Sprocket Mural Works: Harrisburg Mural Fest

(Story originally published in The BURG)

“It was an event like central PA had never seen before.

Over the course of 10 days last month, more than a dozen murals were created as part of the Harrisburg Mural Fest. Sprocket Mural Works asked local, national and even international artists to paint murals in Shipoke, downtown and Midtown Harrisburg, supplementing the projects with several mural-themed social and educational events. It all ended with a tremendous block party on State Street.

In this photo feature, photographer Dani Fresh shows us some of these stunning works of art, captured during and soon after their creation.” (Lawrance Binda)

There are probably thousands of images of these newly painted, beautiful walls. And hot dog, they are wildly beautiful walls and wonderful perspectives. But the most striking thing about the Harrisburg Mural Fest was the profound willingness of artists to invite an entire city to be a part of the process of creating art. It is brave, vulnerable, and sweet—and it is one thing to say that murals are tools for civic engagement; it is another to witness it on such a grand scale.

These images are a collection of gestures and moments that exist between working diligently, talking to and engaging with people passing by, teaching and guiding students and eager community volunteers, and eventually, the triumphant finish of a long project.

http://www.sprocketmuralworks.com/

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Women’s March on Washington

Just some personal notes of reflection: I recently found myself reading a pretty provocative cocktail of books… A friend gave me “The Gift of Anger” by Arun Gandhi while I was in middle of reading “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

One thing is truly glaringGandhi and MLK’s ideas of non-violence have been so perverted by connotations of passivity. Practicing non-violence does not mean a movement is non-confrontational. Non-violence does not equate legality with morality. Movements rooted in non-violence acknowledge the plight of marginalized people who have turned to violence in the throes of oppression.

In order to be loving and empathetic, we must understand systems of oppression and mindfully learn ways to foster agency for those who have historically been disenfranchised. 

———-

Anger is a powerful tool in the hands of the oppressed. It is the industrious force behind action and in this case, is the vehicle for change. A year ago on January 21, 2017, an estimated 725,000 gathered in Washington D.C. and an estimated 4 million people gathered worldwide in solidarity for the Women’s March. It was visually commanding to witness the sheer density of people that filled the streets. According to the Washington Post, it “was likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history.” But gathering in cites across the world was only the beginning. Among countless actions of resistance this year and following it with gusto, a record number of women are running for office and Tanara Burke’s “Me Too” movement which was created originally in 2007 as “a grass-roots movement to aid sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities where rape crisis centers and sexual assault workers weren’t going” has reached women across the world. “Empowerment through empathy” is being employed to help speak about experiences of sexual harassment and assault. And the momentum is only building.

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Collective Quarterly Basecamp: Darien, GA

Georgia in July is HOT. I mean, really hot. It’s the kind of hot people like me from Pennsylvania don’t even know. The kind of hot where you step outside and you just immediately sweat–and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re just wet and salty. And there are mosquitos. So many mosquitos. They ate me alive. My legs were reminiscent of a crime scene straight out of an episode of Criminal Minds. I guess I have what people call “sweet blood.” Folks there would look at my legs and say, “OOF! Have you tried *any number of bug repellents*?” or, “Yes, ma’am. I see you’ve discovered our Georgia State Bird.” (Yes, the “bird” is referring to the damn mosquitos.) But in spite of the sweltering heat and all the damn bugs, I loved being in Darien–a small town of about 2,000 people in Southern Coastal Georgia. I was there to attend a photojournalism workshop hosted by Collective Quarterly and, almost as soon as my feet hit the ground, I was graciously invited into peoples’ homes, to their pool parties, their neighborhood bars, to church, onto their boats, etc. and I am thankful for the things I learned, the kindness of those who are no longer strangers, the food we shared, and the wine we drank. Oh, and I am especially thankful for all the tequila I drank with Martha on her porch and the beautiful summer nights in Tolomato Island.

Revisiting my experiences from the workshop months later has been edifying. I have been able to think a bit more critically about what I learned and what I need to work on while creating stories in the future. I know that I am privileged to have these opportunities. I feel at peace with acknowledging my shortcomings, correcting my bad habits, and allowing others to affirm my strengths and encourage me. I was challenged, for sure, but more importantly, I feel exponentially more so prepared to critically look at my own work without feeling like I’ve hit a wall with every project.

I’d like to thank Jesse Lenz, Seth Putnam, and the rest of the team at Collective Quarterly for taking the time to organize these workshops and bringing all of us together. Thank you for choosing to be people who curate spaces where we can all learn and feel encouraged and nurtured. Thank you for publishing my photo of Martha in the Golden Isles issue. Thank you to my photo editors, Benjamin Rasmussen and Judith Puckett-Rinella, for guiding me, letting me know that I am enough, and that my heart is a valuable resource. Thank you, specifically to Ben, for establishing what I need to work on while captioning… even if all of that information didn’t materialize in this project, your words were exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you to Rita, my workshop roomie, for almost instantly becoming my friend. You are a light. And thank you to all of the other speakers, photo editors, photographers, and to all the sweet humans that we met in Darien. I feel like a very lucky Dani Fresh.

RitaKovtun_DaniFresh_DarienGA_072017Photo by Rita Kovtun.

*

Portraits from Darien, GA. July, 2017.

“If you stop in a place and just take the time to talk to people and care—people just want to be cared for… and no one does that anymore,” Martha said one night while having dinner with friends at Skippers Fish Camp.

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She and her husband, Maurice, moved into a historic house up near Tolomato Island on October 31, 1992. “It was a full moon with an appropriate owl just outside the window that night.” Mrs. Garnett, the woman that previously owned the house lost her husband in 1924 and lived in the house alone until she passed in 1960. In the interim, it was a “vacation house” for Martha’s family. “She used to chloroform herself to sleep every night,” she says of Mrs. Garnett. The bottle is still on a shelf in the kitchen. Martha now lives in the house alone.

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Pastor George is the pastor at the First African Baptist Church. It will be 195 years old this December. They have service every 2nd and 4th Sunday. He also makes a mean rack of ribs.

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“I was homeschooled. It was really hard because I loved being around people… I had to learn how to be alone.” Joscelyn has lived in Darien since she was 9 years old and began homeschooling in the middle of the 3rd grade. She is frank about her struggle with depression and anxiety.

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Sister Ophelia is a member of the congregation at the First African Baptist Church and performs with the Gullah-Geechee Shouters. “We’re performing in Savannah tomorrow!” She is very persistent about Darien’s story being told accurately. “My mother-in-law, Sister Margie B Washington. She’s an encyclopedia about Darien.”

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Dee and her husband, George, just built their house in Tolomato Island. She is a waitress during the day at Blue Bay Mexican Restaurant. “We really love it here.” She lists numerous locals that they have become close with including a number of shrimpers. “Really, really wonderful, salt-of-the-earth people,” she repeats.

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Lime and his wife, Toni also live in Tolomato Island. They have lived there since 2009. He urgently created a 2-page outline on why, “Darien is so incredible!” Originally, Lime is from England and Toni is from Columbus, Ohio. They have an antique tray with a faded photo of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip on it. He brings her tea on the tray every morning.

And here is the essential document:

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“I hate Spanish moss. It’s messy.” Mario said with a grimace. He and his wife, Joanne, are originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He cuts Martha’s grass.

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John Wayne Anderson has lived in Darien his whole life. He’s also been a shrimper his whole life. He speaks soft and is astonishingly polite. He says, “Yes, ma’am,” with a subtle head bow.

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Bobby and Gina both graduated in 2002 from the same high school. “It’s just home, “ Bobby explains why he still lives in Darien.

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Brother Abraham grew up in Darien and moved back after living all over the US working construction on bridges. “It’s fine here,” he shrugs. Once a year, he escapes to the Gulf Coast of Florida for a few days to watch the sunset.

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Rob and his wife Anita live in the condos by the water near Skippers Fish Camp. They split their time between their house located in the mountains of Georgia and Darien. There is an alligator that follows their Boykin Spaniel, Trout, along the dock every time they board their boat.

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Melanie is a ‘life of the party.’ “Sit down and talk to us,” she winks.

Gather The Spirit For Justice: Common Ground Cafe

It is one of my favorite places to volunteer.

One of the most remarkable people I have ever photographed in Harrisburg, Naed Smith, introduced me to Common Ground Café. Naed is a neighborly presence in Allison Hill—called to vocation as the manager of the Catholic Worker House on Market Street. He is a tall, burly man who always greets people with literal and proverbial open arms. And, of course, he is almost always present here…

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Specifically, at Common Ground Café, they foster a safe, loving space to build community and the people who gather there embody the qualities that are essential to serve our homeless and underserved neighbors.

This is a mash-up of organizers, volunteers, and neighbors who come together for sit-down, restaurant style breakfast every second and last Saturday of the month.

And if it is a thing on your mind or on your heart, they’re always looking for volunteers. I hope you’ll join them.

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Thank you to Jeff Sigel from Gather The Spirit and my bud, David Yancey who helped out and made it possible for me to make images in this space. You’re both real swell fellas and I appreciate you, for sure.

http://gatherthespirit.webs.com/
Email Clay Lambert at commongroundbreakfast@gmail.com to volunteer.

New Year, Still Beating.

I’m going to level with you… 2016 was a weird year.

I felt a little lost, mismanaged my time, felt unnecessarily stressed, lacked balance, etc. And that’s a really difficult thing to admit to myself, but accepting that I have so many things to improve on actually feels good. Growth is exciting… and in the future, I know I need to stay focused and a little more structured. I need to give myself more time to work on personal projects and feel inspired. I need to take time away from work to be present with friends and family. I need to allow myself to be in more spaces where I am able to learn and grow as a photographer and as a curious person. Yes, all of these things, for sure.

That being said, this year wasn’t all bad. I still had a lot of beautiful experiences including the work I did on Marilyn Schlossbach‘s cookbook, seeing young people that I mentored show their work in Asbury Park with Jill Audra Bartlett, recording protest songs with my dear friend Koji & a water justice choir in Detroit, continued work with TheBurg, Sprocket Mural Works, Capital Region Water, Bare Bones Theatre Ensemble, and other wonderful friends and clients. I photographed some truly joyful weddings, had a summer intern (Morgan Crumlich, you are a treasure), taught photography at the Full STEAM Ahead Summer Day Camp at Marshall Math Science Academy, explored Acadia National Park, Portland, ME, and Pueblo, CO, and spent a week documenting in Detroit with Naïm at Voices For Earth Justice. All of these things make me immeasurably happy.

So now I’m onward to 2017:

The first thing I did this year was update the portfolios on my website! WHEW! WHAT A TASK THAT WAS! Ha! I hope you’ll take a moment to go look at the images there.

I will always be in love with people. They are so valuable and this is where I collect beautiful bits of them that they are willing to share with me: http://danifresh.com/

——————–

This is a photo of Morgan. We stayed in a yurt in Maine. And drank a lot of tequila. That was pretty cool. (Thanks for going on an adventure with me.) Durham, ME. July, 2016.

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Full STEAM Ahead Summer Day Camp

“The best camera is the camera that’s with you.”

Recently, I saw this post in The NY Times about “What Makes a New York City Kid?” In it was a video compilation of kids in different parts of the city who “agreed to document their daily lives” on their smartphones and while I was watching it, it struck me… How sweetly honest and accurate the footage was because they had been given the power to control their own narratives.

I will say this now and forever:

Giving young people agency is important. 

Similarly, here in Harrisburg, Jump Street puts creative tools in the hands of young people in the city through programs like Full STEAM Ahead Summer Day Camp. With the help of local artists in residence, teachers and administrators, student mentors, and volunteers, young students are introduced to a diverse plume of the arts and are able to choose mediums to express themselves.

During the camp this summer, I was asked to teach photography. For a week, we talked about color and composition, history and tools, and made images with Fuji Instax. My heart grew each time I witnessed their joy with the Polaroid-like prints rolling out the tops of the cameras like magic. They made portraits, documented other classes and spaces, and self-published their work by creating zines. The students were tremendously sweet and hilarious, tough and opinionated, super sharp and very determined… but most importantly, through all of the classes, they left with the power to create their own stories.

THANK YOU to Jump Street for having me, the student mentors and my intern, Morgan, for helping me, and the students for obliging me. I hope we can do it all again in 2017!

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Full STEAM Ahead Summer Day Camp from Dani Fresh on Vimeo.

 

 

Any Excuse Will Serve A Tyrant: The Mayor of Harrisburg & The Censorship of PennLive

A close friend of mine once said, “Who ever told us it was easy to be good?” 

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On Monday evening, PennLive’s Barbara Miller released an article titled, “Harrisburg mayor cuts off PennLive reporters.

Whelp, PennLive, you have my attention.

It begins, “Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse has ordered that his spokeswoman no longer talk with PennLive regarding city issues following two stories that looked at the mayor’s private business and real estate holdings.

PennLive also will no longer be invited to weekly city briefings, the spokeswoman said.

When asked what prompted the decision, city spokeswoman Joyce Davis issued this statement from Papenfuse: “The Mayor’s official statement is that he believes PennLive traffics in hate speech and cynicism. He has instructed me not to respond to inquiries from PennLive reporters.”

While I agree that PennLive’s comment section is a cesspool of bigotry and hate, believe many of their articles leave much to be desired as someone who loves this city with all her heart, and that, as an ad-based, corporate media, PennLive has incredulous shortcomings; the answers to addressing those issues do not exist in the Mayor of Harrisburg reducing transparency in his administration or “cutting off” PennLive.

Larry Binda put it best in an article he recently wrote for TheBurg in response to the mayor’s ban, “…like it or not, PennLive remains this area’s predominant source of news. Despite multiple rounds of layoffs in recent years, PennLive is still unmatched in terms of editorial budget and staff resources. No other media can compete. Not the TV news, not volunteer watchdogs and not TheBurg, which, for all of our progress, has a microscopic budget and staff compared to PennLive. You can argue with how PennLive deploys its resources, but it does dedicate a reporter to Harrisburg, the last jurisdiction it deems important enough to do so.”

Very plainly stated, censorship is not the answer.

But then again, I think he already knows that. Eric Papenfuse owns a bookstore. 

The larger issue, as I see it, is that Papenfuse acted out against PennLive after they released two very relevant articles ultimately questioning his character, his business, his real estate holdings, and whether or not his actions as mayor have been a conflict of interest as a business owner.

If you haven’t read the articles, you can read them here:
Overtime violations at Midtown Scholar warehouse illustrate national problem,” by Paul Barker
and
Harrisburg mayor owns 8 properties near bar he aims to close,” by Eric Veronikis

In these instances, PennLive did a damn good job exercising freedom of the press, freedom of information, access, advocating for their readers and for the public. Demanding transparency and morality from public officials is one of the most valuable things that the press can accomplish. It is those checks and balances that we so desperately need.

Moving Forward

I know this isn’t a revolutionary resolution, but I strongly believe that one of the best things we can do to better ourselves and to serve others is to admit when we’re wrong–from admitting that you’re the jerk who ate the last of the ice cream to universities admitting that sexual assaults occurred on their campuses to elected officials keeping themselves in check and every thing in between.

Instead of wanting to flip the closest table in a fit of outrage, maybe, hopefully, the better answer to is ask our mayor to do better… ask him to admit that he dropped the ball. We need him to do a better job right now representing Harrisburg.

To The Mayor:

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Please, admit when you are wrong. I beg you to not be that thing you so vehemently despised during and after Reed’s tenure: a city official abusing power and circumventing transparency.

(Photos by Dani Fresh//Courtesy of Roxbury News)

Bare Bones Theatre Ensemble: The Graduate

THE GRADUATE will be presented at FEDLIVE (2nd level of Federal Taphouse, 234 N. 2nd Street, Harrisburg, Pa 17101) by Bare Bones Theatre Ensemble at 7pm (doors at 6pm) on Sunday, April 17, 24, & May 1. Tickets are $15 and will be available at The Federal Taphouse and at the door. ALL SEATING GENERAL ADMISSION. So get there early!

So, here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson, ya damn floozie…

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Bare Bones Theatre Ensemble: HAIR!

As I get ready to shoot for the next Bare Bones show, The Graduate, I’m reminded that I never shared the images from HAIR. Doing cast photos for Bare Bones helps feed the part of my soul that is still madly in love with theatre. 

Last fall, Bare Bones Theatre Ensemble made their debut at FedLive in Harrisburg with the musical, HAIR and I was tasked with cast photos again. It’s a moving, cathartic show. And I wanted to create images that were intimate and part of the tribe… something that could convey real closeness to this group of characters. Lucky for me, many of them already were my friends and I spent an evening doing what I already love… being close to them. I’m so pumped on the final images.

I am immeasurably proud of everyone that was involved in this production of HAIR. It was beautiful. Each night, they packed the house and seriously knocked socks off every one’s feet. Their voices brought tears to my eyes. We are surrounded by so many incredibly talented people in this community. It’s something to celebrate, for sure.

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Viewpoint in Asbury Park: Big Brothers, Big Sisters

Last summer I was invited to be a photography advisor for a workshop called “Viewpoint” in Asbury Park at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monmouth County. The program, organized by Jill Bartlett, was designed to empower young people to express themselves through democratic image creation–using Fuji Instax and disposable cameras! Over the course of five weeks, they were able to explore Asbury Park’s downtown and boardwalk, the Stephen Crane House, and places they chose to represent Asbury Park. I had the opportunity to talk to them about content, color, intention, and create images with them. More importantly though, I listened and learned from them.

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This is Nyasia. We were walking down Cookman Avenue during the workshop, photographing structures and elements that caught our attention while discussing the constantly evolving landscape of Asbury Park’s downtown area. I love the beautiful architecture; historical structures that I believe will always represent this place. She loves how it’s constantly changing; there’s always something new to see. Then, in stride, she said, “I think we need to go take photos on the west side… People talk bad about it because they’re scared of it and they don’t know anything about it, but it’s really cool over there. Everybody knows everybody and people really help each other out.” In that moment, I think my heart looked up at her from my chest. What a poignant statement.

FEAR and the negative action or inaction from it is the substance that fills up and expands the divide in our local and global communities. Because it has festered, it is no longer acceptable to ignore it or to put a proverbial band-aid on it. I challenge you to combat the fear in your own heart and love in a manner that encourages others to do the same.

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I loved this and I can’t wait to do it again.

THANK YOU to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monmouth County, Jill, Jan, Larry, and everyone else who had a hand in making this happen. I think the world of you!

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