The first time I came across Emmanuel Afolabi's photography, I was captivated. I had no words. Still a teenager in high school, the beauty in the way he saw the world around him was refreshing. His photographs included chapters to stories waiting to be read. A documentary and lifestyle photographer based in New York, ask Emmanuel who are some of his greatest inspirations and he'll lead you down the path towards the brilliant works of Gordon Parks, Bruce Davidson, Andre Wagner, Rog Walker and Lawrence Agyei and rightfully so, they are inspirational to myself as well, including Emmanuel.
I always considered the nurturing of one's passion a natural stimulant to growth. As a student of both art and life, it's evident that I'm still learning and his photographs, help nurture me and therefore, I grow. Emmanuel is our connection to the future and I am honored to have walked with him during a mile of his journey.
As a young girl, I'd watch my father over a thousand times shine his shoes. A retired military man, a good appearance was essential. One's appearance would set the tone for all that was to come that day and a pair of well polished shoes was the first of several pre-requisites in fulfilling that day's requirement.
"You have to apply the first coat of polish with your fingers so you can feel the leather," he'd say. "You gotta really feel the leather and pay attention to the grooves so you know just how much polish is needed." I watched as he wrapped his fingers tightly in a soft cloth, dipping it in a little water while working his way into the craft of the perfect shine. I noticed that he always paid special attention to the grains on each side of the shoe, the heels and as he dressed the soles.
So when he offered a dollar for me to take over the polishing for him, I was ecstatic. “A dollar?" “And all I have to do is shine your shoes?” My younger sister was compensated with any leftover change in his pocket and she was just as content. A crumpled dollar for me and quarters, nickels, dimes, pennies and lent for her.
I'd taken some of his techniques and incorporated it with those of my own using newspaper, an old athletic sock and his Kiwi shoe polish. Just remembering his voice echoing for me to use a little more elbow grease is nostalgic enough. I earned every cent within that dollar. I also learned that being ambidextrous had its perks, so when it came to unlocking extra muscle power, I'd use my left hand in a counter-clockwise motion. Lost in a buffering trance, my thoughts often drifted to imagining someone asking him about the job well done on his shoes and a huge smile would overwhelm his face. He was always too cool to respond but he did so anyway, and proudly with "my daughters."
His pride would carry the weight of the conversation and it would be the same pride that Mr. Don Ward, affectionately known as “Don” carries with him as he prepares for his day on the corner of 47th street and 6th Avenue in New York.
An extraordinary man he is, his voice will not be silenced or muffled by the years of demeaning overtones that precedes his livelihood. Mr. Don is not an invisible man nor is he transparent. He is human. Leaving his rhythmic signature on the left shoe, then, on the right and on the left again. Seeing his reflection is an indication of all of the details he's perfected throughout his shoe-shining career.
Our lives, as they run parallel to one another, intersecting at the only point feasibly possible to connect, his--tory and mine and the pride we share for a great pair of well polished shoes.