I usually sleep in late when ever I'm visiting my family in Puerto Rico. After all, what's better than waking up on your own time to the smell of fresh brewed coffee in the morning? But it was different this time; I barely slept during my first night there and there was no smell of coffee in the air when I opened my eyes. Instead of my morning sleep being disrupted by my uncle's rooster in the backyard, I was suddenly awaken by the sound of the generator coming to a halt. My aunt would turn it off every morning before heading off to work, in order to save money on fuel. By the time I was up and dressed, everyone was either at work or out running errands. I decided to grab my camera and wander around the neighborhood for a little. I wasn't sure what I would find but I knew what I was searching for a powerful story and images to go along with it.Read More
If you've been following my blog long enough, you might remember reading about my friend Miway. He turned his passion for entertainment into a career by becoming one of the biggest faces in Boston's nightlife scene, before taking his talent to Miami. He always has me tag along when he's in town for business. This past weekend was no different. I must admit, It's always an adventure working with him, and I'm sure after this post you'll understand why I say that. It's amazing watching him work. A regular workday for Miway is what I would describe as a perfect guy's (or girl's) night out.Read More
As a photographer, I've been blessed with the opportunity to work with people from all walks of life. I've worked with some on a single project and with others on more projects than I can count with two hands. I met a man by the name of Daniel "Strong Walker" Thomas, a few years back, while hosting a "photography party". A colleague of mine and I use to rent out photography studios for the day and invite as many clients as possible. Daniel came by with his family and we cooked up some pretty nice portraits on himself and his son. This session led to a friendship being born. I've had the privilege of witnessing not only his personal growth, but also the growth of his business, LENAPE.
Daniel has strong Native American roots, being the grandson of Arthur Thomas, who served proudly as Chief of the Delaware Nation for 14 years and will be remembered for his influence on the current organization and recognition of the tribe. Lenape is an indigenous word of the Delaware Nation meaning "the people"'.
"Our Goal is to produce unique bags that can accompany you on whatever travels and adventures your path may bring you", Daniel said while discussing our creative ideas. I was actually in the middle of planning my third trip to Puerto Rico in November (2017); I was on my way to document life after Maria. It was during one of our conversations that Daniel decided to sponsor my upcoming trip by donating two travel bags. This was a perfect opportunity for him to be part of a meaningful project, as well as test his merchandise in real life conditions. I made it very clear to him that I was going to put the bags through some tough times and give him my honest feedback.
Before I share my opinion with all of my readers, I want to make it very clear that I did not hold back during my travels. I used these bags like I would any of my other bags. I didn't take it easy because they were "new". I honestly wanted to see how far I can push them and to be honest, I have nothing bad to say about them at all! I could not be more impressed with the results. I tossed them on the ground, got sand in them, used them for equipment, supplies, etc. I literally did anything and everything with them while on the road.
Lenape bags are made of high quality leather using a traditional process. You can feel the strength of the material and not once did I fear it wasn't going to get the job done. Both bags are spacious and allowed me to comfortably carry all of my clothes, belongings and camera equipment. I highly recommend all of my friends to grab themselves a bag or two. It's an investment you won't regret. Oh, and tell them Flako sent you!
It was during November of 2016 that I started working on Mis Raíces, a photography project focused on my journey exploring my Puerto Rican roots. I spent the first 7 months of this year rekindling my love for my culture after not visiting my family on the island for close to 14 years. Between January and June I had visited twice, for a total of 3 weeks. I put together a 20 piece collection and was honored to have it on display at the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts for the month of September. It was magical being able to decorate the walls of the gallery with images of Puerto Rico's beautiful landscapes and people. Midway through the month bad news came in the form of a hurricane. It was the largest the island has ever experienced. I could no longer celebrate my success. I was too busy worried about the well being of my family and friends. Are they safe? Are they alive?Read More
Happy Indigenous People's Day!
Never forget those who came before us.
Remember when you were a teenager and found love for the first time? Remember how magical it felt? As if you've discovered something you've only read about in books.
Remember how deep you use to love? Before you ever tasted the pain that comes with a broken promise. Before you've felt the coldness of a lonely night.
Remember that feeling you got in your bones while writing a love letter during science class? The way your mind use to marry words and give birth to phrases that would melt any young heart? Remember that?
I know it's easy to become cold after your heart has been played like an instrument. I know it's easy to remain in your comfort zone and not risk losing another piece of yourself to the wrong person. After all, how many pieces can we afford to lose before losing ourselves?
But the truth is that everything worth fighting for is on the other side of fear. Every experience, whether good or bad, is an opportunity for us to learn and grow as an individual. Start by learning to love yourself before you ever commit to someone else. Self-love is key!
Think about it: who knows you more than you? Make time to take yourself out to eat at your favorite local spot. Spend a day doing something you are passionate about or something you always wanted to do. Go to the mall and buy yourself a gift. This is important because how could you ever love someone else if you can't even love yourself?
Once you get into the habit of spoiling yourself with love, anyone that comes into your life has to meet those same standards. They must love you as much as you love yourself (and vise versa). Get it?
With that said, I just want to ask who ever takes the time to read these words to not only be brave enough to love again, but to love like you never been hurt before.
Have fun and trick-or-treat responsibly.
It was during the Fall of 2016 that I decided to work on the Mis Raíces project. I wanted to explore the land and culture my parents left behind in search of greener grass. With a photography exhibition booked for the end of the summer of 2017, I started planning and working on a body of work that would unexpectedly become my strongest collection thus far. Throughout 10 months that followed I took two separate trips to Puerto Rico, one in January and one in June, spending a total of 3 weeks there. By the time my exhibition came around (September 1st) I had fallen deeply in love with my history. I had learned so much about myself and those who came before me. You couldn't imagine how excited I was to present my work to the public.
THE SHOW, THE STORM
The month began with my opening ceremony. 22 images beautifully hung on the walls of the gallery while close to a hundred people filled the space with love and support. Classical Puerto Rican live music played in the background while the guest shared stories among each other. It was a magical night. I even sold a few pieces off the wall. It was a photographer's dream come true. I was in awe with the amount of love I received that night. Everything was truly perfect. I walked on clouds for a few weeks until things took a turn.
One afternoon I received news of Hurricane Irma making it's way towards Borinken. This was enough to stress me out because my grandmother was there, in Trujillo Alto, all alone in the same concrete house her mother raised her in. A powerful tropical storm literally rained havoc down on the land as the category 5 hurricane passed by, missing the north east of the island by miles. I remember checking my Facebook feed every 5 minutes. Hours after the hurricane was cleared, the government of Puerto Rico announced that it's power grid was severely damaged. As a result of this, many citizens would be left without power for at least 2-3 months. Over 1 million people to be exact, including my grandmother. My aunt wasted no time bringing my grandmother up north to Boston. It was days after her arrival that we first heard about Hurricane Maria. We knew it was going to be bad, but I don't think anyone truly understood what exactly was about to happen.
I was doing my best to stay on top of the storm. I remember being a few hours into my morning when it first struck the shores of Maunabo. It was difficult trying to act normal knowing a category 4 hurricane was slicing through Puerto Rico's central cities like a hot knife through butter. Considering the damage that was already done, I had a really bad feeling about what was to come. It was impossible to communicate with anyone on the island because all the communication towers were destroyed. Eventually images and videos began to leak through the news outlets. I could not recognize my homeland. This started a wave of concern amongst the Puerto Rican community living in the states. We all just wanted to know... Are our families ok? Are they even alive? Do their homes still stand? After a few days of radio silence most of us just wanted to hear from our relatives. We just needed to know that they were alive. It took a few days before the residents of Puerto Rico were able to share their own videos and stories. That's when I realized just how bad the island was hit.
The next few days consisted of my Facebook feed being flooded with posts of people asking for help locating loved ones and others asking for help with basic necessities. I wish I could say things have gotten better since then but I would be lying. It's been over two weeks since they declared it a disaster zone and there is still towns that have not yet received any help from any government agency, or anyone for that matter. I can count in one hand the days I've gone without crying to myself. It's heartbreaking to see my people struggle with food and water, while I sit at home debating between a home cooked meal or my favorite dish from a local food spot. It bothers me to know some of my family members have no access to clean running water, as I prepare a warm bath before bed. It's during times like these that you realize how blessed you are. I knew I had to do something to help, but what?
Even after donating money and/or shipping materials over sea, it didn't feel like I did enough. It's become a waiting game. Waiting to see what the POTUS and his administration is going to do to help. Waiting to hear from those who have yet to communicate with the outside world. Waiting to hear the Governor of Puerto Rico release an official body count. Waiting to see my cousins pop up on my newsfeed again, just like before, when things were "normal". But the truth is that things will never be normal again. My people, and our government, have a lot of rebuilding to do. There is a lot of conversations that we need to have- with our government and with ourselves. I want to end this post by reminding all of you, who have been touched by this event, that you are stronger than you know. This will one day be a memory in our past. Make sure that when the time comes for you to look back at this moment in time you'll be able to assure yourself that you did all you could to help. You might not be Puerto Rican, but I'm sure you know someone who is. Even a simple "how are you?" to a friend in pain can go a long way. Move forward with love my people! Stay strong. Puerto Rico se levanta!
Goodbye summa' days.
No more late night city walks.
I'll miss you summa'.