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I Am: Self Portraits of Young Women in Transition

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Triptych with three self-portraits: holding cash, hair in braids, hair loose.

Sarah Guzman

I remember not getting letters.
I remember watching commercials of food that made my mouth water and all I could do was close my eyes and pretend I was eating what I had just seen.
I used to pretend that it tasted like the Big Mac in the commercials.
And for dessert, frosted flakes, vanilla wafers and blueberry muffin all crushed up inside a milk carton with milk. It tasted like a flurry.

I remember making a scarf out of my pillowcase.
I remember the moldy smell of decay, depression, disownment, and death,
and the rats running from cell to cell and roaches that would come up out of the sink.

I know there’s more to life than robberies and nose bleeds.

I know the ones that love me are disappointed in me
because they never thought they would see me in a cage;
they see the rage that is burning within me.

Sitting in the plastic chair covered in a triple extra large Velcro jumper, hair a mess, with stress written all over my face.

The devil is testing me,
God is testing me.
I’m trying to be that lotus flower behind the crack house.
I’ve learned never to regret what I’ve done but to take it as a learning experience and grow from it and never let it happen again. I take every bad experience as a stepping stone that makes me wiser for the future for the next path in my journey in life.

My physical may be trapped but my mental flies to places that only minds can go and only minds can understand. I go to a place in my heart that helps me fly; I fly even when I cry.

I
I am
I am a woman of power
A woman of sincerity
A woman that knows how it is to be incarcerated
I am a woman that knows how it feels to be verbally, physically, mentally abused
I am strong
I am beautiful

© Sarah Guzman/Friends of Island Academy and ICP

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Triptych of self-portraits: face with light across eyes, white dress, and pregnant stomach.

Octavia Fryer

I remember when I was sad
I had no where to go
No one to talk to
I was alone
Felt like the whole world was against me
I had no friends, no one would talk to me
Didn’t care about myself
One day I realized if I live my life like this I wouldn’t go anywhere
I started to talk and open up and then realized this is the person
I’m supposed to be
I’m about to be 21
I’m growing into a woman

Past
Confusion not knowing where I want to go
Not knowing who I am
Looking for attention  
Wanting the love of my mommy

Present
Just finding where I belong
Knowing who I am
I’m in a place where I want to be
Happy about starting a family

Future
Happy to be bringing a new life into this world
Someone to share my life with
Brianna makes me feel like there’s no one that can come before her
She makes me feel like no one can break me apart
Brianna is the reason I wake up and do what I have to do everyday

© Octavia Fryer/Friends of Island Academy and ICP

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Triptych of self-portraits: lying down, playing hopscotch, in white coat.

Lauren Won

Flying is being free,
being able to do and go as you please
I’m not flying yet but I’m preparing for take off
by doing what’s right and healthy for me
To get me where I need to go

I used to love
I used to care and then grew to be nonchalant and uncaring
Yet sensitive at the same time
I used to get in trouble

I used to be in jail
I remember trying to commit suicide

I remember being really angry at my mother
Hated my step father

I keep a lot of things in

I remember day-dreaming all the time
I remember being on punishment
ALL THE TIME
I remember stuffing my face on holidays

I remember all my graduations
except for High School
Living in a group home for 2 years
Treating men like how they treat women

Going to the pool
Rollerblading
Dancing
Doing all my school projects at the last minute
I remember my first dozen roses
Feeling ugly at times

Stealing
And I’m still hurting

Transformation
Growing up was so screwed up
Always had a man to fill the void of a father figure—to guide, protect, and love me
Since I’ve been home from jail, I’ve had to grow up real quick. But as I’ve never had a complete childhood, I still want to be a little girl, yet still make my own decisions like an adult—successful, elegant and beautiful.

© Lauren Won/Friends of Island Academy and ICP
Friends of Island Academy and the International Center of Photography

ICP's partnership with Friends of Island Academy provides the students with hands-on photography and writing instruction integrated with activities that develop life skills and build self-esteem. This program offers photography and digital media education to teens who have had little or no access to the photographic medium. The curriculum is collaboratively designed by staff from both organizations, and is tailored to meet the needs of the students. Themes identified by the students and staff have included health and wellness, overcoming obstacles, literacy, and self-expression. The program culminates in a celebration of the students' work that combines photography and writing.

Friends of Island Academy is a youth development center, which anchors and empowers young people newly released from jail in New York City and offers the protective factors necessary to keep them from going back.

Artist Statement

Friends of Island Academy and the International Center of Photography

Young people involved in the criminal justice system face tremendous barriers. The majority of youth transitioning out of the system live in low-income neighborhoods disproportionately affected by poverty, violence, and high rates of incarceration. Many have lost family members to drugs, violence, and AIDS. Many live in foster care, and some have children of their own. Many have experienced trauma in their lives such as physical abuse, sexual assault, neglect, and homelessness. These young people are termed “disconnected,” cut off from the factors that enable a young person to successfully transition into adulthood: positive role models, a stable family environment, and access to health care, nutritious food, and education.
The International Center of Photography’s Community Partnerships focus on collaborations with schools, community centers, and other nonprofit organizations. The goal of the programs is to teach photography as a way to foster self-esteem and community empowerment in New York City neighborhoods. These programs are designed to meet the needs and interests of each partner, integrating photographic instruction with youth development and social change.

The Portable Digital Darkroom program was created to provide digital media education to teens who have little or no access to digital technologies and photography. Classes are held at the International Center of Photography, and instructors also take digital cameras and laptop computers to the partner site (Friends of Island Academy). Participants learn how to make photographs, work with computers and software, download and edit their images, and combine photography and writing to express their ideas and tell their stories. The collaboration culminates in a celebration and presentation of the students’ work.

Friends of Island Academy was founded in 1990 to help New York City youth return to their neighborhoods successfully, exit the criminal justice system permanently, and grow into self-sufficient adults. Though a staggering 65 percent of teens released from jails or detention facilities will return to the system, intervention programs, such as Friends of Island Academy, which provide job training, counseling, education, mentoring, and youth leadership development, can help reduce the recidivism rate. Friends of Island Academy has become a national model for helping formerly incarcerated and at-risk youth get jobs, earn their diplomas and GEDs, and work to rebuild their lives.

In 2005, the International Center of Photography and Friends of Island Academy launched an annual collaboration. The program introduces young women to digital photography and encourages them to discover positive ways to express themselves. Photography and writing assignments are enhanced by discussions, field trips, and guest artist visits. The students’ photographs and text, a selection from the inaugural partnership, highlight their journey from darker to more positive and healthier times. In each triptych, the student’s commitment to self-improvement and photography is evident.

The young people at Friends of Island Academy who are transitioning out of the criminal justice system represent an overlooked and dismissed portion of the next generation. By providing comprehensive services for transitioning youth, Friends of Island Academy empowers participants to take responsibility, stay on a positive path, and become valuable, and visible, members of the community.

June 2007

Moving Walls is an annual documentary photography exhibition produced by the Open Society Foundations Documentary Photography Project. Moving Walls is exhibited at our offices in New York, London, and Washington, D.C., and includes five to seven discrete bodies of work.

Since its inception in 1998, Moving Walls has featured over 175 artists whose works address a variety of social justice and human rights issues that coincide with the Open Society mission.

Are You a Photographer?

The Documentary Photography Project is soliciting proposals for our next exhibition, Watching You, Watching Me: Photography in an Age of Surveillance.

Plan a Visit

The Moving Walls 21 exhibit is open free-of-charge to the public from January 29 through October 3, 2014.