EM: How many years have you been shooting?
I’ve been shooting seriously about six years, though I have always had an interest in photography and first took classes when I was a teenager. I attended the full-time photojournalism program at ICP in 2006-07 and have been working professionally since.
EM: Do you shoot digital or film? Why do you prefer this medium?
I prefer film and shoot most of my personal work with film. I shoot digitally for most assigned work (because of the quick turn around and cost-effectiveness).
I prefer film for a number of reasons…I like the aesthetic of film, the grain, the texture, the colors. Film has a different feeling, more tactile and gritty than digital. I often find digital photographs to be too sharp, the colors too artificial…they look hyper-real in a way that takes away from their emotional impact for me.
I also prefer to work with a small, simple camera because I am often shooting in situations where I want to use the most unobtrusive equipment possible.
EM: Have you always known that you wanted to photograph professionally?
No…I have always had an interest in photography, but I was a dancer when I was younger. I trained professionally at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center and then had to stop because of injuries. It took me several years after I stopped dancing to find my way to photography.
EM: How did you decide on the title "you must not know 'bout me?"
The first woman I spent a lot of time with in Hunts Point, Nina, had a bright pink cell phone that she was always chatting on…it would ring all the time and the ring tone was the chorus of the song “Irreplaceable” by Beyonce which goes “…you must not know ‘bout me, you must not know ‘bout me….”. The phrase feels very appropriate to what the project is about and, on a personal level, I associate the song distinctly with the time I spent in Hunts Point.
EM: Where did your interest in the subject matter in "you must not know 'bout me" come from?
My personal work focuses primarily on issues of women’s rights and empowerment. I am interested in addressing how women struggle to define themselves and challenge external definitions of what is acceptable in our lives. This project in particular came from a very personal place. I was motivated in part by the need to work out some of my own issues, to address some of the things I’ve struggled with in my own life. I also really wanted to recognize and acknowledge these women who are not nameless hookers and crack heads, but are mothers, daughters, sisters, each with her own story and experiences.
It was important to me to work on a project that examines some of the social issues we have here in New York. So often photojournalists travel far from home to do stories about crises or social injustice in other places and I felt it was important to focus that same attention on things that are happening right here in my own city.
EM: Was it difficult to gain access to these often personal and private moments? How did you do it?
It was difficult in that it took a lot of time; I had to be really patient and committed to the project. It took time to get to know the women I photographed and build the trust that allowed them to share their lives with me. I had to be there as much as possible so that when things happened I was there to photograph it. I think a lot of the women I photographed felt comfortable with me because I was open with them about myself as well….I also brought prints of the photos I was taking for them to have and tried to include them in the process rather than just taking the photographs and leaving.
EM: What point did you want to get across through this collection?
The main point for me is to acknowledge these women as human beings and bring attention to the issues they are facing in their lives. It is my hope that this project will be a source of support and empowerment for sex workers. In challenging public opinion, I believe that the first and most important step is for sex workers to recognize and change internalized negative beliefs about themselves. In documenting sex workers’ lives I hope to counter the de-humanizing imagery that is so prevalent in mainstream media - challenging the viewer to question their own preconceptions. My goal is not to provide answers but to pose questions and provoke dialogue. As a female photographer and former sex worker, I relate to the people I photograph and strive to create images from a perspective that transcends the voyeuristic and detached view from which they are so often seen. I aim to portray them honestly and with integrity, to reveal them as individuals whose lives are more complex than the simple stereotypes.