Photos from the East Harlem Explosion

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo and Julie Schwietert Collazo
**

I happened to be in East Harlem on Wednesday morning when a pair of buildings exploded and then collapsed on the corner of 116th Street and Park Avenue.

I’d just gotten off the 6 train at 103rd Street and Lexington and had walked one block west to Park when I heard a massive boom. I was standing right underneath the overpass of the elevated tracks of Metro-North; like others on the street, I stopped–the sound was that loud–and looked up to see if a train had crashed or derailed. I could see that the northbound train had stopped, but it didn’t appear to be in distress. I couldn’t see the southbound train. Given the number of safety problems Metro-North has had recently, I immediately took to twitter and wrote:

What I tweeted upon hearing the massive boom at 9:33 AM on Wednesday morning.
What I tweeted upon hearing the massive boom at 9:33 AM on Wednesday morning.

I did a quick search on twitter and then on the websites of some local media outlets as I was walking to my doctor’s appointment, but there was no news yet. By the time I got to the doctor’s office a few minutes later, CBS 2 was reporting that a set of buildings had exploded and collapsed on the corner of 116th Street and Park Avenue.

After learning that the doctor didn’t accept my insurance, I grabbed my press pass out of my backpack and headed up to 116th. I could see the smoke from where I was on 102nd, and by the time I got to 110th, I could see emergency vehicles and personnel in a makeshift staging area, awaiting instructions.

Emergency staging area at 110th and Park. One of the photos I shared on Instagram as I walked to the scene.
Emergency staging area at 110th and Park. One of the photos I shared on Instagram as I walked to the scene.

By 112th, north and soutbound traffic had been stopped and diverted, and by 115th, a block away from the collapse, police had set up a “Do Not Cross” line; even those of us with press accreditations couldn’t pass.

Journalists' view from 115th Street and Park Avenue. One of the photos I shared on Instagram.
Journalists’ view from 115th Street and Park Avenue. One of the photos I shared on Instagram.

The smoke was thick and residents of the neighborhood had gathered to see what was happening and take videos and photos with their phones. Many of them wore face masks. FDNY ladder crews worked to contain a fire that occurred as part of the collapse and I saw at least one person being removed from the scene on a stretcher as I did a phone interview with a Russian television station about the explosion.

Francisco returned to the scene yesterday morning, 24 hours after the collapse. He was able to cross the 115th and 116th “Do Not Cross” lines to get some additional photos. He said FDNY crews were still fighting a smoldering fire, and beyond the point from which I’d been able to report the day before, he said cars and vans with blown-out windows–-at least one with its driver’s side door handle blown off, and others battered by flying bricks, some of which still rested where they landed–sat under the Metro-North tracks waiting to be moved from the scene.

One of the most damaged cars at the scene. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)
One of the most damaged cars at the scene. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

Red Cross staff had set up a help station less than a block from the explosion site, which was still busy with officials from NYPD, FDNY, FBI, the Office of Emergency Management, ConEd, the National Transportation Safety Board, and other city, state, and federal agencies.

The Office of Emergency Management and NYPD were among the agencies who still had personnel on the scene 24 hours after the explosion and collapse. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)
The Office of Emergency Management and NYPD were among the agencies who still had personnel on the scene 24 hours after the explosion and collapse. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

The Red Cross had also established a center for families and others affected by the collapse at the Salvation Army Community Center on 125th Street.

Red Cross staff set up an assistance station less than a block from the collapsed building. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)
Red Cross staff set up an assistance station less than a block from the collapsed buildings. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

As of this morning, nearly 48 hours after the buildings’ collapse, NY1 is reporting that eight people are confirmed as having died in the explosion, and more than 40 people were injured. Several dozen other families and businesses were temporarily displaced while utilities to their buildings were out of service.

NYC subway service was not disrupted by the explosion, but Metro-North service was temporarily suspended, due to building debris that littered the tracks. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)
NYC subway service was not disrupted by the explosion, but Metro-North service was temporarily suspended, due to building debris that littered the tracks. (Photo: Francisco Collazo)

The cause of the explosion has not been confirmed–and cannot be confirmed until the smoldering fire is fully extinguished, but it is believed that a gas leak may be responsible. For continued updates, check the official New York City website, www.nyc.gov.

The Human Gaze at Guantanamo

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
It’s easy for us to forget about Guantanamo— and the fact that people have been incarcerated there without charges for more than 11 years– until capital B, capital N “Big News” crosses the Straits and floats into newspaper headlines.

Such was the case last Sunday, when The New York Times published an op-ed by a detainee who is among the hunger strikers at Guantanamo. Other outlets picked up the story, bringing the ethical, moral, and human rights concerns of America’s offshore detention center back to our national consciousness.

No matter how much we read about Guantanamo, though, it’s hard to get a sense of what, exactly, is going on there and what it’s like. There are only a handful of journalists (The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg is the only one who comes to mind immediately) covering Guantanamo news coherently and consistently… and by that, I mean being there. And there are even fewer visual references; I don’t know of a single photographer who covers Guantanamo as a photojournalistic beat (That doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist; I’m just saying I don’t know one.).

I was able to visit Guantanamo Bay in 2008 on a journalist visa, and it occurred to me that the photos I’ve got stored away might actually be of interest to those of you who give a damn about what’s going on at Guantanamo.^ Moreso, you might be interested by the process that governed the taking and sharing of these photos. More about that below.

I filed one piece about Guantanamo for a major outlet (a science research piece for Scientific American), but didn’t find any other takers for Guantanamo stories, despite the dearth of articles that cover Guantanamo outside the scope of legal proceedings. So let’s dust off these images and talk a little bit about them in context.

The Joint Task Force (or JTF) facility is just one part of the US military's installation at Guantanamo Bay, though it's become the most notorious due to the detainee situation. When I visited in 2008, Camp Delta was one of the facilities where detainees were housed.
The Joint Task Force (or JTF) facility is just one part of the US military’s installation at Guantanamo Bay, though it’s become the most notorious due to the detainee situation. When I visited in 2008, Camp Delta was one of the facilities where detainees were housed.
Rules governing photographers' activities at Guantanamo Bay, especially behind the fences of the detention facility, are quite strict. Images of detainees were not allowed, nor were images of officers taken without their knowledge and permission.
Rules governing photographers’ activities at Guantanamo Bay, especially behind the fences of the detention facility, are quite strict. Images of detainees were not allowed, nor were images of officers taken without their knowledge and permission.
Not being allowed to take photos of people--detainees especially--produces images that are, by their very nature, "constructed." There's a sense of disembodiment, dislocation, and sudden abandonment of place--where are all the people?
Not being allowed to take photos of people–detainees especially–produces images that are, by their very nature, “constructed.” There’s a sense of disembodiment, dislocation, and sudden abandonment of place–where are all the people?

A press officer reviewed photographers' images and video at the end of each day to ensure that no compromising shots had been captured. Technically speaking, this shot could have been deleted by the press officer.
A press officer reviewed photographers’ images and video at the end of each day to ensure that no compromising shots had been captured. Technically speaking, this shot could have been deleted by the press officer.

One of the most difficult things to understand about Guantanamo is how--or whether--the US justice system is operating. During 2008, hearings were held in this room, but they weren't (and still aren't) governed by the same kinds of laws that govern detention and legal proceedings on the US mainland.
One of the most difficult things to understand about Guantanamo is how–or whether–the US justice system is operating. During 2008, hearings were held in this room, but they weren’t (and still aren’t) governed by the same kinds of laws that govern detention and legal proceedings on the US mainland.

Being at Guantanamo, whether as an officer or as a detainee, can feel incredibly isolated, both geographically and, in the case of detainees, culturally. Even though news comes in from the outside world, it's not passed along to detainees without being subjected to the censor's black permanent marker before it's made available in the library.
Being at Guantanamo, whether as an officer or as a detainee, can feel incredibly isolated, both geographically and, in the case of detainees, culturally. Even though news comes in from the outside world, it’s not passed along to detainees without being subjected to the censor’s black permanent marker before it’s made available in the library.

To see more of my photos from Guantanamo Bay, please see this gallery on Flickr.

To follow developments at Guantanamo Bay, follow journalist Carol Rosenberg on twitter.


^The latest report out of Guantanamo Bay is that almost half of the detainees–77 of 166– are currently on a hunger strike.

Now on Exhibit: Contemporary Cuban Art in New York

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo
**
New York has long been one of the best places to see Cuban art in the US, but this month has been especially busy for Cuban art lovers, with three high-profile exhibits that have gained lots of mainstream media coverage.

I won’t offer much opinion here about the state of contemporary Cuban art (I did that in this 2010 post, and my opinion hasn’t changed significantly since then). Here, it’s just my intention to provide a round-up of the three exhibits and offer a few quick thoughts about each.

Exhibit: “Waiting for the Idols to Fall”
Artist: Various
Venue: The 8th Floor
Quick Thoughts: Of the three exhibits mentioned here, this was the one that I was most interested in seeing. It was also the one I found most disappointing. The proposito of the curators was to explore, in their words, “how Cuban artists represent ‘lo cubano’ without resorting to some variation on the same old icons.” And yet, almost all of the works in the show include the very icons that both characterize Cuban art and, in my opinion, contribute to its stagnation.

A work exhibited in "Waiting for the Idols to Fall."
A work exhibited in “Waiting for the Idols to Fall.”

Still, if you’re not familiar with The 8th Floor, it’s a great place to contemplate Cuban art. The works exhibited here are drawn from the collections of the Rubins (yes, of the Rubin Museum), and are often interesting. The gallery has never been crowded when we’ve visited.

“Waiting for the Idols to Fall” was scheduled to close this week, but has been extended to May 15. Be sure to check The 8th Floor’s website on the day you want to visit; the gallery often closes (or closes early) for special events.

Exhibit: “No Limits”
Artist: Alexandre Arrechea
Venue: Park Avenue Malls
Quick Thoughts: A couple of well-respected curators and museum directors were effusive in their praise of the works in this series (as quoted in the Wall Street Journal), but in my own opinion, I don’t feel like Arrechea, one of the original members of the art collective Los Carpinteros, is really pushing his own limits artistically.

One of the works in Alexandre Arrechea's "No Limits" series.
One of the works in Alexandre Arrechea’s “No Limits” series.

Exhibit: “Goodbye, My Love”
Artist: Esterio Segura
Venue: Anita’s Way (the passage between W. 42nd and W. 43rd Streets, between 6th Avenue and Broadway)
Quick Thoughts: The symbolism of Esterio Segura’s installation is pretty simple and pretty obvious, but it’s also moving, especially for those of us who experience physical separation from our loved ones. What’s also interesting is that this exhibit involves a local restaurant, Aureole, which has created a special dessert and a special cocktail to reflect the themes of the exhibit.

"Goodbye My Love" by Esterio Segura.
“Goodbye My Love” by Esterio Segura.

Nicaragua in a Few Photos

Text & Instagram Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
I’ve left fashion and design behind in Managua, setting out first to the west (Leon) and then to the east (Granada) to see what I can see of Nicaragua in just a few days.

My brain is on information overload and I have a hundred questions, at least, but for now, I’m just taking in as much as I can.

Nicaragua Photo Collage.
Nicaragua Photo Collage.

Photo Descriptions:
Lion’s head door knocker in Leon, Nicaragua.

Bell of La Catedral Metropolitana de Leon, Nicaragua.

Water vendor with “Madonna! Madonna! Madonna!” cap. (Yes, he actually likes Madonna).

Cigar rollers at Dona Elba Cigars in Granada, Nicaragua.

El hombre Sandino. Statue at Loma de Tiscapa in Managua, Nicaragua.

To see more photos from Nicaragua, check out my Nicaragua gallery on Flickr.

Nicaragua Disena 2012: Video

Text & Video:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
Nicaragua Disena 2012 concluded tonight at the Crowne Plaza Convention Center in Managua, Nicaragua. The two-day event was full and intense, and in addition to feeling inspired by the work I saw presented on the runway and off, I especially enjoyed interviewing some of Nicaragua’s young, talented fashion designers and artists.

Here’s a quick summary, in video form, of the event. Though it was the first iteration of Nicaragua Disena 2012, I know it won’t be the last.