My involvement with questions of visuality and representation began in the
mid-1970s, whileI was working in theS outhB ronx—at that time one of the
most economically blighted areas of New YorkC ity.I was employed by a so-
cial service agency, while simultaneously pursuing studies in creative writ-
ing and psychology and undergoing training to become a psychotherapist.
In this job,I offered counseling to individuals (primarily African Americans
and Latinos) who were remanded to the agency by the court system as an
alternative to incarceration. During our meetings, these clients would relate
harrowing stories of their daily struggles to survive in situations where vio-
lence, drug abuse, illness, and chronic poverty were commonplace. Having
come from a rural town in Hawai‘i only six years earlier, my experiences had
little equipped me to understand the stark circumstances in which many in
theS outhB ronx spent their lives.
I t was in those years thatI first drew upon visual media to engage with
the people, places, and situationsI encountered.I took classes in photog-
raphy and found early inspiration in the Depression-era documentary work
of Dorothea Lange, as well as the gritty New York street scenes of Weegee.
Some of my clients would invite me into their homes to photograph fami-
lies and friends.S eeing the camera, even strangers approached me to take
their pictures during my walks in the area. AsI now understand it, being
photographed provided a means of personal empowerment—a platform
for self-narrativization and presentation that endowed them with a sense
of greater importance, as significant subjects for attention and documen-
tation.I ndeed, the Korean American artist YongS oon Min recently noted,
in writing about her project on Asian migrant labor inS outh Korea, that
the presence of a camera itself “encouraged most of the interviewees to
be more open and generous, by giving them a sense of responsibility and
purpose in going on record.”1
1. Min, “Transnationalism fromB elow,” 6.
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