Looking is an Act of Love
For the better part of last Wednesday, the Foley Square StoryBooth hosted conversations between young photographers from South Dakota’s Oglala-Lakota Tribe, Arizona’s Navajo Nation, Brattleboro, Vermont and New York City. They were all participants in Exposures, a cross-cultural exchange program founded in 2003. The Vermont-based program totes large format cameras and Polaroid film to Pine Ridge’s South Dakota reservation, Arizona and New York, allowing the old fashioned look of the cameras to draw subjects in and the instant photographs it provides to serve as a souvenir for the road. The youth learn a new way of looking at their communities, through intense local workshops, and at each other, thanks to a traveling component for select youth, which includes time in Pine Ridge, New York and Vermont.
17 year-old Exposures participant Yazmyn (r) and her instructor, Synphany (l), popped in the booth just before lunch. Both offered unvarnished impressions of each other upon first meeting via a free Saturday arts program for high school students at Cooper Union, Synphany’s alma mater. Twins in temperament, both young women shared their highs and excruciating dating lows but also touched on their beefs with their native New York City. Teenage boys and their cultivated cool were Yazmyn’s thorn and Synphany’s, the self-imposed isolation of millions sandwiched together in too-small flats but fearful of making eye contact on the subway.
On the way out, I asked Yazmyn, who was wearing sleak Nikes, where she bought her tennis shoes. Brows furrowed, chins dipped, confusion abounded. I pointed towards her feet. “Where are you from?” they queried. “Seattle, ” I replied, at which point they kindly relayed East Coast carbonated beverage and athletic shoe naming conventions. Let me impart the lesson, around these parts Nike’s are considered “sneakers,” sometimes “kicks,” never “tennis shoes.” It goes to shows just how committed these folks are to cultural exchange.
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