funeral was on
February 4th, 1995.
The following is
translated from my
Stephen, whom I have known since he
was two years old, is the fourth in Lela's family who has been
murdered within the last few years - shot and robbed when he came
out of the corner store where my son, Daniel, also had "hung out"
with him one evening a few years ago. PBS was making a movie about
me, so I took the cameraman Marty with me to the funeral.
Marty filmed while the women in Lela's apartment dressed up for the
funeral in big hats, straigthening their hair with the glowing
curling iron. Neighbors walked in and out of the apartment as usual
and Lela warned us to keep an eye on the camera equipment which the
heroin addict Kassandra whom I have known from childhood constantly
tried to steal. Marty wanted to include my childhood pictures of her
in the movie - from the time when she was the innocence herself. I
had been given permission by Lela to film everything during the
funeral. For almost 25 years I have been the family's court
photographer in both sorrow and joy.
They are particularly happy about a beautiful picture I took at
their christening, when everything was still going great in the
family. But last year, I again photographed the baby whom we had
baptized. She had now become a big girl and gave a beautiful speech
at the wedding between her father, Robert, and her new mother. Her
own mother had gone down on crack right after the baptism, got
deeply involved in drugs, AIDS and crime.
But this funeral was different from the previous ones. I had
prepared myself for a lot of crying and people throwing themselves
over the body. But no, the pain is now so severe in the black
community that it can no longer be cried out. The pastor was a true
comedian definitely on par with the best, but Lela's in-laws already
in the opening prayer set the tone with "We can't cry any more.
Let's have a party!"
The mood was serious enough in the beginning, where Marty and I, as
the only whites, had felt embarrassed with our cameras by moving too
close up front to Stephen's young corpse past the 150 people, many
of whom could not even get inside.
But in a short time everyone was laughing. Stephen's two sisters,
whom I have followed for over 15 years, in the midst of their fierce
crying fought a fierce struggle to hold back their laughter, but
soon it also overcame the crying for them. Since my pictures were
especially made to give to them, I tried the best of my ability to
photograph them in the more serious moments. After all, I knew it
would not be appropriate for their family albums to see them in
convulsions of laughter over Stephen's body.
But all my attempts were in vain. Soon I was lying on the floor
myself, beating on my belly in laughter to such a degree that it was
impossible to photograph. What I was particularly amused about was
seeing Marty, who had never experienced anything like it before,
trying with his handheld camera to film my photographing while
shaking himself in such a fit of laughter that the movie later could
not be used. Only at the closing farewell kisses on Stephen's lips
did the tears come for some.
As usual, Lela had made so much food for the party afterwards that I
could bring several plates to Ed Cooper and my other homeless
friends on The Lower East Side who each night sell my book on the
PS. When I returned the following spring to give Cathrine the
pictures from the funeral, she too had been shot - along with 4
others hit by stray bullets in a store. She was the fifth I've known
in Lela's family who has been murdered.