When it was my turn to put on the communal black vest and channel my inner tough girl for the Naranja Nuevo Negro project, photographer Brian Burkhardt only gave me one direction to help bring his vision to life.
“Give me a look that says, ‘don’t f— with me.'”
Burkhardt, a former Greenport resident and the season one winner of Lifetime’s “Project Accessory,” is traveling the country looking for women to photograph for his Naranja Nuevo Negro photo project, inspired by the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.”
He stopped by Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. in Peconic in July to found the North Fork chapter of the group and catch up with some old friends.
The result of that day’s photo shoot is 70 images of local women – mothers you know from the playground, girls you went to school with and, yes, even an editor with the local paper — portrayed in a light you have never seen them in before.
The project, which originated in Miami, where Burkhardt lives, in inspired by the unlikely sisterhood developed among some of the female characters on the hit television show, which is set at the fictional Litchfield Penitentiary in upstate New York. It is also inspired by how shows like “Orange is the New Black” or AMC’s “Breaking Bad” can unite their fans across race and class lines.
“In the art world they have a dialogue with their own members and sometimes it’s not accessible to everybody,” Burkhardt, who is also the lead vocalist for the local band The Golden Fists of Fury, told me before the shoot. “I found this project is totally accessible and open to everyone.”
Many locals said they came out to support Burkhardt in return for his years of friendship and they say despite his success he hasn’t forgotten his true friends.
“Brian’s known my mom since I was a baby and he’s always supported me in my endeavors,” said Greenporter Patience Pollock, 24, who designs up-cycled bags through her company Your Post Script. “His work inspires me and helps me realize my vision.”
Burkhardt stressed that the harsh lighting results in photos that are far grittier than glamour shots. But, he added, that can make the process liberating for some people.
“When they hear that, it releases something in people and lets them be who ever they want to be,” he said.
For Naomi Saddlemire, a 38-year-old teacher from Middle Island, she was attracted to the shoot by Naranja Nuevo Negro’s inclusiveness message as well as her late mother’s love of photography.
“I love that [the advertisement] said it was for women up to 80,” she said. ” I did this for my mother. I said this is for you. I wish you were on the other side of the camera.”
Saddlemire noted that it was kind of fun to communicate with that bad piece of herself: the one you’ll never see in any of her staff yearbook photos.
“You have to get in touch with that side of you that is a little bit darker,” she said.
It was admittedly a bit of a strange feeling, but I think Brian’s coaching helped me get there.
My photograph, which along with the other images was made public last week, gives the impression that you’re catching me walking down a dimly lit road on the way to a street fight. My mouth and jaw say, “You want a piece of me?” But my eyes convey a melancholy that belies that hardness.
I dig it.
But most of all, I dig being a part of something that connects me to this unlikely group of women.
Top photo: Patience Pollock of Greenport poses for the Naranjo Nuevo Negro project. (Credit: Brian Burkhardt)