RAISING EAST NEW YORK: PHYLLIS B. DOONEY

Arts + Culture | Julian Lucas


Phyllis B. Dooney spent some time in East New York - a poverty stricken neighborhood in Brooklyn. After witnessing the family dynamic being different from the norm, Phyllis began a project on fatherhood. Phyllis' unique approach to this project raised the question, "How do the streets affect domestic life/spaces?” 

Jason "Law" Woods, 42, poses for a portrait with his daughter, Nevoeh West-Woods, in East New York, NY on July 28, 2015. "The courts do work for men but a lot of men won't pursue that. 'Cause it's been throughout time that you go to court for your child and nine times out of ten, they gonna give it back to the woman. It's like: why fight?"

Jason "Law" Woods, 42, poses for a portrait with his daughter, Nevoeh West-Woods, in East New York, NY on July 28, 2015. "The courts do work for men but a lot of men won't pursue that. 'Cause it's been throughout time that you go to court for your child and nine times out of ten, they gonna give it back to the woman. It's like: why fight?"

Phyllis B. Dooney completed a photographic project entitled, "Raising East New York". Her series began when she covered a local marching band in East New York back in 2012. She had developed an affection and became friends with many people from the community.

”In general, I tend to narrow in on family life in my work and knew I wanted to have a conversation with fathers for a new story in East New York.” Dooney investigates beneath the surface and looks at family social issues, such as mass incarceration, the 1980’s crack epidemic, poverty, trauma, crime and other forms of systemic racism. 

Dooney installs the camera obscura, and presents the question, “How does the streets affect domestic life/spaces?” Dooney notes, “We are all in agreement that environment shapes us, but it does not define us––does not define them.”

Reminding us of the current climate of the African American communities, Dooney mentions that men of color, especially black men in East New York, are most commonly militarized neighborhoods. She includes, “The stop and frisk law was only recently ruled as unconstitutional in New York City.” Therefore, while photographing, Dooney explains the energy is normal and common. While in conversation with the fathers, Dooney spoke about police shootings and the incident with Eric Garner being choked to death by a New York cop. It was not anything new or urgent, which is defined as “This is a chronic issue.”

Clifton, 35, poses for a portrait with his son, Logan Suttor, in East New York, NY on March 12, 2016. “Being a father is just not a title, it’s a job. It’s a full time job until the day you die.”

Clifton, 35, poses for a portrait with his son, Logan Suttor, in East New York, NY on March 12, 2016. “Being a father is just not a title, it’s a job. It’s a full time job until the day you die.”

Challenging stereotypes of black men being absent fathers, Phyllis attempts to create stories that destroy the existing narratives. Her hope with her project is that it gives the men a voice in a conversation about family and fatherhood. 

While photographing this series, Dooney doesn’t take the neutral approach; she is a part of the environment. Although she feels her presence will alter the reality of a situation, she embraces that by creating visual stories. She avoids having preconceived ideas and expectations about what she will find. She avoids bringing an agenda within her process. Dooney states, “I am in the camp that nothing is neutral and that my presence will always alter the “reality” of a situation. So I create stories that embrace that. What I try to avoid at all costs is having preconceived ideas or expectations about what I will find.”

David 22,poses for a portrait with his son, Prince David Pierce, in East New York, NY on March 29, 2015. "I think about this all the time: who am I doin' this for? Can I really make this work with his mother or am I just running away from it 'cause I still want to live my life? I don't want to be tied down. I know a lot of cats that didn't see 21, didn't see 25, didn't see 30."

David 22,poses for a portrait with his son, Prince David Pierce, in East New York, NY on March 29, 2015. "I think about this all the time: who am I doin' this for? Can I really make this work with his mother or am I just running away from it 'cause I still want to live my life? I don't want to be tied down. I know a lot of cats that didn't see 21, didn't see 25, didn't see 30."