Today I had the pleasure of meeting freelance photojournalist Allen Agostino who, over the course of two hours, shared some of his work, techniques and inspiration for the stories he has worked on in the past.
Allen, a University of Toronto graduate with a degree in New Media, furthered his education on the subject of photography when he moved to New York City to study at the International Centre of Photography. Throughout his year-long program, he was presented with an assignment that focused on the importance of water in New York. Discussing links to the mafia and John Gotti, Allen chose to focus on a neighborhood located 30 ft below sea-level along the Brooklyn-Queens border, dubbed the Hole. After quickly gaining the trust and respect of the people living in the area, he spent approximately 14 months interviewing the subject of the story, Bam, along with his immediate and extended family, who provided insight on life in the Hole. In an attempt to show the links between crime, a flawed system, homelessness, and the effects of racial segregation, Allen documents generations of history into a short photo story that portrays an honest representation of some of the challenges faced by those living in the areas of New York that are often ignored.
Emphasizing the importance of being 'street smart', knowing when not to take pictures (Cock fights in the basement) and when you should hide your memory card in your sock, Allen sheds light on how to approach the angle of your story. Finding the alpha, being transparent with your vision and setting realistic expectations and goals are key components when acting as an observer in an investigative setting. Understanding your legal, ethical and moral obligations also play a crucial role in how a story is framed, narrated, and presented to the audience.
While he was in New York, Allen volunteered at a soup kitchen in Harlem where he met Otis Jackson, better know as Salladeen. Jackson is one of the hundreds of thousands of people who are released from prison every year with out valid identification. Through a series of images and video footage, Allen shares his story by gathering background information, painting a picture of what it would be like to serve a 40 year sentence (1975-2015) and be released without any preparation for the outside world. With a one-way ticket from New Jersey to Times Square, 'Waiting To Be Me' tells the story of a focused, yet hopeless man, who, as a result of a seriously flawed system, is forced to suffer the reality of being nameless in New York.
Allen shared some of the moral and ethical dilemmas that he faced, crossing lines as he would often pay for Salladeen's meals, provide him with Metro cards and would invite him into his home as a source of comfort. Despite being in a position to help, Allen notes that he feels he was never able to give Saladeep what he longed for - legal recognition as a human being. As he searches for a platform where he can sell his story, Allen hopes to launch a Kickstarter campaign that will assist Salladeen with hiring a private investigator so he can regain contact with his long lost family and friends.
To find out more about Allen, visit his social links below:
- IG: @thisisallenagostino
"It's really important to present achievable or realistic goals [that you set out with an editor]. Set goals that make you feel good. Keep re-accessing these goals and keep your eyes focussed on what's ahead of you instead of searching for the light at the end of the tunnel."