Jacob Holdt - my friends


In the memory of Stephen Williams

Pręsten, som fik alle til at ligge flade af grin     Cathrine og Lela ved broderen Simons kiste

Everyone was in laughter                               His sister Cathrine at the casket
at Stephen's funeral                                        before she was herself shot

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The funeral was on February 4th, 1995. The following is translated from my Danish yearbook 1995:

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 street.

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.

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