Rebecca Andruszka, who works with DUG, says her friend’s children will only eat vegetables from the garden at school — not from the grocery store.
“I think it’s just that it seems less foreign when you’re a part of the growing process,” Andruska says.
Today I spoke with photographer Erica Reade, who married her passion for social justice and her love for photography and the arts, in her position as Program Director at Leave Out Violence (LOVE). Erica and I met while we were both involved in social justice in NYC (and she took my headshot on the front page!).
So Erica, tell me about yourself. Thanks for this opportunity Rebecca, I’m really honored to be speaking with you. I was born and raised in Montreal Canada, I have been living and working in NYC for over 9 years. I moved to NY to pursue my Masters in International Affairs at the New School, and I am now the Program Director at Leave Out Violence (LOVE) and a photographer. While I was at New School, I was traveled to Brazil in 2007 for a“Human Rights and Media” Intensive. It deepened my understanding of the indispensable role photography and alternative media plays in social justice. At the same time, I couldn’t put down my own camera, and I have not stopped shooting since. My passion is shooting the Rockaway beaches in NYC, which evolved out of my documentation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
So you never studied photography in school? No, I am a self-taught photographer, and I use many formats; digital, film, phone and instant photography. I have gotten better simply by shooting as often as I can. I was recently granted a Natural Eye National Scholarship at the Santa Fe Photography Workshops, where I studied with renowned photographer Eddie Soloway. I created my own learning environment by founding Camera of the Month Club in 2014. Today I am also happy to say that I am a Young Artist Member of SohoPhoto Gallery.
Tell me about LOVE, and your role there. LOVE is a non-profit organization that works with NYC youth who have experienced violence, and we use media arts to prevent, reduce and respond to the violence in their lives. I have been with LOVE for over four years, and my job is to make positive change happen. I do that through photography and the media arts. On the ground level, I engage 65 youth directly, in 3 different programs year-round. I mentor our youth to bring their photography projects and life goals to fruition. I design and facilitate high-energy and highly innovative media arts projects and anti-oppression workshops. The youth I have worked with have produced beautiful, moving photography essays, raising awareness on such topics as: domestic violence, the beauty and plight of marginalized communities, homelessness, and youth identity. I have worked with countless youth who have fallen in love with photography, using it to express themselves, and tell their stories. I have supported youth to pursue photography internships, scholarships, and eventually degrees in college.
What is it like to lead photography workshops for youth? First, it’s so much fun. I love photography, and I love the kids I work with, it’s the best part of what I do. I encourage kids develop photo essays that depict the realities of their lives and communities. I introduce youth to basic photography skills: rule of thirds, lighting, framing, composition, with an emphasis on exploration and experimentation with their cameras and projects. Youth shoot photos during the numerous field trips I organize, as well as evenings and on weekends, and they eventually finish with a strong photo project to present at their exhibits.
All of our photo exhibits have been hugely successful, bringing in packed venues, and selling youth photos at our annual fundraisers for thousands of dollars.. We have exhibited in venues such as the world renowned Nuyorican Poets Cafe and Christie’s Auction House. For most youth, it is the first time they have their photography work printed. They are accustomed to seeing digital images daily, but many youth remark they are proud of seeing their photos hung on the gallery walls. Our shows communicate messages of non-violence, hope and inspiration, and they give youth the voice to communicate to the community the issues and topics they cared deeply about. It’s an honor to work with NYC youth by teaching them photography, knowing that I am working to heal or reduce the violence their lives, as well as deepen my own photographic practice at the same time.
How would you say your personal work as a photographer influences or complements your role at LOVE? And what’s integral to the work of an artist? As a photographer, I have learned to practice enormous patience. I try to communicate this to the youth I work with; a photo project can come to life overnight or it can take two years. You might not be successful right away, and that’s OK. Art is a process. Photography is also a means of self-care for me. Working on issues of violence is painful and exhausting, and photography is healing in that it allows me to capture beauty in the world. I encourage my youth to seek that same healing.
Any last thoughts? Young people are incredibly resilient, creative people, and they are often surrounded by enormous violence or are inundated by toxic messages. The arts play a huge role in healing and creating a safe space to talk about these experiences, and we should be investing more time and resources into providing those spaces for our youth.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me!
Contact Erica and learn more about her work: