Speak The Mag
Non-Fiction

Charles Photo Text

A friend and I found ourselves stranded in the upstate city of Buffalo, New York after we were flown there for a photography project that was abruptly cancelled. With time to kill in the unfamiliar place, we naturally gravitated towards the city’s local ‘gayborhood’ which we were both pleasantly surprised existed at all. After walking in and out of a couple of bars that didn’t feel quite right, we made it the Alley Cat–a divey spot with great natural light and a bartender who immediately made us feel welcomed. As it was midafternoon on a weekday, the bar had few other patrons. We ordered beers, and the bartender introduced himself as Allen. Allen could tell we were not from Buffalo, so we told him our story of winding up unmoored in the city. Over a second round, we learned that Allen, a young man in his mid-20s, had been in the military but was no longer in the active service. He reckoned he was the only black bartender holding it down in the city’s gay neighborhood. We wound up staying at the bar all day: ordering food (buffalo wings and buffalo seitan), playing darts, and hanging out with Allen whose warm smile and earnest charm made the entire experience worth it. I took Allen’s portrait before we left for the airport, a reminder not only of his handsome face but that good people are everywhere and can turn a rough day into a beautiful one.

My father was born on the independent island nation of St. Kitts & Nevis and lived there for the first six years of his life before immigrating with his family to the United Kingdom. Many years later but still before I was born, his mother moved back to St. Kitts, reconnecting with her community and opening up an independent business as the island’s most in-demand seamstress. After moving to the United States and meeting my mom, my dad made sure that we visited my grandmother every holiday season and remained connected to our island heritage. Each year, on the day after Christmas, St. Kitts celebrates Jouvert Morninga street festival that begins before dawn and goes on until the late afternoon. People really let loose for Jouvert; there are roving bands playing live music from atop large floats, and each float is followed by its own dedicated troupe of revelers. The event is attended by all ages, but the island’s robust youth population comprises the majority of partiers. Upon reviewing the image above, taken during J’ouvert 2018, I was fully captivated with the central subject’s pose; she is statuesque in the midst the revelry, surrounded by fellow Kittitians in a moment of distilled beauty. Many island nations celebrate Jouvert, but none do it quite like St. Kitts.  

Patrick and I moved to New York City almost ten years ago, Patrick from the Midwest and me from South Florida. We were both incoming freshman at The New School and happened to be placed in the same dorm. He majored in viola at Mannes, the music conservatory, while I was in the photography program at Parsons-two disparate passions placed next to one another by chance. We met the very first day of arriving in the city and along with a few others would go on to form a friendship that endures to this day. Undergrad shenanigans, graduation anxiety, the pressures of early adulthood, relationships, and everything in betweenwe’ve been through it all as steadfast friends as we continue to pursue our careers and lives as a whole. Patrick has been a beacon in my life and proof that friendship really can get you through the toughest of times. We have forgiven each other’s human flaws and celebrated each other’s uniqueness. The photo above was taken on the dancefloor of The Spectrum just after midnight on New Year’s 2019. I am forever grateful to know someone who I can call my close friend and who calls me their close friend in turn. Culture places a lot of emphasis on romantic relationships, but a friendship bond can be equally as powerful, if not more. This portrait is a celebration of trust, personal growth, companionship, and optimism for the future.

Truthfully, I don’t remember the night I met Shamayel. We were definitely introduced via our mutual friend Jackson while at university together in New York City. Among the things I love about Shamayel are her bold attitude and unapologetic critique of culture both American and global. Growing up between the US and Afghanistan, Sham is privileged to a unique perspective, viewing life from both sides of a cultural spectrum. As an artist and designer, she articulates her views on gender, statehood, art criticism, and pop culture-which often are at odds with popular opinion. We need more Shamayel’s in the world, and they need more opportunities to have their voices heard. The portrait above captures so much of her essencealways on the move, going neither with the flow nor against it, but creating her own current, enjoying life without worry for when the sun will rise 

Charles Caesar
meet the author

Charles Caesar

Charles Caesar is a photographer, writer, artist, and editor from Florida and currently lives in New York City. His work has been published in places including Elle, Vice, The FADER, Allure, NYLON, Resident Advisor, The Advocate, them, and Cakeboy Magazine. [...]