When I met Blase on the corner of West 25th and 10th Avenue, we started chatting about his relationship with Iris, who I met through Unipro (Pilipino American Unity for Progress, Inc.), an organization that "educates, empowers, and connects the Pilipino American community by providing a platform for dialogue and growth. We unite Pilipino Americans through collaborative action, leadership development and advocacy". It turns out that Blase, like me, met Iris at a Unipro event.
It is fitting that I am kicking off this artistic adventure with Blase and Iris for a few reasons:
1. This is a project of love, and I was excited to be capturing the love that these two share, particularly since we got to shoot at The High Line, where Blase proposed to Iris just 3 weeks ago.
2. The three of us are tied together through activism--through community and the desire to educate, empower, connect, dialogue and grow. While this project might seem like happy unicorn fluff on the surface, it does stem from something very serious. It seems that all I read about today is all the places where we are doing wrong, where we are suffering and feeling pain, particularly with the tensions of race in our country, international violence, and this current presidential election. I know I'm putting all of those things mildly, and that we must continue to discuss these issues. However, I can't help that these things make me feel stuck, as if I cannot move or make anything change in my world. This project is me combatting the feeling of being stunted. It is me fighting the feeling that I have nothing to offer. It is me reminding myself and those who choose to participate that we are not helpless. We have the power to make, and create. "The opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation." is a quote from one of my favorite musicals, Rent. The more destruction and pain that goes on in the world, the more we have to make. This project is not meant to be a deflection of what is currently happening in the United States and the world, although I know it may be read that way. You should all know that I will very gladly have all of those conversations. However, as Rumi once said, "Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion." I will not be small. I will not focus on only the pain part of my universe.
3. When I asked Blase what tied he and Iris together, he said, "We are both simple. But we are both ambitious, too." Later, when asked the same question, Iris responded that they are, "Partners. We are equals. We empower and support one another." You could not have taken the words out of my mouth better to describe this project as a whole...
It's a simple project. 1 hour of photos in exchange for something you have put love into. But it is also ambitious. It is me forcing myself to create in an often stifling world where we are too busy with work and work and family and bills and school to pursue our own passions and the things that make us burst with creativity and curiosity. And it's asking anyone who comes into this adventure with me to do the same. To take that pause. To listen to yourself. To answer yourself. To let your hands move and make and come alive in a way that makes your whole being come alive.
In this project, I consider everyone I photograph and who returns art to me as co-authors.. We are equals. By creating for one another and the world, we are empowering and supporting one another as a whole. The idea of "trade" is something that I will likely continue to discuss throughout this adventure. Anyone who knows me knows that I think that the concept of money is often a trap. I tend to agree with Shakespeare ala Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo trades gold for poison with the apothecary, saying, "There is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls, Doing more murder in this loathsome world, than those poor compounds that thou mayst not sell. I sell thee poison. Thou hast sold me none" (Act 5, Scene 1). It's not that I denounce money completely; I mean, how can we possibly when our world basically runs off of it? Money simplifies things in some ways, I admit. What I do think we can do better is remember that money, in its inception, was symbolic. If anyone listens to This American Life, I think there's an episode on the origin of money. The paper or the pebble or the coin used to represent something much larger that couldn't be moved and traded on the spot. I advocate for truer trade. I think we can trade with one another in a more honest way, more often, and not let the stifling concept of money get in the way as often as we do, especially when it comes to trading with the people that we love.
As a teacher, there are exchanges that happen in my classroom on a daily basis. I teach something and I learn something. Every day. It's what keeps me in the classroom, even if teachers aren't paid a whole lot. It's a true trade that happens between me and the students that I work with, because it's a trade that is founded in love and our mutual recognition of one another's humanity. When students pour love into work, I pour my heart into grading it so they can be better. When students pour love into an activity, I reciprocate. I think sometimes we get stuck in money. Someone does something and we pay them off, trying our best to match the monetary amount of what they have given. But what if we were to more often respond with love? Give love, get love, continue onwards.
Blase has sent me a beautiful video of him free-styling dance to Cigarette Daydreams, my favorite song, and the song that I would probably call "our song" when it comes to my own romantic relationship with Skyler King.
Iris shared with me a beautiful and very useful document of Filipino-authored literature that is going to be very useful to me in the coming years. You can add some Filipino-flavored literature to your reading list by checking out the list here: Click me!
As for my half of the trade, enjoy the photos of Iris and Blase below:
"The opposite of war isn't peace. It's creation." ~Rent