Archive for August, 2009

Brooklyn Moment #10: Neither Rain Nor Heat…
August 31, 2009

One of the highlights of summer in Brooklyn for nearly a decade has been attendance at the feel-good, Sunday afternoon-til-dark family picnic, doggie meet-and-greet, drum circle, twirl-n-skate house music fest that is Soul Summit. In the shadow of the looming monument atop Fort Greene Park’s highest point, rotating DJ’s kick it Garage-style for those old enough to remember to share just how it’s done with those who are not. Picnic spreads are as likely to feature vegan fare as hot wings and the music alone can take you higher. It’s all love.

I was only able to make one, the last in this summer’s series and I’m so glad I did. I needed to shake a tail feather and release the stuff of a hectic schedule. I mixed and mingled with friends, enjoying the family reunion vibe. We danced into a sweaty frenzy, so hard, perhaps we invoked the rain gods who pelted us with equal fervor. At first the crowd dispersed, seeking partial shelter under the leafy canopy of trees lining the perimeter of the “dance floor.” The plug was pulled, literally, on the music in deference to nature and her ability to smite by lightning. Many threw up their umbrellas, bounded out into the open and returned to rainy revelry amid the rhythms of the storm. We danced, ecstatically waterlogged and determined to outlive the monsoon. Eventually the DJs were pumping the tunes once more. Neither rain nor heat nor humid night would stay these couriers from the mass transmission of their anointed sounds.


Publicist Lea Byrd and her darling daughter


Stylist David De La Cruz and friends (including a glorious Thai Ridgeback)


Roll, bounce.



Hello, “Goodbye”
August 25, 2009

After having seen the lovely film Goodbye Solo during its theatrical run last Spring, I’d planned to do a post about it and the nuanced performance of newcomer Souléymane Sy Savané as the ebullient taxi driver, Solo, but life imposed, busyness preempted putting finger to keypad.


I’m glad to hear from Erickka Sy Savané, his prettily pregnant wife and Bitches Brew columnist of the DVD release today.  Available from Lionsgate, the DVD features the theatrical trailer as well as commentary from the writer/director Ramin Bahrani.


Though there is the potential in the “unlikely friendship” storyline of pandering to cliche, it is deftly handled here.  Like Marianne Sägebrecht’s  turn as the German tourist Jasmin alighting and bringing light to a Mojave desert truck stop in 1987’s Bagdad Cafe, with believably open-hearted optimism, Souléymane’s Solo enchants us as he endeavors to bring joy into heart of the lonely curmudgeon William and to carve his own tasty slice of the American pie.


Hailing from Côte d’Ivoire, the charming, gracious Souléymane, like the Senegalese Solo left his African home to carve a new life path. interestingly, he did a two-year stint with Air Afrique as a flight attendant– the very position for which Solo longs to retire his hack license.  Lean and handsome, Souléymane modeled in Paris and New York (which is how I know him–wonderful to work with) prior to launching his acting career.  He is definitely one to watch; he appears in two forthcoming features (one alongside Uma Thurman) and his recent theater debut as the South African Thami in Groundswell was critically acclaimed.  


Souléymane, his co-star, Red West and filmmaker, Ramin Bahrani appeared on Charlie Rose on May 15th to discuss the film.




Ivoirian Souléymane Sy Savané’s winning turn as “Solo,” the Senegalese taxi driver, in “Goodbye Solo.”



Epperson Takes to the “Runway”
August 20, 2009

I’ve known Rodney Epperson for almost as long as I’ve been in New York City, and that’s a loooong time.  He is simply a stellar human being. There wasn’t a dry eye in the garden when in an incredibly moving outdoor ceremony he wed the equally lovely and talented Lisha Gh’Rael (wearing a dress of his design.)  Deeply spiritual, wonderfully creative and with hearts as huge and open as their smiles, they have inspired me with their love, commitment and collaboration. They and their brood of charming children are a delight to be around.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with him as well variously over the years, pulling his artfully constructed garments for myself as well countless photo shoots with everyone from Erykah Badu to a recent shoot with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Known in the industry simply as Epperson, he is a major talent who deserves a much wider berth to share his gifts and I am absolutely thrilled that tonight at 10pm he debuts on the sixth season of Project Runway.  Check the Lifetime website for the good word on my designing friend, the one with the perennially perfect beard.

Congratulations, Epperson!  I, we, so many of us are rooting for you.


An Epperson Sketch from

Renewal Amid the Rubble
August 18, 2009

By now we’ve all heard about the fire that destroyed the art-filled manse of DC arts patron Peggy Cooper Cafritz, a home that was a living testament to her commitment to the arts of the African diaspora.  As a founder of Washington’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, she has affirmed the gifts of countless artists, many near and dear to me. My heart goes out to her on her tremendous loss, yet I know she will channel her positive Aries fire energy to moving on and starting anew “God willing and the economy willing” at rebuilding her collection.

I’m glad to know that the August issue of O Magazine features an article on Ms. Cooper Cafritz and her home, so there is very recent photographic documentation of her magical space. And the Washington Post piece, Bonfire of the Humanities features a slide show of some of the works in her eclectic collection.


A surviving sculpture, head bowed, seems to contemplate the devastation.

Photo: Bill O’Leary, Washington Post

Picturing the Promise
August 18, 2009

A couple of months ago, whilst visiting my mom in DC for her birthday, we took advantage of the Smithson endowment and museum hopped on The Mall. One notable exhibition is The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise. A collaborative effort of the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian’s soon-to-open National Museum of African American History and Culture, the exhibit features over 100 images from the photographic works of the Scurlock family, spanning several decades of the 20th century.

Like Harlem’s James VanDerZee and Pittsburgh’s Teenie Harris, Addison Scurlock was one of many photographic chroniclers of regional Black life. The often- unheralded documentarians of their communities, these artists have through their lenses bequeathed us a lasting record of the inspiration, aspiration, travails and triumphs of the 20th century African-American experience.

Born in Fayetteville, NC in 1883, Addison Scurlock became an apprentice to notable white portrait photographer, Moses P. Rice (President Abraham Lincoln among his subjects) when at 17; he relocated with his family to Washington, DC where his father eventually established a law practice.

By 1904, Addison had built a solid clientele of his own within the Black community having photographed renowned poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. In 1907 after having married Mamie Estelle Fearing (she would be his business manager for more than 50 years) he opened his first photographic studio in their T Street home. As the business grew, he moved the studio to a neighboring space on U Street, where he practiced his craft until the age of eighty. His sons Robert and George, who’d trained under the tutelage of their father in composition, lighting and expert, undetectable retouching, all hallmarks of the coveted “Scurlock look,” worked alongside their father for many years, established the Capitol School of Photography (one notable student, the newspaper photographer, Jacqueline Bouvier, attended before she became Mrs. John F. Kennedy) and bought the business from the elder Scurlock upon his retirement in 1963.

The Scurlock Brothers would expand the business to include custom film processing through their Custom Craft division and continue their father’s portraiture legacy until 1977 when in spite of efforts to acquire historic landmark status, the Studio at 900 U Street was razed for subway construction of the Metro Green Line. Fortunately, the Scurlock Studio Collection (thousands of images, negatives and photographic equipment) was donated to the Smithsonian Institution and forms the basis of the exhibition up through February 28, 2010. The beautiful exhibition catalogue with a foreword by Deborah Willis is available for $35 (not bad for a 225-page hardcover book)


Addison and Mamie Scurlock, c.1910’s


Howard College Dramatic Club, 1911


The Black-owned Whitelaw Hotel with 3 Cabs in Driveway, c.1920s


The Effie Moore Dancers, c.1920’s


Dunbar High School Champion Basketball Team, 1922, features a young Charles Drew, fourth from the right, before earning his place in history for his pioneering work in developing the blood bank concept.


The Murray Brothers Printing Company, 1925, was home to The Washington Tribune newspaper and steps away from the entrpreneurial F.H.M Murray’s other business, the Murray Palace Casino.


Poet Esther Popel Shaw with Daughter Patricia, 1930


Charles Drew and Red Cross Medical Team, c.1940-1941. Photographed nearly twenty years after his championship basketball season, Dr. Drew had recently been granted his doctorate and was spearheading the “Blood for Britain” program instituted in World War II to save the lives of Allied forces.


Lt. and Mrs. U.S. Ricks, c.1942-1945 curatorial commentary


Picketing “Gone With the Wind” outside the Lincoln Theatre, 1947. Rufus Byars, minstrel performer and manager of the theater is the stooped figure to the left.


Capitol School of Photography, c.1947-1952, where notable student, Jacqueline Bouvier honed her skills as “Inquiring Photographer” for the Washington Times-Herald before becoming the First Lady of the United States.


Ethical Pharmacy, 1950. Proudly African-American owned, this drug store was “ethically” run by proprietor, L.S. Terry on Florida Avenue.


Workers at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, 1951, performing what appears to be the process of tissue separating, removing the sheets of tissue placed between freshly minted paper currency.


George, Robert and Addison Scurlock Looking at Photographs, 1950

Above photographs are all from the exhibition and are featured in the catalogue.


Iconic images of Ernest E. Just and Madam C.J. Walker, both photographed by Addison Scurlock in the early 20th century have been used in the US Postal Service’s Black Heritage postage stamp series.


And on a personal note, when my parents married, the occasion was documented by another excellent DC photographer and family friend, Edward Fletcher. Upon viewing the images, my mama realized that though there were no existing “couple” photos of her beloved grandparents, one could be created from a shot in her wedding album. However, Mr. Fletcher did not retouch, nor recompose. Mom knew who did and went straight to Scurlock Studio. Not bad for the pre-Photoshop era.

Brooklyn Moment #9: The Riches
August 7, 2009

My schedule has become increasingly hectic and I’ve posted to pendulum with neither the recency nor frequency that I typically enjoy. It has been a month since I last blogged and two since I posted about one of my beloved Brooklyn moments. I had one such moment last night that compels me to take a sec and share it.

I’d originally planned to have a Brooklyn encounter of a different kind, the Purple Rain sing-a-long in Prospect Park, when womanhood warranted close proximity to a clean lavatory and a hot water bottle. I was headed home.

Perhaps it was the nearby waterfront, but last night’s full moon and the tides beckoned my Piscean soul to Dumbo where I decided to alight just long enough to show some love to friends, the two Richards, Gary and Maitland, photographers showing in the First Thursday Gallery Walk. My plan to hit it and quit it was derailed by the familial feeling of sun people warmth. The pain subsided. All was at ease.

I was struck by the loveliness of the men I encountered, and though they are all easy on the eye, what truly moved me was the beauty of their goodness, their progressiveness, their joy in celebrating each other; black and brown creatives doing the thing: Niya Bascom, Barney Bishop, Malik Cumbo, Francks Francois Décéus, Ebon Heath, Rich Gary, Rich Maitland, Phil Shung, Leo Vasquez and Todd Wilson. Though I’ve known most of them individually for quite a long time, there was something infinitely beautiful, magical about seeing them all, en masse and in their element.

So Messrs Gary and Maitland, thank you for bringing the richness on a warm Summer night.


Photographers Richard Maitland and Richard Gary