If I Ruled the World (2011)

If I Ruled the World is a project to explore the lives and dreams of a small group of young men struggling with mental disability and sharing living quarters in an institutional residence in Brooklyn. These men - who have aged out of foster care - receive medical, education, job training, and counseling services as they seek to build more stable and independent lives for themselves. 

If I Ruled the World was commissioned by the non-profit that manages the residential facility in Brooklyn and other such residences in New York City.  One of the thorniest aspects of this commission was establishing the purpose and raison d'etre of the images.  I asked this during our initial exploratory meeting and I returned to this question on multiple occassions during the two months of back-and-forth that it took to reach an agreement on the terms of my contract.  Now that the project is done, we remain no closer to articulating a rationale than we were at the beginning.

The images in this series are best described as collaborative portraits.  They were taken over a period of one month in the summer of 2011.  The photographs reflect the current circumstances of participants’ lives but also create a space for actively imagining future and better lives.  As such, the photographs straddle a middle ground between documentary and staged; they show participants as they are but also as they want to be seen and understood.

More than anything else, what I learnt from the short, intense weeks that I spent with these young men is that their struggle itself is beautiful and makes them who they are.  There is a great deal of courage and faith that goes into gathering themselves to face the world every day.  And it is the dream of a better life that keeps them going. 

As a society, we should recognize that their need is not really that different than our own, just more pronounced: we are all vulnerable at times and have all doubted ourselves when faced with life’s fragility; we all have a deep-seated need to be accepted and integrated within society.

We should therefore extend a warmer embrace and do what is in our power to afford these young individuals –and others like them- the opportunity of leading  meaningful and productive lives.