A Night with the Queens by Shamik Ganguly

A Night with the Queens by Shamik Ganguly

A look into the Latino LGBT nightlife of Queens, New York City

Queens is often called the “World’s Borough.” It truly is one of the most culturally diverse urban areas of the world, and Jackson Heights may very well be its heart.

Step off the Roosevelt Avenue subway stop and you will immediately be greeted by taco stalls, ethnic grocery stores, a smattering of Tibetan/Himalayan/Asian food joints, and a whole host of Latino eateries catering to a diverse mix of people from all across South America. This stretch of Roosevelt Avenue is also home to a thriving and vibrant Latino LGBT community.

The recent political climate in the U.S. and events like the one in Orlando have shoved some of the issues of the LGBT community into our national conversation. This is especially true for the transgender community – bathroom laws, acceptance in military, gender identity – you name it…every aspect of their identity has been politicized. A recent Huffington Post article highlights over 100 Anti LGBT bills pending at the state level.

Photo by Sandy Gennrich

Photo by Shamik Ganguly

All this media attention has also had some positive effect. More people are talking about LGBT issues today than perhaps ever before. Shows like Amazon’s excellent Transparent would have been unthinkable a few years ago. It has also made folks like me, who has had very little to no interaction with the transgender community, more curious about learning about their struggles. A recent, most excellent, heart-wrenching and powerful episode of HBO’s Vice “Trans Youth,” really opened my eyes to the issue of Transgender rights and their struggles. I strongly urge anyone interested to watch this episode where Vice correspondent Gianna Toboni provides an intimate look into their lives.

Photo by Shamik Ganguly

Colombian photographer Joana Toro has been documenting the vibrant Latino queer community in New York for years, and over time she has cultivated personal friendships with many of its members. So, when she offered to take a few of us to experience the nightlife, I jumped on it.

Being straight and having never been to a gay bar, let alone a gay nightclub, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Frankly, I was a little nervous about the whole thing. The evening started with three of us having a late but sumptuous dinner of steamed Momos and Thenthuk at a Tibetan restaurant before meeting up with Joana. After dinner, Sandy, Susan and I met up with Joana who took us on a mini walk of Roosevelt Avenue. It was getting close to midnight on a Sunday night and the vibe and energy on this stretch of Roosevelt Avenue was just starting to pick up. Music streamed out of the many bars and clubs that dot this diverse neighborhood. People lined up for late-night tacos. The occasional drunk stumbled by. The corner grocery store was still serving customers even though it was past midnight. We passed a pair of dressed-up Trans women ready to start the night’s festivities, while the girl on the corner was still working the streets.

Photo by Shamik Ganguly

To get into the spirit of the evening, we stopped at a bar for a drink and listened to a Colombian jazz band play some amazing music. We were told by Joana that we had a surprise coming. The club we were about to visit had a Miss Colombia Beauty Contest planned for the night and we were in for a treat. As we headed into the nightclub, I realized how underdressed I was – jeans, sneakers and a casual shirt with a big camera hanging around my neck.

Photo by Sandy Gennrich

Inside, it was a different world. The Latin dance music was blistering loud. Strobes flashed and the smoke machine created shadows that danced on their own. Bare chested bartenders served Corona Extra in buckets with their hair gelled to almost ‘Chihuly Glass’ perfection. Everyone had their sexy on. As the clock pushed closer to 1 am, the scene picked up with a few people taking to the dance floor, some couples more intimate than others. Some of the clientele gave us curious, amused looks. I realized all three of us were a minority here.

Photo by Sandy Gennrich

A little past one in the morning, I suddenly noticed heads turning towards the entrance of the club. The queens had started to make their way into the club. It was a sight like none I had experienced before. Surreal.

Photo by Sandy Gennrich

The parade of beauty contestants filed in and took their time with the finishing touches. Lipstick applied to the light of a mobile phone while others crowded (or hogged) the bathrooms. I never thought that the party would just be starting up if I showed up at 1 o’clock in the morning, on a Sunday night.

Photo by Sandy Gennrich

The contest kicked off with all the contestants coming forward, gleaming from head to toe in sparkling, skin-tight gowns, decked in stiletto heels, and with make-up and hair (or wigs) so remarkable for their perfection. Each contestant wore a sash with the name of a city in Colombia. This Miss Colombia Beauty Contest is like no other beauty contest in the world. The winner isn’t picked based on popular vote, or on some criteria of beauty. No, this contest’s winner is decided differently. The emcee for the night introduced the contest and started the elimination round quickly by drawing a ping pong ball out of a bag bearing the name of a city in Colombia that matched a name on a sash. The poor soul who’s city/sash was drawn came forward, the emcee said words about the contestant in Spanish and whipped the ping pong ball across the floor with a flourish. Contestant eliminated.

Photo by Sandy Gennrich

A few ping pong ball eliminations later, there was a break for a solo singing performance by a Diva. The lights went down and the spotlight honed in on her. She was pitch perfect, belting out what I can only assume were ballads of heartbreak in Spanish. The power of her performance and the raw emotion she wore on her face gave me goosebumps. She might as well be a Broadway star. The crowd was awestruck and started showering her with money. Soon, the floor was strewn with dollar bills all around. And all along her voice soared (don’t tell anyone that she was lip syncing).

Photo by Shamik Ganguly

At this moment, I realized how much members of this community support each other. And I realized that they have to. They don’t have a choice. Everyone rooted for every contestant. There was genuine love and support. I told one of the contestants that she looked beautiful. Her eyes lit up as she thanked me profusely and gave me a hug and posed for pictures. Looking at the faces of the contestants and the divas made me wonder, what kind of life are they hiding behind that perfect makeup? What kind of struggles do they go through every day?

Photo by Shamik Ganguly

Outside these walls, they may be a fringe minority – judged and misunderstood. A pawn in some politicians’ gender identity games. A subject of bathroom politics. But inside these walls, it is their Happy Place. Safe Place. They can be their own. Live their fantasies. Support each other. Love each other.

In here love trumps hate.

Photo by Shamik Ganguly

It was late – almost 3 am. Decision time was near. Stay for round two of the beauty contest, or head home for a few hours of sleep before the reality of showing up for work was near. The party supposedly goes on till 5-6 am, even on a Sunday night. Energized, excited and smiling we headed home, buzzing about this new world that Joana introduced to us. Hello hangover.

Story by Shamik Ganguly in collaboration with Sandy Gennrich.

A version on this post first appeared in The Light Diaries.

Looking for the Third Eye by Ramón Cruz

Looking for the Third Eye by Ramón Cruz

Since childhood I have considered myself an observer of everything that surrounds me and excites me. Photography has given me the ability to return to those important moments through images, and I’ve always found this fascinating. I’m more aware of it now, this possibility to go back and remember. I still recall with emotion when my grandparents gave me their Kodak INSTAMATIC X-15 for taking pictures. From that moment on I was held captive by anything that would appear in the viewfinder. Nowadays, I feel it’s essential to take photos daily, as it’s a visual and very personal record of everyday life.

This has evolved, in such a way that the traditional consumer of images has now become a “prosumer”, generating and offering their perspective on social networks. As a reference, let’s consider the scope of mobile photography, which has become a powerful tool for telling stories. Personally, it has allowed me to meet interesting characters on the streets and made it easier for me to approach the issues relevant to my environment.

In my pictures I try to capture the contrasts of light and the details of the characters, silhouettes and objects. I think that the best light to do this in is daylight; I only need to go for a walk with a pair of comfortable shoes and my cell phone fully charged. On the streets, a certain look can be intriguing. You can stop, get closer to your subject, or respect their anonymity and take a picture without them noticing and just thank them afterwards. The streets are pure emotion, that is where the stories are.

Personally, I’ve never liked to capture misery or the degrading condition of the human being; this has never caught my attention. On the other hand, shadows, contrasts and the characters that emerge from them, spontaneous symmetry and natural gestures, these are more interesting to me for generating my visual discourse.

Chihuahua city is located in the north of Mexico and, being close to the border, we have an interesting cultural mix. This has caught my attention and led me to title one of my projects: Puro Norte. In it I present urban portraits of individuals with expressions and in activities denoting the identity, clothing, instruments and poses of the urban cowboy, in costumes from a western film.

Go out, walk and be alert, but don’t stop enjoying the ride and the experience. This is where objects and people have something to say, have made their own history and are waiting to be seen. It’s all about going out to look for them in order to find them.

I prefer to document my own environment without expectations and tell the tales of what I see in my own way, though pictures. I don’t ask for poses and often I don’t ask for permission, but I watch and wait for the moment instead. Photography has given me the opportunity to meet some unique characters; it’s just a matter of approaching people with respect and making my intention clear when necessary, as in the case of a portrait.

I am constantly on the hunt, defining my style and reinventing it. This is evolving more and more, allowing me to expand to other networks and find various platforms for experimenting with an image. This is part of the process and the evolution of photography. It changes on a daily basis and requires you to be a curious person.

In my photographs I try to present my vision – what I have to tell – by using certain angles and editing processes. For some time, a quote has accompanied me and it’s by one of my favourite photographers of all time, Lola Álvarez Bravo: “I seek the essence of beings and things, their spirit, their reality. Interest, personal experience, ethical and aesthetic commitment form the photographer’s third eye”. I hope to some day find this, I am still looking for it, but so far I think I’m getting closer.

About the author: Ramón Cruz is a college professor and photographer based in Chihuahua, México. Documentary, portraiture and street photography are his areas of focus. He is currently a member of 1415 Mobile Photographers.

You can see more of his work here:

Instagram
14&15 Mobile Photographers
Twitter
Flickr

The Storytellers Vol. 14

The Storytellers Vol. 14

After a lengthy vacation, our popular, Storytellers Circle has been revived in GRRYO’s Instagram account. We feature a photo prompt each Monday and ask our audience to share their stories to accompany the image. We would love for you to join us and share what each photo says to you. In September we focused on wonderful photos by talented artists with stories that our followers contributed. So come and browse through this digest and let the stories move you to join us each Monday in October!

 

 

Photo Credit: Ayhan
Story Credit: Leslie

 

“Look”, Agnes. “That man is buck naked!” “I’ve seen better”, she sniffed, “much better”.

 

 

Photo Credit: Fabrice
Story Credit: Ariana

 

On days when the air hit a certain percentage of humidity she couldn’t erase the image of the scar upon his back. The starched shirts, the fine suits, the fancy accessories were not enough … he would joke with the kids about the march and the days without food, make it seem like a cartoon- tom and jerry, wile e. coyote … all double takes and hi-jinx. But she knew the truth, had felt the raised skin underneath her fingertips for years. She had felt the tightness of his jaw, the grinding of his teeth and the quiet sound of his despair. She hated these days, when the sun was like a knife.

 

 

Photo Credit: Ali
Story Credit: dmreidmd

 

Ok, yes, I know, I’m old. I don’t look it, call me Dorian Gray. But I am old. 70 is old! And tired. Tired. I miss Lois, may she rest In peace. And Jimmy, God bless that little rascal. My knees hurt, I can’t fly more than five feet off the ground. Super? No more. But I’ll keep showing up, the world needs me. The world needs a Superman.

 

Photo Credit: Daniel
Story Credit: Tommy

 

“Hmmm . . . the newest in spring fashions for the grand reopening of Atkins Department Store and the lineup of boring afternoon soaps on the local TV stations,” thought Roger as he squinted at the tossed aside newsprint. He’d been hanging out at the warehouse for 3 days now looking for any scrap of a clue that might help him to wise up to the mystery of Lucid’s disappearance. He would stay as long as it took if he had to. He loved that girl and there was no way he would give in to the heat, sweat, and misery of searching until he found her. And found her alive. She had to be alive.

Join us each Monday to share your stories with photo prompts in Storytellers Circle. If your story is selected it will appear on our website like those above.

Good Friday Procession by Magdalena de Jonge Malucha

Good Friday Procession by Magdalena de Jonge Malucha

Holy Week (Semana Santa) is definitely the biggest, most prominent celebration in Spain. It is also the most important period of the year, immersed in a wide array of emotions. Spanish people always find time to experience unusual processions – re-enactments of the Passion. Let’s go for a walk down the narrow streets of Ibiza’s old town, and admire this unique spectacle.

Before we begin, we cannot forget that people in Spain love eating, drinking and enjoying the company of their loved ones. Apart from celebrating the religious holiday, which is obviously of great importance to them, they value spending their free time with members of their families and with friends.

It is worth it to see the processions – they take place throughout the whole of Holy Week and they tend to be quite elaborate. You may also encounter their alternative name – “penance processions”. They involve members of the brotherhood (nazarenos) parading from their church to the city’s cathedral.

It is easy to spot the start of the procession – just search for a giant cross. It is always carried at the front.

What makes Spanish processions so unusual and so different from those in other places of the world? People who participate in them are dressed in a specific outfit known as capirote – a traditional, tall hat covering the face. Conical hats were traditionally worn by those doing penance. They were a sign of atonement and remorse for your sins. In this way, sinners would not be recognized and could repent anonymously. They also wear belted robes.

Another highly important factor of this event is music. Most of Semana Santa processions are accompanied by live marching bands that play religious, pompous pieces.

The ambiance of these festivities is one of a kind. Although the atmosphere is definitely solemn and spectacular, nothing can hide the Spanish desire to live in the moment. Strong religious beliefs are blended with celebration, and that’s how the unique mix is created. Don’t miss an opportunity to see the Semana Santa procession, and take from it what is most valuable to you.

Text written in collaboration with Monika Malucha

Magda de Jonge Malucha, aka Magda DJM, is a Polish mathematician, self-taught photographer, Picker and mom of a teenage otaku-boy, based in Ibiza, Spain since 1998. Her adventure with mobile photography started in 2013. She is a member of the Polish Mobile Collective Grupa Mobilni. Her work has not only been exhibited in Spain, Italy, USA, Germany, France and Poland, but also recognized in some competitions, like the Mobile Photography Awards and iPhone Photography Awards.

Martha is the second author to be published on Grryo following the announcement of our partnership with Picwant.

You can see Magda’s work on: VSCO | Instagram | Twitter 

Gone stray by Sabrina Boem

Gone stray by Sabrina Boem

Gone stray. How I find myself involved in a documentary project about stray and colony cats

In the beginning, it was not a photo project. It was just me going to take photos in a park where a huge colony of stray cats live. I had started taking photos of cats when I adopted my two cats three years earlier. That was something I had never done before;  I had never had a cat, not even as a child. I knew nothing about cats. Honestly, I was not a pet person at all before adopting them. They totally changed the way I felt about having pets at home and it became natural to me to grab my camera to make memories of our daily life together. However, after three years I needed new subjects. So when one of my friends told me about the park, I went there on my first day off from work. Just 40 minutes from home. I had never heard about it before. It used to be an Army Fort until it was shut down in the early 90s. Now it’s a public park.

Some of the old buildings are used as offices and restaurants. Others are abandoned and almost crumbling down.

The park is known for its colony of cats; they’ve been living there since forever. There are also two cat sanctuaries. Volunteers of the two sanctuaries take care of them, providing them with fresh food and water every single day and medical care when required.

The first time I went there I spent almost three hours shooting. I loved it there, seeing so many cats napping in the tall grass or chilling on the ground enjoying the warm sun. It was clear those cats were in good health and well taken care of. I went back there the week after that, and the next, and the next … and so on for a whole year. Every time I shot new photos; every time I met new cats I hadn’t seen before.  As months went by I began to know that park and those cats better. I had not realized it back then, but after a few months I was not going there just to take photos of cats anymore. I was getting familiar with them; I was getting involved in their lives, I got to know them by name as I had the chance to talk to the volunteers who worked there. I got to know what their favorite places were. Cats are territorial animals. They like to stay in the same places, but they change according to the seasons. So with each new month, depending on the weather, new photo opportunities arose. From the very beginning I liked most reserved cats that napped or chilled in abandoned buildings. It was not easy to take photos of them because as soon as they heard a noise they were gone. So I had to move as quiet as possible. Besides those places were dark, so technically it was hard to shoot there.

The only available light came from a few windows. And that’s where I had to shoot from. I couldn’t go in there. Some windows were broken, some were left open so cats could go there to sleep or stay dry and warm on rainy days or cold winter nights. My going there to take photos was a real adventure. Every time I went back home with a new capture I realized it was another small piece of their story. By then the decision was taken – I wanted to tell their story with my photos. I wanted people to know them. I wanted to show people how those cats lived and how special that place was, thanks to the volunteers who looked after them.

From the very beginning I shot photos in black and white. It was not a stylistic decision at first but it came natural to me. When I was there I saw the world in black and white. After a year of intense shooting, I realized what a huge number of photos I had taken. And it was only at that time that I felt I needed to try to organize them. To my greatest surprise I realized that it was not necessary. They were already organized. All my shots could be divided into four or five basic subjects.

The year after that I kept going to that park once a week. I still do. I’m still working on those original basic subjects, but after two years I still bump into new situations and meet new cats. That place is magical for me. It always presents something new, even if I don’t look for it. I never go there with a clear idea on my mind. I never go there thinking ‘Ok, today I want to shoot that cat napping on that window.’ It doesn’t work like that. First of all, whenever I go there with such an idea in mind, I never find the cat or the situation I was looking for. And even if I do, I’ve noticed that even if the shot might be technically good there’s something missing. Because it’s shot with my mind and not with my soul. That’s why I never do that. That’s why I go there with a free mind and an open soul. I go there and wait until that park and those cats give me a special moment to capture. Every shot is an unexpected gift to me. Nothing is planned beforehand. Sometimes I go there early in the morning, as soon as the park opens, when all offices and restaurants are still closed and there’s no one around. Just the cats and me. It’s quiet; silence everywhere.

Being with them makes me feel good. And special too. After two years I’ve come to think that those cats know that I’m there for them. They know I want to document their real life and they show it to me. That’s why, as time went by, I decided to keep shooting in black and white. It helps me concentrate on the essential and show it to people. That’s why among my photos there are no small kitties nor romantic situations. There are no stereotyped images that are usually seen in social media. But there are no pityful images either. I do not want people to feel sorry for them. They don’t need that. They are taken care of, they are not out in the street. But I want to raise compassion, which is different, and I want to make people get to know these stray cats and where they live. I try to do this with respect for them to show how dignified and beautiful they are.

For more information about my work check out my feed on Instagram and Facebook.