About the project:
Upstate Girls: What Became of Collar City 2011
This sixth year has been a crucial one for the Upstate Girls Open Ended Documentary Project. This project received funding from the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography in September 2009 to indentify and unravel some of the cultural hallmarks of class distinction in the United States. This past year, I integrated my documentary photography, and digital video with contemporary and historic artifacts into the Upstate Girls project, for the purpose of producing a series of graphic novels. These visually focused novels will link personal histories that have been catalogued and digitized over the course of the project, to the evolution of public policies that reinforce social separation. The emotional anchors to these novels are tied to the rites of passage within the coming of age stories of several young women in the post -industrial City of Troy, New York. Each of their stories creates entry points for discussion of larger issues.
The grant allowed me the physical and emotional freedom to be present over time in these women's complicated lives. I continue to report on this group of young women in Troy, whose lives have become linked by love and blood and law and class, as revelations about the agency of their bonds unfold with each passing birthday. This past year has been particularly illuminating in the areas of education, mental health and the broader repercussions from the pharmaceutical warehousing of lower income children. The grant extended the journey that I began six years ago so that I could witness some of the key moments in the generational cycles that forge the culture of class. It enabled me to document the passage of this social mantle from inside the young lives that have engaged me so intimately. I was able to share pivotal moments with these women, including:
Kayla, as she turned 21. She was the original Upstate Girl, whose labor and delivery I captured when she was 14. Her now 6 year-old son, De Anthony, was just suspended from kindergarten and diagnosed with ADHD, OCD and separation anxiety. Kayla herself, as a pre-teen, began a regimen of prescription medication for the same diagnosis. Recently, Kayla began dating a young woman named Chantell, who aged out of residential placement facilities, where she lived as a result of her own ADHD. I learned that years ago, Chantell's mother also was diagnosed ADHD and began her first trial of Ritalin under the supervision of the same social service contracted doctor that Chantell and now De Anthony are seeing.
This year, I was present for the last day (just as I was for the first) of Kayla's neighbor Jessie's five-year probation. Jessie also shares a documented learning disability coupled with the anxiety disorder that her friends Kayla and Chantell and now Kayla's son DeAnthony are coping with. Jessie’s phobia’s worsened when she was incarcerated and now Jessie suffers from separation anxiety so greatly, that she is unable to leave her family's house to attend GED classes.
Kayla’s 19 year-old brother Robert who lived in a special education residential facility due to his ADHD, also aged out and I was present at the delivery of his first child.
In April, Heather, a young woman I met when she lived with Kayla's family in 2005, gave birth to her first child. Heather also aged out of court ordered residential placement for ADHD. Kayla's step-sister, Andi Lynn, whom I documented when she lived in Kayla's household while in between residential placements, had her first child this year as well.
The inherent struggle in the multi-year project is often that revelations in the reporting and the editorial support for that reporting, reach a point where they are paradoxically opposite. The Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography is essential to help journalists continue working when traditional outlets have moved on to the next story, yet in the slower journalistic approach, important socially historic moments that result from the passage of time, are just beginning to unfold.
My goal now is to find an ultimate exit point, though each time I begin to look away, another key moment begins. The idea of the serial graphic novel is that I will have the platform via the Web and an on-demand distribution model to continue to tell these women's stories as I edit prior volumes. I am often asked by journalism students “how do I gain access?” The question for me has always been “how do I exit lives that have become such a part of my own?”
About the recipient:
Brenda Ann Kenneally is an award winning photographer, filmmaker and teacher who has studied both photography and sociology. She is co-founder of The Raw File, a non-profit organization created to produce and distribute socially conscious multi-media via the Web. More about her projects can be found at www.therawfile.org or www.brendakenneally.com.