While working on set wether it's photography, production, or art direction, I've come across people with extraordinary stories. Some of those stories are shared here.
I Just Want To Make My Dad Proud
Scott is a young actor who is building his career in New York City. He can relate to many people with whom he has something in common. He can relate to actors in the city who are trying to make it, he can also relate to models and musicians as he is involved in those arts as well.
But there is something else about Scott that you would never guess unless he chose to tell you. Scott’s father is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Those whose loved and close ones are suffering (or passed away) from Alzheimer's disease will understand the feeling. Alzheimer’s disease is a part of Scott’s story.
“I just want to make my dad proud”, said Scott somewhere half way through our conversation. It seemed to me that he had accepted his father’s decease as being a part of his life. Or maybe he didn’t, after all he is an actor; and he might have mastered the art of hiding pain away from strangers.
His father is a musician, and once played at Carnegie Hall. To celebrate his performance he bought himself a golden watch. And now that his memory is fading away, Scott and his brother Brian are carrying the legacy. Both of them have played at the Carnegie Hall as well, and they both wore the watch their dad once wore while performing.
Scott and his brother are very different, but very close. They support each other in this journey, by the end of which they will only have each other.
Scott and his brother are not the only ones who were affected by Alzheimer's disease; 500,000 people in United States die each year from this. This number does not include family and friends of those who passed away, although they suffered greatly as well.
Weather you can relate to Scott’s story or not, you can help many other people by visiting Alzheimer's Association website and making a donation.
Vinny Vella Here Comes The Trouble
Vinny Vella is a funny guy who will easily make you laugh. I met Vinny at his show, The Vinny Vella Show. He was sitting in the spotlight talking to the audience and cracking jokes. He was friendly and simple, not something you would expect from someone who has reached Vinny’s level. He became famous after his role of Artie Piscano in the movie Casino. He is also well known for the role of Jimmy Petrille on the HBO show The Sopranos.
Vinny is very energetic and I could tell he looks at the world with a good sense of humor. When asked how he wishes to be seen in this portrait he said “...just a nice guy, you know...”. Although I didn’t get a good read on Vinny, I decided to proceed with the project anyways hoping he will open up at some point during the shoot and sure enough he did.
After hearing some of his stories I can honestly say that Vinny has seen it all. From stealing change at parking lot meters to playing dangerous games with drugs. His story is truly fascinating, the struggles he went through and the experiences he had are worthy of a book. I hope his stories will see the light one day.
Although Vinny’s story is full and complex, he himself is a simple man and means well. He likes to have a cup of nice cappuccino and takes his time getting ready for the day. He spends most of his day in Little Italy not too far from the fish store his dad used to own when Vinny was a child. He likes to have lunch at La Mela, a restaurant in Little Italy on Mulberry St. His photographs are on the walls of the restaurant, and he is happy to take a photo or greet people that recognize him. “It’s not much”, said Vinny after taking a photo with one of the restaurant’s guests “but I just made her day, and that's nice”. He enjoys making others smile and pays close attention to every person that approaches him.
Some of Vinny’s stories really say “...here comes the trouble...”, though he is nothing but a sweet and simple man.
Simply Beautiful Fawn
Looking at this beautiful woman one would never think how easy and simple she really is. Though simplicity is not something her look screams out, her simplicity is expressed in her music. Simple and smooth melody and very sweet voice singing about love.
I met Fawn at Vinny Vella show, well actually, I met her voice first. I was having a conversation outside the recording room and my attention got carried away from the conversation by a beautiful song that started to play. I had to almost abort the conversation to see who was singing. What I saw was a beautiful and feminine woman, who looked very much like Marilyn Monroe. She was sweet and smiled at the audience while she was singing.
On the question how she would like to be shown in her portrait, she said "I don't know... Something simple". Her answer made no sense to me at the time. Simple? Not elegant, not sexy, not hot, not beautiful... just simple. After talking to her for a little bit longer, I realized that she is really just that simple.
Music was always her outlet, but it wasn't a career at first. Fawn worked as an accountant for a while and as she said: "... one day I just quit". For some reason, a life changing decision seemed simple and easy, maybe it was the way she said it. It's true how they say that an end it's just a new beginning. Now, music is her career and her passion.
She spends a lot of her free time in her apartment. "I don't know, I just love my apartment", she said. "I like to walk around the city and be around people", she continued as I was puzzled trying to understand how someone can be so simple and yet look like Marilyn Monroe. It's funny how men think that she is "high maintenance" because she is so beautiful, I wonder how intimidating she must be to men… and they would never know how simple she really is.
Her story is simple, she just loves music and that's all she wants to do.
Violetta The Woman of Steel
On an hour long train ride from Brooklyn to Queens I was laughing at myself thinking how crazy I must be. Going I don’t know where, meeting I don’t know whom, just to take a picture! What I didn’t know at that point is that my mind was about to be blown away by the story of this warrior woman I was about to meet.
A definition of a word hustler should have Violetta’s picture next to it! From the first minutes of our conversation she was dominating, it’s hard to dominate me in a conversation… I talk a lot… trust me. But I came nowhere near the energy level that Violetta has. She was so energetic that I started asking her about what she eats. I thought to myself: “Whatever she is eating, I am eating that too! How the hell do you get to be so energetic?!” Not only was I overwhelmed by her energy, but her story had my jaw hanging the entire time.
Violetta is originally from Poland. She got to US by cutting out bar codes out of shampoo bottles! That’s right… bar codes of shampoo bottles turned out to be a one way ticket to the United States of America! “I just wanted to win a giant Teddy bear for my boyfriend...” she said “... I didn’t think I was actually going to win the grand prize…” She won the lottery, bought her relatives presents, and on the remaining money got a ticket to US. She was 18 at a time and always dreamed about New York City. What she didn’t know is that she was setting herself for a life long love/hate relationship with this city that stretched and tested her in every direction possible.
The reality set in too quickly as immigration status prevented her from going after her dream of becoming a singer and the New York husstle sucked her in. She was struggling for many years trying to make her ends meet, juggling several jobs at a time while pursuing her dreams. She couldn’t leave the country to see her family, and that just added oil to the fire. After eight long years, she finally got a break and was able breathe freely as her immigration status got approved. “... but I never cried...”, she said “... it was tough, but I wouldn’t let myself cry...”
She approached me with a warm smile, she was gentle and feminine, full of life and energy. And if it wasn’t for her sharing this story with me, I would never see a woman of steel behind this delicate being.
Violetta was always the sunshine, and did whatever it took to make others happy, even if that meant she had to sacrifice a part of herself. If people asked her to sing, she would sing, even if she couldn’t breathe. If people asked her to smile, she would smile, even if she was dying on the inside. She is naturally caring and giving, and in the process of trying to satisfy everyone around herself, she gave herself away. “You have to do it for yourself...”, she said, as slowly after so many years of being lost and pulled in different directions, she is finally finding herself.
Taking on The 9 to 5 or Talking About Vaginas
The Story of Marybess
I was sitting in the front row of the smallest theater I have ever been to in my life. The stage was so close that my feet were resting on it, a small black stage with two chairs at the end of it. I didn’t know what to expect, since it was my first time seeing a variety show. It was fun and changed quickly, and one girl was particularly interesting.
She came out on stage in a chambray jean shirt and black leggings, cute glasses and bright red hair. She had a grey beanie on and was holding a beer. She started her act and I was taking pictures, the usual, but the next thing she said got me laughing and I knew I had to take her portrait right there and then.
“... the thing about being a woman in 2016 is that pretty much everything and anything around or near my vagina is on Facebook...” she said. That’s a good opening line, I would say, and pretty brave too. I am uncomfortable talking about “girl stuff” with my friends, and this girl just blurted it out in front of all these people!
We met up a few weeks later, and I was ready for a feminist rant and protesting aggression, but got none. Marybess turned out to be the exact opposite of what she was on stage. Sweet and charming, very friendly and smiles a lot. Wait… What about the girl who was talking about her vagina?! Well, she IS an actress and “Jenna,” aka the vagina girl (I just like the name the vagina girl, sounds like a superhero), is just an act.
Her real story is one of conflict. Conflict which many of us have to go through in our life. I am talking about the conflict of “growing up,” “becoming an adult,” or “being realistic” while wanting to be creative and do what you love. “Do I take a steady job, or do I pursue a career?” said Marybess during our conversation. She has been in New York for eight years now, and hasn’t gotten to the level where she wants to be as an actress yet. Her mom is supportive, though sometimes brings reality in check suggesting that “maybe it’s time to get a real job.”
A "Real job." What is that exactly? A place where you go for 40 hours a week to engage in meaningless activities that could easily be done by someone else if it wasn't you? A place that makes you look forward to the weekend so you can forget the vicious cycle for a couple days partying and drinking to make the unavoidable thoughts go away? That doesn't seem like too big of a price to pay for stability, right? :) How is that for the dark side of a "real job?"
There is little financial stability in Marybess’ life, just like there is none in mine. She could pursue her career and get nowhere, or she could become very successful and be the new young “Melissa McCarthy.” The same is true for me. I could end up nowhere with my photography or have my work appear on the cover of New York Times. It is amazing how many of our dreams we are willing to trade for a little sense of stability in our lives.
The life of an artist is tough, but it’s even tougher in New York City. Here, where people with “real jobs” are struggling, it is at least strange that this city is a hub for creatives.
When times get tough, Marybess finds her support through the people around her. Her family and friends are the world for her. “Invest in people who invest in you,” she said and continued, “...people who stay will lift you up and will be there for you… it’s the people that make the experience.”
In this life of constant conflict, of “being realistic” or “going for it,” it is the support of our close ones that matters. Her story is a good reminder of how important the quality of the people you surround yourself with is, because they can either lift you up or bring you down.
If you think this story is getting a bit depressing, here is a bright side. You have to look at it with a sense of humor. “Don’t take yourself too seriously.... It’s not that complicated," said Marybess with a smile on her face. That’s the only way you can look at it! There is no point in being serious about it!
Yes, it is tough and there are no guarantees. But, hey, who else gets to talk about vaginas on stage in front of strangers? :) Maybe it’s not the standard “being realistic” 9-5 torture of life, but at least at the end there will be no regrets. Because, like Marybess says and I agree, "I’d rather try and fail, than never try at all."
You can find out more about Marybess by visiting her website www.marybesspritchett.com
If you are in New York City, you can visit her at The Annoyance Theatre most Saturdays at 6pm with "Blind Tiger" through May.
Stay tuned more stories are coming up! :)
Stay True to Who You Really Are The Story of Darja
Darja is a woman in motion, who spreads love and positive energy everywhere she goes. From Latvia to Germany, to the UK, and finally to the US. From competing in Rhythmic Gymnastics at the age of four to starring in Pop Stars and Pop Idol, to taking on acting in New York City at AADA. Oh and yes, squeeze somewhere in between a BSc in International Relations at The London School of Economics.
“Resting is not an option, it has to be deserved”, said Darja. She is always “working towards something” and has a healthy appetite for challenges.
When asked what she wanted to say with her portrait she replied, “I want to inspire my fellow travelers to never give up on your journey towards self fulfillment, to sometimes let the world go silent and listen to the inner child within, and to not let naysayers drown your vision...”.
She stayed true to herself throughout her creative career and encourages others to do the same.
“The secret to long lasting success and fulfillment, is to be truly passionate about what you do. To immerse yourself fully and deeply into the things that inspire you and make you fall in love with the world you create for yourself, over and over again...” - Darja
When do you pull the trigger? Is it right?
“Cocktail developer… What the hell does that mean anyways?”, thought I to myself while looking at Kris’s Instagram. He had a picture behind a bar, and I thought that he must have heard so many crazy stories from other people; it would be awesome if he shared some of them with me for this project.
On the way to meet up with Kris I expected to hear crazy stories of other people. Love dramas, work scandals, nasty divorce stories... because people are crazy and if you put a little of alcohol in them the things that come out of their mouth will amaze you. But Kris’s own story topped it all.
His story is a story of conflict, a conflict that began at the age of 19 when he decided to fight in Bosnian War. “I was thinking to myself, I am scared to shit, but I am going to do this anyways!”, said Kris. On the front line of the war he wondered to himself how much more he could push, he wasn’t afraid to die, but getting caught or losing a limb seemed worse than death itself.
The main conflict in the war for him wasn’t in relation to himself, but in relation to others. “When do you pull the trigger? Is it right?”, these are the questions that Kris haven’t answered yet even though 23 years have passed. How do you justify killing another person? And even if you do, is the justification valid? Because as Kris said: “We make justifications all the time”. Nobody comes back the same person after a war, and neither did Kris. Killing another person does something to you for the rest of your life, and maybe that’s for the better, because if it didn’t how much of a human could one be?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t a thing when Kris came back from the war. He had to figure out how to live on his own and only 18 years later reached out for help. A traumatic event in one's life can change a person to the point of no return, and that change is not always noticeable from the inside. It takes a great amount of self awareness and analysis to be able to determine triggers and patterns that others see so clearly. “People couldn't quite tell if I was a good guy, or a dick”, said Kris trying to explain the confusion.
There are two sides to Kris now, and there is no define line between them. With time he is getting comfortable with both. “I lived a great life”, he said at some point in our conversation. It made me happy to hear that he has accepted his life and everything that happened the way it is. Because when the conflict gets accepted, it’s not a conflict anymore. He is still a work in progress, but aren’t we all are?
Pain The Ally and Fear The Bitch
Jamal is a strong man who made pain his ally and fear his bitch... as per his exact words by the way. From project houses to Cannes Film Festival he paved his way and fought every fear and doubt he had. He didn't reject his fears though and they are still present in his life, he just learned how to use them to his advantage.
He fell in love with the fear of pain after he hit rock bottom in his career and personal life. "Suffering has a rock bottom, you hit it and then you go numb. But happiness has no ceiling. What gets you to happiness is growth and without pain there would be no growth", he said. He had faith in the process of learning from pain. And unlike many of us who reject and deny pain, he started embracing it as a pathway- an ally to his growth and eventual happiness. We are all afraid of pain, but when it comes and we live through it, somehow it becomes not that big of a deal. When Jamal hit rock bottom, he looked around, got determined and figured out a way to use pain to his advantage.
As he started seeing a little bit of himself in every person, fear of rejection became his friend. "It's hard to be afraid of people once you identify them as a person just as real and human as yourself. People are just people, you can see some of yourself in everyone." He said getting to know someone as a person is the way to conquer the fear of rejection. But what about art? What about the artist inside? The most insecure person on the planet! For example me, who sits in front of a monitor looking at the photographs thinking they are never good enough. What if someone won't like my work? Jamal had an answer for that one too. "The apple tree doesn't give a shit about good or bad, it just makes apples. Some are sweet, some are sour. But it doesn't give a shit. And if it stops making apples long enough to ponder If they are good or not it gets chopped down for fire wood." Just make apples and not give a shit, because that is your purpose- to create. Let the world decide if its sour or sweet but keep feeding them.
Fear of the unknown is something Jamal enjoys now. That feeling that scares most of us and prevents us from chasing our wildest dreams became his best friend. "You need it as an artist", he said. Living in the unknown is his happy place. How is that for a comfort zone? It wasn't like this all the time of course, "It was crippling when I was younger, afraid of change, I just tried to survive in the condition that I was in. Then I said, fuck it, and committed myself to creation”. And then... He became the apple tree, a good one that makes delicious apples, some are sweet and some are sour; but all delicious in their own way.
Jamal believes that these fears are necessary for one to grow, as long as they don't paralyze you. "If you have no fear of rejection, you can be a complete asshole. You won't care about others. If you have no fear of the unknown, you can be reckless and dangerous. Fear of pain is necessary for your survival, just don't let it captivate you. Life is about growth, to grow you need pain. So pain is the ally of happiness. Fear, if controlled, is needed to grow and to be happy. Every time you are happy, its because you are progressing in some way. To be happy, you have to feel pain. Make pain your ally and make fear your bitch."
To find out more about Jamal click here to visit his IMDb page