Soros Justice Media Fellow Brenda Ann Kenneally attended the University of Miami, where she earned a B.S. in Sociology and Photojournalism and New York University, where she received an MA in Studio Art.
Kenneally has been documenting the causes, effects and economy of the use and sale of illegal drugs in her Brooklyn neighborhood. The mother of an eight-year-old, Kenneally has focused on the way families can get lost in a culture of drugs and prison. She is searching for ways to motivate inner-city women to empower themselves, despite their limited social and economic opportunities.
Kenneally’s work has been featured in the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Ms., among others. In 2000, her photographs earned the Community Awareness Award at the National Press Photographer’s Association Pictures of the Year, and in 2001, the International Prize for Photojournalism in Gijon, Spain. Kenneally’s work in Brooklyn has received the support of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, the Mother Jones Documentary Fund and the Nikon Sabbatical Grant and the Open Society Foundations.
Brenda Ann Kenneally
Ah, Brooklyn, the stuff that dreams—and photographs—are made of. By living and working there, I am following in the footsteps of photographers Helen Levit, Thomas Roma and Eugene Richards. I came to see what inspired them; I have stayed to see what will happen to the people that I’ve found.
Since moving to Brooklyn in 1996, I have photographed my neighbors and their families as they struggle with their physical, emotional and financial dependency upon a black market economy created by the use and sale of illegal drugs. The stories of Tata, Goldie and Fay illustrate the growing presence of the United States criminal justice and social welfare systems in the lives of inner-city families; in many ways, it seems as though these agencies have become members of these families, institutionalizing their children at birth.
My recent photographs depict how three women, limited in their social and economic opportunities, seek to empower themselves by selling illegal drugs, which only diminishes their self-worth.
Six years after taking the first photograph of Tata’s youngest son Andy, I am saddened by the direction in which his life is heading; I cannot leave until I see if this will change. I cannot leave until Tata stops climbing out her apartment window because the police are at the front door. I must stay until Goldie’s little girls get to wear the pretty party dresses that she never had.
And I will stay to see what my own life brings.
According to the teachings of the Buddha, what we see is an illusion; the only truth is that which we feel. At its best, photojournalism, which strives to capture our fellow beings in intimate, honest moments, allows us to feel the truth. It is only a pity if the feeling doesn’t transcend the photograph on the wall to change the way we see our lives.
—Brenda Ann Kenneally, January 2003