewing someone's life from afar we often see a smoother, calmer, seemingly happier version of what really exists. Those ruffles, waves and breaks in the façade are often only noticed when we take a closer look. Often times the more manicured, proper and well-adjusted one's outward picture appears, the more complex things actually are. Within any relationship we may choose to take on various roles. By creating narratives which may seem ambiguous or uncomfortable, our belief in what appears "normal and happy" is challenged. Significant others reflects on the complexities of relationships and family dynamics and describes how we relate to our environment and to each other.
Looking Forward Back is a series that attempts to describe the physical and emotional expanse of the west and mid-west, and mirrors a time in my life that was full of possibility.
We may forget what we did yesterday but the way the carpet felt underfoot in our childhood home may never leave us. This emotional pull of the objects we choose to surround ourselves with speak volumes about who we are. Here I am not recreating a scene but recording real moments in time: the few days before my grandparents house was sold after they passed away. Jeanette and Irwin tells a story of these two people without their physical presence.
Rental Home is a series that grew out of considerable time spent with my family in homes belonging to others. A rental home is a respite but also a place of transience. I am inspired by the light, objects and space unique to each environment, and have attempted to create a visual narrative by showing how these elements mesh with our lives.
Works in progress - April Is the Cruelest Month
This exhibition, inspired by images of memory and decay in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, is a visual (diary) portrayal of my relationship with my mother. This is not about creating a defined series, but rather the careful culling of work from over a period of time in order to illustrate flashback-like moments both remembered and lost.
The selective harvesting of images has allowed me to discriminately deal with the pain of my mother’s loss. I remember her according to my own terms, using the images as a means of exploring my feelings associated with her absence. And although the sting of abandonment is as fresh as it was then, I’ve come to realize that I am forever attached (to her) through a universal cycle of nurturing, creation and sacrifice. The breadth of our relationship encompasses all corners of my life and in a sense, all of my work reflects back to my mother.
Laugh, Smile, Take Deep Breaths
My father and his wife lived in the same house in Springfield, New Jersey for over 30 years. Due to financial constraints and the limitations of their age to care for a home, they were forced to move. The burdensome task of packing up decades of belongings and memories is daunting for anyone, let alone a couple in their eighties.
During the time I began shooting this series, my dad was brought to the hospital with symptoms of extreme fatigue, weakness and a horrible cough. This turned into the beginning of the end of what we knew his life to be. His heart was very weak with added complications from fluid in his lungs, decreased muscle strength, high blood pressure and liver and kidney abnormalities. Surely if he made it out of the hospital at all, it would be a compromised life for him at best. But it was the mental toll of his illness that in fact posed the biggest challenge, as he began to creep into dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Photographing him at this pivotal time has brought up many conflicting emotions for us both. It was often that I felt the pain of inadequacy during my childhood -- often resulting from my father’s insensitivity and anger. There was also the bad divorce from my mother who had passed away nearly a decade earlier, making this project that much more pressing and necessary. But relationships are complicated and time has a way of altering our perception of the past, and with the disease, my father was becoming an altered version of himself.
A rhythm developed as each time he would happily submit to the ritual of our shoot. The process became an existential extension of our relationship, of aging and of our father-daughter bond. By simply being together and sharing the experience of the shoot, we could succumb to the harsh reality of his illness, without having to engage directly with our disappointments.