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‘In This Moment’ Chapbook Series Spotlights Leaders, Lifts Community

Patti Singer

Photographer Jackie McGriff composed this portrait of trumpeter Herb Smith for the chapbook series ‘In This Moment,’ produced by Visual Studies Workshop. Photo by Jackie McGriff, provided by VSW.

Three words turned into a mantra: In this moment.

In conversations. On the street. In what people were writing and posting.

In this moment.

A time of revolution, reckoning and reparation.

In this moment, community advocate and retired teacher Jeanne Strazzabosco approached curator Amanda Chestnut with an idea to elevate, celebrate and commemorate.

Strazzabosco had been so moved by the portrait Grieving in Red by Adam Eaton, she talked to the photographer. During that conversation, she said she started to think of ways to raise profiles of Black artists. She said she believed that showing their work and telling their stories would chip away at implicit biases of white people who haven’t experienced Black art.

“Images and stories are how we learn,” she said of her thought of creating an art book.

She spoke to several friends in the art world who told her the same thing: seek a Black curator. One of them suggested Chestnut.

Chestnut, looking for broader reach than a pricey luxe publication typically gets, suggested chapbooks – slim publications of words and photos and can be produced with good quality but at a lower price.

Amanda Chestnut, curator of ‘In This Moment’ chapbook series.
Photo by Erica Jae

The result is In This Moment: Revolution Reckoning Reparation, a series initially of 10 chapbooks that profile a community leader and will be distributed for free.

“I like it because this moment is a culmination of events and work that have happened in the Black community for generations,” Chestnut said of the title. The revolution, reckoning, reparations is reflective of that idea. The phrase of ‘in this moment’ often used as a euphemism for one of those words. The title bring a together all of those ideas: that this moment can be happening now for some communities, but has been happening for years others.”

The first three books — featuring artist Shawn Dunwoody, musician Herb Smith and the mother-son team of Dorothy Simmons Hall and Dorian, activists in the PLEX neighborhood – are scheduled to be distributed by Thanksgiving.

The 20-page books are being published by VSW Press. The books are expected to be at the Arnett, Central, Lincoln, Maplewood Community and the Winton branches of the Monroe County Library System. Check the VSW website for dates.

Strazzabosco seeded the project with $4,000. She said that as of early November, about $26,000 has come through crowdfunding and In This Moment recently received a $3,500 grant.

Others that feature musician and attorney Danielle Ponder, gatekeeper Adrian Elim and nonprofit leader and political candidate Samra Brouk, will be published over the next few months as funds are available. Plans to extend the series also depend on funding.

Chestnut said the audience is twofold.

“First and foremost, we’re thinking about Black people in Rochester and we want to give them a series of books that celebrate and commemorate the work that’s being done within their community.

“Then we also want non-Black audiences to be able to look at these books and know there is so much more happening in the city of Rochester than what they see and what they hear and that those things are being led by black people,” she said.

Chestnut said she’s been approached by organizations in New York and elsewhere in the country about how they would replicate the project in those communities.

Chestnut had a wish-list of people she’d like to see profiled. As they said yes, she reached into her network to pair Black writers and photographers with each individual.

“I wanted to pick teams that the pairs just made sense to me and I thought would highlight the individual well and be able to build a good portrait together and they would possibly even to support each other into the future,” said Chestnut, who also is an educator and artist.

The combination of writer Lisa Maria Rickman and Debora McDell-Hernandez, senior director of public and community affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York, provided a serendipitous moment. Rickman sent Chestnut a note, asking if she could write part of the story in Spanish.

“I think vaguely somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware they both speak Spanish,” Chestnut said. “But I didn’t put them together thinking they would want Spanish in their interview and their essay. That came out of conversation with each other. I’m really excited for it. It looks so good. I’m so happy to have that slice of Blackness represented in the series.”

Rickman, an experienced writer of profiles, said she was excited about the focus on Black talent and paying everyone involved. She said the work of many artists and creative types isn’t valued. “They’re expected to work for the opportunity, for the exposure.”

Photographers, writers and individuals profiled eacd received a $350 stipend.

Rickman also was caught up in this moment. “2020 has been such a wild year, from the pandemic to the uprising. It just feels like the right time to do a project like this.”

Rickman said the chapbooks will showcase the enormity of Black talent in Rochester in many fields. “I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by that. Then they’re going to have to question why they are so surprised by that.”

Herb Smith, third trumpet for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra as well as a composer and teacher, said he was honored to be called a leader and selected for the chapbooks. He said worked as a team with photographer Jackie McGriff and writer Taurus Savant on how to best tell his story.

“I really enjoyed the exploration into it,” Smith said. “I really enjoyed fresh new eyes looking at me and expressing what they see.”

In This Moment will bring attention to the artists and the finished product, he said.

“You have people who have established themselves and you have people who aren’t so well known, and you put them together and now you’re creating connections, community and lifting people higher.”

Here are the first 10 profiles for In This Moment: Revolution Reckoning Reparation, curated by Amanda Chestnut and coordinated by Jeanne Strazzabosco.

Kate Mariner, photo by Chris Caldwell. Provided by VSW
  • Shawn Dunwoody, photographer Arturo Hoyt, interviewer Chris Thompson
  • Herbert Smith, photographer Jackie McGriff, interviewer Taurus Savant
  • Adrian Elim, photographer Cocoa Rae, interviewer Jevon Elim
  • Samra Brouk, photographer Andre Walker, interviewer Quajay Donnell
  • Danielle Ponder, photographer Quajay Donnell, interviewer Luticha Doucette
  • Dorian & Dorothy Hall, photographer Ralph Thompson, interviewer Lu Highsmith
  • Debora McDell-Hernandez, photographer Rashaad Parker, interviewer Lisa Maria Rickman
  • Kate Mariner, photographer Chris Caldwell, interviewer Erica Bryant
  • Dr. Celia McIntosh, photographer Olivia Bacot, interviewer Vanessa Cheeks
  • Luticha Doucette, photographer Erica Jae, interviewer Irene Kannyo