Family Matters and Dealing With A Loss That Was Never Seen
By Michael Kaczmarczyk
It had to be close to 7:00 at night when I emerged from the apartment in Crown Heights. I’ve been in bed most of the day hiding from the hangover that was surely to make itself known the moment I stood up. As every New Yorker who spends their afternoons pouring aggressively over the McDonalds dollar menu knows, the beer in Crown Heights is relatively cheap, and the time required to drink it is even cheaper. I spent most of the night watching Kevin Smith movies with friends and though I am usually happy to indulge in some artistic conglomerate at any given moment, my post-inebriated state was managing to suppress any lick of excitement.
I was headed to West 23rd Street to a gallery just under the high line to catch the new Adriana Zehbrauskas exhibit, which was set to open at 7:30. The C would bring me there in 45 minutes, and though the sun was already fading on Ralph Ave, it made my skull feel like it was about to explode. I welcomed the prospect of sitting down once I passed through the ever-imposing turnstiles at the Subway station on Ralph. Turnstiles are a constant nemesis. If you are ahead of time and happy and healthy, they’ll cut you some slack and send you through on the first swipe. If you are however, running late, hung-over, and in a generally pissy mood, the bastards make you swipe until your arm is sore and your spirit is crushed, only to tell you that you have “insufficient fair”. Everyone and everything in this city is constantly gunning for your wallet. Never forget that. I knew my sorrows paled in comparison to the heavy content of Ms. Zehbrauskas exhibit, but at the time, I really couldn’t care less. Someone always has it worse than you, and life is short. It’s never inappropriate to wallow in self-pity and bitch about the inanimate gatekeepers of the public transportation system.
That being said, I was intrigued by the exhibition. The woman was capturing the remnants of evil, and the sorrows that served as consequence for a horrible and confusing event. She was brave, and I have to say I was on her side far before I stepped foot in the gallery. It’s hard to find the genuine ones. They sit quietly in a sea of dishonest, capitalist muck, and show their work in small galleries for magazine writers who question and critique the miraculous hidden truth that they’ve uncovered. I don’t envy them.
Ms. Zehbrauskas was not telling a new story. Everyone has heard tales of power and suppression and death; Government officials turning on the people they serve, people rising against big brother. Though I’ve seen pictures of evil, I knew little of the school incident in Iguala, Mexico. I recall some press release, or maybe a segment on the news that entered my mind in passing. A story with police brutality, gang violence, or missing children is often very serious, very disturbing, and utterly captivating. This particular incident involves all three.
The Half King Gallery is actually located in the back of a crowded bar, which seemed ironic for this particular collection. It did however, become seemingly more appropriate after I saw the photographs that were displayed that evening. They were mostly simple portraits. They were black and white, and had a very organic feel to them. I don’t know what I expected going in, but it certainly can’t have been what I saw. They were photographs of people. Just people. You could see the loss in their eyes, and the pain in their hearts. The children in some of the photographs clung to their mothers, and the mothers held them as though they would disappear if they were let go.
Adriana Zehbrauskas once said that she liked how family portraits tell a story over time, and the story that she has documented is one of loss and pain. I often find it hard to feel the death of a stranger, or the disappearance of a random face on the late night news. Things like that sort of break down to a statistic, a natural occurrence in the world that surrounds me. But looking into the eyes of a mother whose son has disappeared or been murdered is a painful feeling, that makes you want to feel sad; to engage in some small, invisible way with someone who has felt a great deal of loss. Ms. Zehbrauskas’s series not only revisits an old news report, but also captures the very essence of what if means to be part of the human race. We need to look out for each other, we need to help each other, and sometimes, we need to cry for one another.
Thank goodness the bar was there.
I needed a drink.
About Adriana Zehbrauskas:
Adriana Zehbrauskas, born in Sao Paulo Brazil, is a well-received photojournalist based in Mexico City. She received a degree in Journalism and moved to Paris where she studied Linguistics and Phonetics at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. She worked as a photographer for Folha de S. Paulo for over a decade and traveled extensively through Brazil. As a free-lancer photojournalist, she contributes regularly to the New York Times as well as The Wall Street Journal, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, Glamour Magazine, The Guardian, Paris Match, Le Figaro, Save the Children and the World Health Organization among others. Her project on Faith in Brazil and Mexico was awarded an Art & Worship World Prize by the Niavaran Artistic Creation Foundation and her book is currently under production to be published by Bei Editores in São Paulo. She was a finalist in the New York Photo Awards 2009 and 2010 and is an instructor at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshops. Her photos are also featured in the books ’24 Stunden im Leben der katholischen Kirche’, Random House, Munich, 2005, ‘In Search of Hope – The Global Diaries of Mariane Pearl’, Powerhouse Books, New York, 2007 and the ‘Nike Human Race’, New York, 2008. Adriana is one of three photographers profiled in the documentary “Beyond Assignment” (USA, 2011), alongside Mariella Furrer and Gali Tibbon. The film, produced by The Knight Center for International Media and the University of Miami, features Adrianna’s Tepito project, an investigation into some of Mexico’s most disturbing towns.
Photographs © Nora Wilby
Article © Michael Kaczmarczyk