No Photographs, Please

As a photographer, have you ever been told that you were prohibited from photographing something?

This past Saturday my neighbor/friend/fellow Bronx aficionado, Matt and I decided to take a photography walk. We began at our lovely art deco building in Bedford Park, stopping for a quick bite at Jerome’s Pizza (my neighborhood favorite.) If you know the area, there are quite a few photogenic subjects to be had. Matt is a licensed tour guide, has a Master’s in history, and is always good for some Bronx trivia.

After the slice we arrived upon the Bedford Park Blvd. overpass, peering into the MTA’s Concourse Yard, a subway storage facility. There are always trains coming in and out, making their way onto the 4 and B/D subway lines, which makes an interesting photo. I’m a personal fan of the retired redbird car series, which can often be seen painted yellow and reinvented as a worktrain or if you’re lucky, as we were, in its original glory. Matt quickly pointed out that getting the right depth of field would totally negate the chain linked fence surrounding it, the only thing obscuring our view. Sweet!

Making our way past Lehman College, we discussed the benefits of an auxiliary flash, something I seriously could have used during my Bronx Fashion Week shoot. We stumbled upon one of those water sampling stations that just happened to be opened and running. Matt was quick to take a photo. I’d never seen one open and had always wondered what was inside. Ah, but within a second of snapping the photo, an overzealous DEP employee appeared out of nowhere and barked at us that we were not allowed to photograph the water station, quickly shutting its door and hiding its contents. Really? We questioned him, as it was a public fixture, thus there was no way he could prevent us from taking a photo. He backed down and disappeared.

This would not be the last time we would be told no that day.

Back in Colombia I’d gotten into my share of problems with photography. Most people don’t realize, for example, that the cerro or hill that you see in all the postcards of Bogotá actually encompasses a strategic military lookout, thus is technically illegal to photograph. I learned this the hard way while standing on a footbridge using a point and shoot to capture the picturesque landscape. I caught the eye of a soldier and naturally my battery decided to die at that very moment. I was instructed to delete the photos or have my camera confiscated. I took out the AA batteries, alternating them, and was miraculously able to turn the camera on, erasing said photos. I was definitely popular the day I attempted to photograph the changing of the guards at Palacio Nacional. Oops, my flash went off accidentally, betraying me. I was just a naive kid.

Meanwhile, Matt and I decided we should head to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. We continued south onto the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, which is paved and snakes in between buildings. Recently renovated, it is still popular among a transient population. One such man jovially asked us to take his photograph. Posturing demonstratively for the camera, he jokingly made us promise to share some of the riches “when we made it big.” “Even $20 is okay!” he laughed as we continued down our path.

The University Heights neighborhood west of University Avenue holds some architectural gems and little known hiding spots, as I like to call them. There are entire enclaves of middle-class families occupying private homes with gardens and decorative ornamentation. You can tell by St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church and the character of the buildings that this was no ordinary neighborhood. In fact, prior to the devastation of the 1970s, NYU occupied what is now Bronx Community College.

Upon our arrival to the entrance, I saw the security kiosk by the stairs and realized that we’d likely be asked to present photo IDs, as the Hall of Fame is on the BCC campus. What I did not expect was that upon seeing our Canon DSLRs, we were told that we weren’t allowed in without prior permission. Incredulous, but never the shrinking violet, the look upon my face revealed me. Just to make sure we were understanding the guard correctly, in unison we asked him to repeat what he’d just said. Apparently, we learned, not only was prior permission a prerequisite, we’d also only be able to access the site during weekday hours. Apologetically, he offered to let us speak to his supervisor if we needed any clarification.

As a Bronx activist, I’m wondering what the rationale is.  You have a tourist site in the middle of a neighborhood that few if any non-New Yorkers will ever visit and there are restrictions on who has access and when. It’s one of those practices that somebody clearly spent some time thinking up yet just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. If you have some insight as to why this is, please comment below.





BronxCentric! and My Bronx Influential Women of 2014 Award

Just a few years back I remember sitting in my room reading the issue of Bronx Times, flipping through the biographies of twenty-five prominent Bronx women, thinking to myself,”How do I get in here? Could this one day be me?” I was familiar with the work of  some of the ladies, who were accomplished professionals, many of whom were several years older than I. I did not see myself being able to compete with or in the same ranks as they, and wondered if I ever would be.

Over the past five years, I’d sometimes revisit the annual issue of the honorees, wondering if it were attainable to one day have my name and bio in there. I knew I needed to accomplish something great and hoped that at some point in my career I’d make the grade. More than receiving accolades and awards externally, I’d always dreamed of making a difference in the Bronx borough of New York City and hoped one day to inspire others to do the same.

I never thought it would come so soon. That is when Lisa Sorin of The Bronx Times e-mailed me in January and told me that I’d been nominated as one of 25 Bronx Influential Women for 2014 for my work with BronxCentric!: Bronx Movers and Shakers, a website and on-line discussion group I’d founded in October 2011. I took a second to digest what I’d just read.

Yesterday evening I and 24 other women were awarded 25 Bronx Influential Women of 2014 by The Bronx Times. The reception, which began at 6 PM at Villa Barone Manor in Throgg’s Neck, featured an Italian-inspired dinner. The ceremony started at 7 PM, each woman announced with a short biography about her work followed by receiving an engraved plaque.

The women were from extremely diverse fields and ethnic backgrounds. The honorees included a Spanish nun, an African-American doctor who studied in Havana, a Puerto Rican environmental activist, an Israeli-American director of a dance organization, and an Italian-American educator, among others. They ranged in age from their early thirties to seventies, many of them mothers and holding multiple degrees. They came from as far as Spain and Puerto Rico, while others were born in the borough and were third generation Bronxites.

This honor is now in its fifth year and its alumni “class” includes the likes of Marcia Cameron, Deputy Director at Mosholu Preservation Corporation, Rosemary Ordonez-Jenkins, Assistant Executive Director of Phipps Community Development Corporation,  Margaret Walsh, president of the Parkchester South Condominiums, and Jacqueline Acevedo-Villanueva of Marketing & Advertising Solutions Inc. (MAS).

This is a terrific honor and I’d like to thank The Bronx Times staff. I’m not even sure what word I can use to describe it. Being recognized form my activism in the Bronx is the ultimate honor. When asked about BronxCentric! through e-mail inquiries or in person, many are surprised to know that it is not an incorporated non-profit or LLC. As I explained it last night, I am an activist with a full-time job in workforce development in a non-profit; this is a side project. So, even when I’m done working…I’m still really working. I never really stop.

I am still not certain who nominated me, but thank you. I’d also like to thank Clarisel Gonzalez of Puerto Rico Sun, for inspiring me to further pursue social media, Ed García Conde for his tireless coverage of Bronx issues on his website “Welcome2TheBronx,” George Luis Acevedo of Bronx Women’s Business Resource Center, who also nominated me for the Bronx Women’s Business Resource Center Woman of Excellence in February, my fellow Mychal Johnson and my fellow SouthBronxUnite members, the Sociology Department at Lehman College, and many more people, places, and institutions who have pushed me to achieve.

If I can do it, you can do it too…

– Shannon