Have you seen JPNDC’s videos on Youtube? Some of those videos were created by JP resident, photographer and videographer Tony Sahadeo. Today we are chatting with Tony about working with Elle magazine, growing up in The Bronx, and why JPNDC’s Family Prosperity Initiative is important.
K: Where are you from originally? When did you move to Jamaica Plain?
T: I was born and raised in Lower Manhattan, New York. I was raised four blocks away from Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. My two brothers were born and the family was growing so my parents wanted a better, safer option than The Bronx. We were the only Indian family there. My parents are from Guyana in South America, a small British colony. They took people from India and offered them a new opportunity to come work for them in South America. There was a lot of sugar cane and mines so there was work. They colonized there and my great grandparents moved there as kids. My grandparents and my parents grew up there. I am the first American in my family. Living in The Bronx we were the only non-Latin family living there. Most everyone in The Bronx was Puerto Rican so I grew up with that culture.
My father had cousins who lived in Boston so when I was a teenager we moved to Fields Corner in Dorchester. I grew up there and went to high school in West Roxbury. I had to commute and it was a long commute but I went there because I had a friend who lived in Roslindale and he was going to West Roxbury High School. The commute was long but I got to travel through JP back when the Orange Line was elevated. I thought it was really cool and I never really thought years down the road I would be living here.
My parents moved to Florida and they expected me to go with them but I stayed here. I lived in Savin Hill for a while and when we had to move from there in 1999 my roommate, two other people and I found the house that we live in now. We wanted somewhere pleasant, affordable and with room. The Caribbean, Latin culture and lifestyle was no stranger to me which was why moving to JP felt natural. It felt like home. We live in a great house in a quiet, convenient location. All together I have been in JP for 17 years.
T: I have a very incomplete academic background. I bounced around here and there. I took a couple of classes at UMASS Boston and Bunker Hill. I got accepted to Northeastern. There came a point where I had to take a break from school because I felt I should work and help out with my family. During my bouncing around I was working at The Bank of New England. Eventually the Bank of New England closed and I found that was my opportunity to go back to school. I missed school. I had taken a couple of photo and art classes at Bunker Hill and I realized I had a knack for it. So at 22 I enrolled in the New England School of Photography (NESOP). The NESOP only focuses on photography and not academic classes.
A classmate of mine there was a writer from Paris. Through some of her connections I was offered an internship in Paris at Elle Magazine after I graduated. I was the second ever American to intern for Elle. In Paris they have a more artistic and less conservative view of photography and that really helped me to learn something cultural about photography.
After my internship I came back to Boston and was offered a job at NESOP part-time doing clerical work. It allowed me to work in the studios on my own time to build my portfolio. This was the age of film. Digital photography was considered sci-fi. Even after digital became a reality I still did film because I felt it had a certain substance, a certain romance to it. Even now I still shoot film. I still work at the school and I get to use the facilities to develop my film. Film is making a resurgence.
K: What was it like to learn videography?
T: I took on digital photography because my clients needed it, and then I realized that clients also needed video. I am a self-taught videographer. A big part of videography is photography. Light, content and composition are important. With photography you need to shoot dozens of photos but you are really going to only use one or two. With video you shoot hours of video just to get a minute clip. That’s the nature of the art. They both require sequencing and editing. The one thing that threw me off with video is the audio. I learned through trial and error. You can have an awesome video but if the audio is bad it really kills the video.
K: Do you prefer photography or video?
T: It’s funny because sometimes as I’m shooting a video I wish I was shooting photos and vice versa. I am using the same tool but when I switch from photo mode to video mode in the camera I also need to do it inside myself and switch from looking at things in a still format versus a motion format. If you really care about it you really need to focus on one or the other to do it well.
K: What kinds of photography projects do you work on?
T: I love photographing people. People are interesting because they are all different. When I was in Paris there were models and they know what to do. They know what to do in front of a camera and they are not shy. It makes photographing them easier. Photographing your everyday Joe Schmo is more of a challenge. It is a skill to capture a photograph of someone who is not comfortable. I like to put my clients at ease and help them by looking at examples of photos. Communication is very important and if you put them at ease you can get the best out of them.
K: What are some projects that you have worked on in Jamaica Plain?
T: I was talking to the bartender, Nikki, at The Galway House after the first JP Music Festival and I asked her if they would be doing a second one. She said they were and I said that I would like to get involved. My goal was to get access to musicians so that I could build that portfolio. I have always had great interest in documentaries and music. Not so much concert photos but photos of musicians. So, Nikki told me that the JP Music people meet at The Galway House on the weekends and that she would make an introduction for me. I went there on a random Saturday for lunch and they were having their meeting. I didn’t want to interrupt them. Next thing you know I am flanked by Rick Berlin and Shamus Moynihan. Nikki went to them and told them that I was there and that I was interested in working with them. They said they needed a photographer. One of the first questions they asked me was if I lived in Jamaica Plain. They have a rule at the Music Festival that at least one member of every band has to live or work in JP. So, I have done some volunteering for them photographing events and such and the grassroots vibe made me feel more part of the community. I wished that I had volunteered sooner! A lot of musicians have reached out to me since meeting me at the Music Festival for photos and music videos.
K: What has been your experience creating video for JPNDC?
T: One of the JPNDC board members put out a call on LinkedIn for a videographer and Charlie, who works with The JP Music Festival, recommended me. I was interested in working with JPNDC because I grew up in The Bronx and it wasn’t the best neighborhood but it was a neighborhood. We had community. We were a family. I was there during the 1977 blackout when the city of New York was without power for two days. I was a kid and I heard later on that there had been looting but I didn’t really know what that I was. I remember going out to the main road with my mom and there were a lot of broken windows. Our neighbors gave us all these candles and toys and all this stuff to survive the blackout. I was like ‘Wow! This is so nice of them!’ When I got older I realized that stuff was stolen but still it was really nice of them to give it to us. We had a community and we were neighbors.
Growing up in a poor environment we got by, but if we took a time machine and brought them back then to now I don’t think we’d be able to do it without assistance. After learning more about JPNDC’s programs and initiatives I knew it was something I could get down with because I could relate. I came from there. My parents worked hard and got by but that was in the ’70s. They are immigrants and the Family Prosperity Initiative (FPI) is something they would have embraced to better their family. It’s important to have programs like that for people, especially people who don’t have a formal education or a high school diploma. They get by but JPNDC helps them do better. FPI is important because it gives them a leg up and gives them the info they need to make life doable. When people are surrounded by people who are also into making their lives better it resonates. Strength in numbers. I think once people see that they are not the only ones that need the FPI they are more open to it.
K: What’s your favorite thing about Jamaica Plain?
T: Diversity. It is multicultural and even though there are pockets of different cultures there is a meeting point where people have to mix and mingle. It is like a melting pot community. I also love Jamaica Pond. It’s so close to where I live. It’s the best of living in the city without feeling like you’re living in the city. The Pond is one spot where people can just be.
K: What are some changes you’ve seen in JP over those 17 years?
T: Seventeen years ago we didn’t have this so many coffee shops, yoga studios and baby carriages on Centre street. There are a lot of nice people in JP who will say ‘Good Morning’ as you pass them on the street. It’s a pleasant exchange that helps sets the mood for the rest of the day. I’m not hearing much ‘Good Morning’ anymore except from someone who may have been a long time JP’er.
K: What would you like to see in JP in the future?
T: I want to see green and open space maintained. There is a lot of construction going on in JP and I’ve seen some projects proposed to develop on other spaces. What is going to happen to all of the open space? Respect the hood. I just want to see the open air space maintained and to keep the skyline the same. It is starting to feel claustrophobic.