As PIP reflects on the past year and looks forward to 2015, we'd like to share some of our amazing experiences and thoughts.
It's been quite a year. In January 2014, this project was in its infancy. It was just an idea, bolstered by the enthusiastic support of those around me. In late January, I headed down to Miami to photograph my first subject, Barbara Muhammad Scharief, the mayor of Broward county. I was nervous, for this was my first portrait attempt and the success or failure of the project seemed to rest on the outcome of this initial shoot.
During a flight connection on my way to Miami, I ran into Congressman Steve Israel. He is my hometown Congressman and the first politician I ran the project by. His enthusiasm convinced me that my idea was worth pursuing. Accompanying him was Congresswoman Nita Lowery and I also shared the outline of the project with her. She immediately signed on and was delighted by the possibilities. Okay, I thought to myself, how fortuitous! Maybe this is an auspicious omen. However, it was when I was seated behind Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz on my next leg to Florida that I really knew my stars were aligning. She too agreed to sit for a future portrait.
The location Barbara Scharief chose was outside a diner where her father used to sell clothing to passersby. It was also where he was shot and killed by a 15-year-old robber when Barbara was just a young girl. In Barbara's own words, "the place reminds me of a time when life was good and my family was whole... I can visualize my father standing there selling clothes and giving out food to the needy people in that area. He would say to me 'whenever you get to the point in your life when you can give something back, you should.' This is the reason I am in politics now, so it's only fitting that this be the place we memorialize."
Because of the profound meaning and emotion of Barbara's chosen location, I wanted to capture her portrait with the sensitivity it deserved. The diner (Jumbo's) was a slice of old Miami, circa 1960s, a throwback with colors to match. Actually, it's famous for being the first white-owned restaurant in Miami to break the color barrier by serving and employing African Americans. On the day of the portrait, it was bathed in morning sunshine. Folks outside the diner spoke to me about the significance of Jumbo's as a neighborhood hub with a comforting atmosphere and the best soul food around.
When Barbara arrived, she stepped out her vehicle picture perfect. Her make-up was flawless. I kept thinking what a poised and stunning woman she is. I brought along a rose to be used as a prop to signify the memory of her slain father. As I concentrated on the task at hand, we didn't speak much, but afterwards she treated me to breakfast and the conversation flowed. We spoke at length about her rise in politics and her determination through the tough races. When I left Barbara, I felt the first solid affirmation of my project in her dauntless spirit and generous heart. What a great beginning!