What this portrait of Mayor Adams’ mother means to New Yorkers


On New Years Day, when Eric Adams was sworn in as New York’s 110th mayor, in his right hand he held high above his head a framed portrait of his mother, Dorothy Mae Adams-Streeter, photographed in a cognac glass. Her left hand was resting on her Bible, where she kept notes, letters and old photos.

“I raised my right hand, lifting it up, as it lifted me up,” Mr. Adams said in an interview. “Who would think that because of what she instilled in her son, he would be in Times Square, swearing in as mayor and holding up his picture?” “

The portrayal of the brandy snifter is as American as hip-hop, the acid-washed jeans and the plastic-covered sofas. A photo in this style might evoke the same feelings as oversized shoulder pads or a Jheri buckle: cringe. In 2001, the motif was usurped by “Saturday Night LiveIn a sketch starring Alec Baldwin and Jimmy Fallon, titled “Put It in a Brandy Snifter”.

But in the 1980s and 1990s, the cognac photo was an innovative and accessible luxury, and it became ubiquitous in some communities. Its cultural significance is closely linked to the ambitions of the American working class.

Mr. Adams’ tribute to his mother has also honored the countless other people who see this image and immediately recognize and identify with it, as I did. In 1995, my siblings and I had our own brandy snifter portraits taken at our local CTown supermarket on 135th Street and Broadway.

I was wearing my peach Easter dress from the beginning of the year. My mom tied my hair up in a ponytail and curled my bangs to the side. My siblings wore polo shirts. The day before, I had applied a glow-in-the-dark temporary tattoo to my cheek that I got from a box of Rude Dudes chewing gum. My face has never been scrubbed as hard as mom cleaned it that day.

We had to be spotless. The facade of our CTown only turned into a photo studio once a year, as I remember it.

The makeshift studio where a Sears photographer took our portraits was in a hallway where shopping carts were usually stored, my mother told me recently. The backdrop was light blue and the area smelled of bread. When we retrieved the photos some time later, our little cherub faces were trapped in brandy glasses and stuck to a plate made of a composite that looked like wood. Mom always keeps the plaque on her dresser.

While today it may seem rude to place the portrait of a child in the image of a brandy snifter, for my mother it was an opportunity to give us something that she never has. eu: a photoshoot.

I have never seen pictures of my parents and children. During their youth, cameras and photos were not within the reach of the poor of the Dominican Republic, where they grew up. It was important for my mother to professionally capture us in this way. Portraits were her aspirations for her children to have more than her, manifested in a photo.

It was the same ambition, that of the black and immigrant working-class communities, the heart of the Democratic base and of New York City, that won Mr. Adams the mayoral election last year. The photo illustrates what he said to voters during his victory speech: “I am you. After years of prayer, hope, struggle and work, we are heading towards City Hall.

Choosing to hold this photo while he took the oath was more than a tribute to his mother; it was a nod heard to communities that have at times been left out by municipal government but continue to work hard for progress.

“I wanted everyone to look at this photo and think of their parents and see that we all want the same thing,” Mr. Adams said.

Earlier this week, Adams was criticized for calling low-wage workers “low-skilled”. The mayor later said his critics had distorted his message. On Twitter, he reminded those offended by his comments that he was once a low-wage worker.

“I was a cook. I was a dishwasher. If no one had come to my restaurant when I was in college, I wouldn’t have been able to survive, ”he wrote.

It is this part of his identity that is linked to these simple and archaic portraits. The photos of brandy snifter were a special occasion, something to dress up.

At a celebration of her 75th birthday in 2013, then-retired housekeeper Dorothy Mae Adams-Streeter arrived, dressed new in a bone-colored blazer with black trim and a silver tiara on her head.

Inside the Sugar Hill Restaurant & Supper Club on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, they served smothered chicken, baby back ribs, cornbread, collard greens with smoked turkey, and macaroni and cheese. The O’Jays played through speakers, according to Aaron Freeman, who now runs the restaurant his father, Eddie Freeman, opened in 1942.

“She welcomed everyone with open arms,” said Aaron Freeman. “As you can see, she’s just the rock of the family.”

In her portrait, her smile, captured that evening, is a delight.

“I remember the day like yesterday,” Mr. Adams said. “She cleaned the houses and did all kinds of chores just to make sure she could support her children. Being able to take a day off and do for it was a big time.

In the 1980s, when this legacy style of photography became popular, photos were not as prevalent as they are today. Digital cameras weren’t affordable for everyone, and there were no camera phones. Film from simple point-and-shoot cameras could easily be overexposed or underexposed, ruining the image – an incident that was only revealed when the film was developed in a photo lab.

Initially, the brandy sniffer portrait took off for weddings, according to David Ziser, a Cincinnati-based photographer who took his first brandy sniffer portrait of a couple at their 1978 wedding. image required a slightly more complicated filter. as offers on Instagram.

“I was just a young kid in my twenties and early thirties trying to do something different for my clients,” Ziser said. “I heard about the brandy snifter so I started doing it.”

At the time, Mr. Ziser was using a Hasselblad 501c camera that he attached to a matte box. He took the dark transparent slide of the brandy glass and slipped it into the matte box. He then added another filter with a small hole, then photographed the subject. The second vignette filter around the subject to make them fit in the brandy glass. The filter allowed the photographer to create the portrait in person in real time, during an event.

“It was something really unusual in the late 1970s,” Ziser said. “It would have looked like anything they had seen and what any other wedding photographer was doing.”

The style has spanned weddings to everything from babies to couples in matching outfits, to whole families and even Sweet 16 parties.

Gisela Guerrero, the mother of a colleague of mine, had her portrait taken on her quinceañera-like sister Monica’s 18th birthday debut in 1984 at a ballroom at a Manila sports club.

“My mother brought in someone to do my hair and make-up,” recalls 64-year-old Ms. Guerrero. “My mom was a great cook and she made feasts for all of our meetings, but she was a caterer, it was different.”

Ms. Guerrero recalled that a photographer was at the party to take pictures. At the end of the party, there were a few pictures on a table near the exit.

“The guy taking the pictures was pretty quick because we went out and I saw my face, my image in a champagne glass or something,” Ms. Guerrero, fresh off a late shift at the Administrative office of Mercy Hospital in Ohio, said earlier this week. “It was like a big thing. Other people at the party had their photos taken in the same way.

The double exposure trend has been around the world several times before, but in New York it remains a piece of the black and immigrant aesthetic.

Mrs. Adams-Streeter’s portrait was taken just over eight years ago. She died last year of heart disease. Mr Adams said the town betrayed his mother by failing to provide her with opportunities and resources, but had a relentless will not only to prevail but to prosper – a persistence he attributes to his success. When he hoisted his brandy snifter portrait in the air as he became the city’s second black mayor, she too became part of the story.

“African Americans, they always put their photos on a plate, a glass, a flyer, that’s exactly what we do,” Freeman said. “You know, we’re super exquisite. “


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