As a Bronx Native photographer, I’m always concerned about aesthetics and how others interpret what I do. Until now, I have not found a particular style I could fully commit myself to even though I enjoy many. I am evolving and focusing on projects that are more personal to me. A catalyst was needed to evoke and transmit a range of emotions and thoughts that are not constricted or limited to specific notions, interpretations, or mindsets. Henceforth, The White Shirt Project was born.
PTSD and Depression make it hard to devoting time and care to my own afflictions. And even after the diagnosis, it was much easier to smile, shoot, and walk away without too much involvement or commitment. The thought of engaging in any type of dialogue without my camera was not an option since photography had become my only means of visceral, creative expression.
I can say that I’ve come to terms of fully accepting myself. On my good and special days, I put on a white shirt. It immediately becomes the identifier that I’m not only clear but also present. The white shirt gives me a new, positive demeanor. Wearing a white shirt empowers me. Wearing a white shirt reminds me of death and rebirth however polar that may seem.
I was undecided about how I wanted to photograph the models, yet I was certain from the beginning that it would be in black and white, using only a white collar shirt covering the torsos against a black backdrop, and a single overhead light source set up. I also wanted to challenge the model to do more than just pose for me. A connection had to be made between the white shirt and a feeling, emotion, or thought in the models' minds as an outcome or trigger.
Sharing my story with the models was crucial. It established the trust and the safety of a creative environment for the photoshoot. It also allowed for a deeper connection between the models and the white shirt, which served as a catalyst for a myriad of interpretations derived from symbolisms attached to wearing white. There was no lapse between the first shot and the subsequent slue of unfiltered, raw array of spontaneous images bursting out of everyone.
While processing the data in high contrast black and white, I noticed there were similarities in some of the poses that the models struck. I also noticed that some of the poses were completely different from one another. We had multiple sessions that allowed for varying degrees of expression that depended solely on each model's self permission to explore meaning while striking a pose.
The shared commonality and uniqueness of our human experience is what makes this project a catalyst for empowerment and transformation of the individual. A huge THANK YOU to everyone who volunteered their time and talent in order to make this project a reality.
Models in a White Shirt
I asked a series of questions to find out what wearing a white shirt evoked in a model's mind and body. Wearing white is both ambiguous and controversial. White clothing eludes fixed symbolism. We experience how dynamic a piece of white clothing can be when we look through the ages as it designates arbitrarily not only economic, spiritual and social class structures but also the idea of purity, rebirth and clarity. However, as the artist conceiving this project, my most immediate need is to provoke a thought or an emotion that could bring to light the nuances of a white collar shirt and the differences and similarities we all share while wearing it.
Egyptt LaBeija - Artist/Entertainer "Doing this photo shoot for the white shirt project made me realize who I am as a human being and as a person. Look at all of the hard work and dedication that went into this project, so please read the stories and please comment." Thank you Jose Ramon for including me in this wonderful Adventure.
Casimar Casey Valles - Founder of The Haus of Casimar Dance & Fitness Studio The White Shirt Project spawned a lot of self-reflection of how I define words. During this part of life, I’m beginning a new business and the idea of “suiting up” for work excites me, but at the same time, “suiting up” absolutely terrifies me. In all of these emotions, my stance is how I feel in this part of my life. I have to look forward, keep my head high, and own who I am. In every mistake, in every flaw I can find, I cannot stop now. Early in my adult life I formed a mantra that worked for me: nothing is hard, nothing is easy. It just has to get done. This photo is a picture of a man who is very much a work in progress, but still a man who gets things done.
Jasmin Van Wales - Founder ofJasmin Van Wales Productions The white shirt project, well during the photo shoot I was in a dark place and could not focus but once I put the white shirt on I felt some type of purity and a reminder of the strong woman that I am that's how I feel about The White Shirt Project.
Frankie Allday - Recording Artist White has always been my favorite color, although my German Grandmother would bark back..."white is not a color." White is the color that extracts what I pride in myself in. Also, I'm attracted to it in others and that is GENUINENESS. It is the clear truth and light of my existence.
Anaisa Garcia – Receptionist I’m on an incredible journey, and it feels like I no longer have to struggle. I have three incredible sons, a beautiful and supportive wife, a dog and a cat. Support networks are crucial especially when your battling with weight issues. I have never felt confident wearing anything white, but I knew that The White Shirt Project, was something special, and there was little hesitation when I was asked to model. No one truly understands someone else's challenges and struggles and I have had many… I take pride in the life choices I’ve made, and my head is up high as I continue to fight my battles. Today, wearing a white shirt makes me feel accomplished, beautiful, sexy, and confidant. I’m posing in front of a camera in my own skin and honored to share a little of me with you in this amazing project.
Hector Cotza - Executive Assistant "This is from my heart, I hope everyone likes and understand it."Regardless of turmoil, I can overcome any hurricane." We all have a mask that we wear at times, but you learn to believe in yourself, so no matter what - I will always rise!
Chanel "International" Lopez I am honored to be part of The White Shirt Project, and wearing one means a few different things to me. To start, a white shirt means clarity, purity, awareness, unity and solidarity. It also signifies power, and in this project it opens the doors to conversation and awareness of mental issues like PTSD and Depression, that we should speak about more often. I would like everyone to understand that if you or someone you know suffer from any mental illness know that you are not alone.
Fabio Sardo When I walk out of the house in the morning in my white shirt and tie... people see me as successful, confident, and "normal." But what they don't see is what I see in the mirror every day... #adult child of sexual abuse, #scared #trapped #when will this trauma end #deep breaths #hidden scars.
Eileen Cofield - Actress and Former Educator The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward. ...This Photo of me in the white shirt reflects me doing that: letting go and moving forward!
Adriel Muñoz - Equity Actor, Theater Educator, Psyco-therapist. Wearing a white shirt for The White Shirt Project, instantly brought thoughts of accomplishment. Knowing that this shirt is often like those I wear to work, it makes me feel accomplished. I’ve worked in dress-code environments for years, and as a Latino I was told that certain positions were not possible for me. I am the product of a fight. This is a fight that has not ended, but has allowed me to be who I should be; who I can be. The face says it all "look at me bitches!"
Gisela Perez-Garcia - Nanny I'm tattooed and I get judged for it all the time, but it has never interfered with my ability to be an awesome kid-loving nanny. I'm modern yet traditional, open but guarded. I thought this shoot would be a breeze until it was my turn to be in front of the camera...YIKES! My anxiety level went through the roof, and I wasn't feeling like the confident woman I’m known to be. An image can be interpreted in many ways however, the emotions behind the physical tell a different story. The White Shirt Project, remind me how I still need to work on an array of things everyday, and how I keep evolving as I continue my journey.
Rolando Borrero - Advertising The White Shirt Project - Depending on who and how the shirt is worn, it will most likely tell others the type of person you are. Whether it’s a sporty or an upscale dress shirt the obvious will be apparent. However, when I wear a white shirt I feel a sense of elevated status and character. It makes me feel like I can go anywhere and do anything. It gives me a sense of acceptance and prosperity. A shirt in any other color can be worn in any condition, but a white shirt should never be worn unless it’s crisp. A white shirt gives me the sense that no one can touch me, and they probably shouldn’t lest they dirty it.
Noele E. Phillips - Dancer/Choreographer As I put on the white shirt for The White Shirt Project, it made me feel like I had power. A vulnerable powerful figure who can change lives. As a powerful leader I will change the world. I will shelter the homeless, cure diseases, provide for low-income familes, make dreams come true.
Simply Rob Vassilarakis - Spoken Word Artist, HIV/AIDS Activist, Youth Mentor. We all have a story inside of us. A testimony about the things we have been through and survived, battles we have fought; won and lost, and in my case a war against many inner demons that has raged within, one that I was determined to win. For me, The White Shirt Project represents experience, strength and hope. It depicts resilience, redemption, overcoming the odds and emerging victorious. It also stands for forgiveness, of others and of self. It is a great honor for me to have been asked to participate in The White Shirt Project and to be featured amongst such powerful warriors of the light.
Tabytha Gonzalez - Advocate, Office Manager, Community leader As a wife, and a woman of color of the trans experience, I suffer in silence most of the time due to my agoraphobia and anxiety. Fear for my safety and rapid thoughts fills the peace. The peace which is usually associated with white, protection and goodness. Wearing this white shirt for The White Shirt Project, symbolizes a fresh start and a clean canvas. I have the power to compartmentalize my thoughts and place them on my canvas safely protected and full of goodness. I shine my light on others that suffer.
Raymond Ortiz - Artist A white shirt represents a blank canvas to me. A place that I can express all my thoughts and my work of art. The shirt is a canvas on my body that awaits for me to hold a brush and pour my feelings. I become enthusiastic, its a rush, and I feel it all through my senses. It's like an explosion, and it runs through my veins as I prepare to express myself on canvas. When I open up a fresh can of paint I feel in control and I command the canvas, and the brush, and where they both meet. As I wore the white shirt for The White Shirt Project, it brought me to those incredible moments right before I create my art, so it not only makes me feel in control, it gives me power!
Jomil Luna - Public Health Professional, Advocate, and Community Organizer The white shirt, for The White Shirt Project... "strength and vulnerability." As human beings we can express strength and vulnerability at any given point. Sometimes, we are afraid to show too much or too little or either due to fear, stigma or perceptions. The truth is that emotions are real and need to be expressed. Emotions are not powerless, but POWERFUL. The white shirt to me is being in tune with my emotions, and it depicts the "power of our souls," which connects us to all that is amazing in this world, and to each other.
Tym Moss - Singer, Actor, Host - Film, Theater, Cabaret, TV, Music This was a very emotional photo shoot for me. I suffered from major Depression and Anxiety for most of my adult life, and I didn't know it. So much silent suffering. The depth of pain, darkness and fear is inexplicable. Once I discovered it had a name treatment began, my world opened up, and I was liberated. I still have bouts on occasion, but I now possess the tools to handle it so much better. The White Shirt Project reminded me that sometimes people who suffer from this affliction, bravely put on an outer shell (The White Shirt) to appear strong, confident and fearless. However, people have no idea what is going on inside; looks can be deceiving. Thank you Jose Ramon, of GNote Entertainment, for bringing awareness of this disease. Let's put the stigma aside, and start asking questions, and learning how people who are suffering can be helped.
Jose Manuel Disla Xtravaganza - Designer This is what the White Shirt Project signifies to me. Life is full of adversities, and those adversities are the drive that pushes us forward to excel and succeed. It is during those times that I need peace and tranquility. I’ll put on a white shirt because it makes me feel serene, and it helps me to be focus and move forward. White is the symbol of purity and peace, which gives my soul, the inner me, the tranquility that I require to visually overcome any obstacle along my way with clarity. Thank you Jose Ramon, I am humbled and honored for the opportunity to envision and personify your vision.
Monica Monroe Xtravaganza - Hostess & Entertainer It is a privilege to be part of something so meaningful. While I was doing the photo-shoot, I remained focused on what I wanted to project in the picture. Although a picture can say a thousand words, it was those thousand words I was concerned about. However, I was happy to have been able to expose a little vulnerability. When I put on the white shirt I felt empowered and free in my own skin. As I glared into the camera to strike a pose, I felt secured and unstoppable. I learned to be who I am, a positive role model for the LGBTQ community.
Jeannie Sol How do you survive life while you’re looking at it through a pinhole when all you have ever seen is darkness. As incredible and as impossible as it might seem to imagine, light still managed to find me. Its been 13 years since I decided that nothing was worth living for anymore, and life did take its toll on me. To all of you that know me, those of you that love me, and especially "the blue lady," the one who saved my life… Thank you! White represents rebirth to me, wearing the white shirt for the project reminded me of that that light at the end of the tunnel. I made it, I can breathe, Amen.
Bryant Dorean The White Shirt Project - Initially when I agreed to do this project I was concerned with the scar on my chest showing. Very few people have seen it and to explain how it came to be always brings me to a sad point of my life. . At the beginning of the shoot most of my pics had the shirt covering as much as possible, but during the shoot Jose, encouraged me to let go and relax. As time passed I knew it was time to face my reality: the scar was there and it was a part of me whether I liked it or not.
Derek Nicoletto - Actor/Director/Singer/Songwriter An artist is an artist. Depression is depression. It doesn’t matter if I’m recording an album, directing a play, feeling purposeful or lost, or buying celery at the grocery store, my anxiety and depression can appear. Even when everything on the outside appears “great,” there are moments when it feels like my body is moving through mud, yet my mind races a million miles a minute. And when this happens nothing is worse than when someone asks, “Why are you depressed? Why are you anxious? ” I don’t know why. I just am. I appreciate The White Shirt Project…and especially the experience we had that day. Just before snapping the photograph you see here, Jose asked me a rather deep question. When I don’t know the answer to something instantly, I get lost in a whirlwind of shame and nervousness, as you can see. But then, I remembered there is relief in the truth of a simple statement: “I don’t know.” “I don’t know” is tool for me all the time. Why do I feel depression or anxiety when the outside world thinks I shouldn’t? I don’t know. I do have tools to treat my condition. I have acceptance. I also have knowledge that it passes. But most of all, I have art. I have theatre, film and music. I have the pages I write or the notes I sing. And the rest…passes. This moment you see in Jose’s photograph…passed. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. But with my tools, my art and the ticking of the clock…it passes.
Grandfather Hector Xtravaganza What did it mean to you when you when you put on the white shirt? “Immortality! Because you’re immortalizing everything through a photo. When I’m gone, this photo will still be here, and whatever is written will still be here. You send a message through your photos, through your words. Don’t give up, there’s a way not to be part of the statistic, which is why I do as much as I do. I’m in so much, I’m in so many archives ‘que si yo me muero manana’ I’m good. I cant live by what people say like: ‘you’re here for a reason,’ that just works my nerves. I look for someone to tell me something I don’t know, because a lot of what people tell me I already know, I’ve already been through. I believe that the answers are within, that’s why I do projects like this. This is part of my expression through photo(s), but the question is what are you getting from it? Some people are just going to look at it before they read this, they’ll just look they won’t read.” So tell me what do you see?”
Priscilla Hernandez - Writer /Social Justice Activist/Mental Health Advocate/Traveler Not Tourist The White Shirt project intrigued me as soon as I saw photos of two friends and fellow participants. For most of my life I avoided being photographed like the plague. It is only of late that I’ve let go of inhibitions that kept me from posing in front of a camera. To some it seems I’ve now swung the pendulum too far in the other direction, they deem a few of my photos too risqué for social media. To that I say, check your judgements! When I think of a white shirt I think, business! I think prim and proper and I think male get it done energy! I confess I was kind of hoping the shoot would be a bit of tongue in cheek glam endeavor. I had to surrender and trust Jose’s creative process. During the sessions I felt sadness, rage and anger at people and events from my past that I can’t change. What I can change is the power those events hold over me. So, I forge ahead and emerge triumphant. That is not to say it’s easy or I’m all better. It’s a declaration: I’m more than the hurt! What I see when I look at the picture we chose is a woman both strong and vulnerable but who won’t put up with nonsense. I’ve come too far to let that happen. Oh, to be sure we had lots of fun too! I’ve experienced bouts of depression and anxiety that knock the breath out of me. Luckily with therapy and loving family and friends I manage to bounce back each time. I get joy from helping others through my activism and volunteering work. Writing helps me beat the blues by allowing me to unburden myself of thoughts through a creative medium. I got this advice from a good friend a while back: “Write, write… the life you save may be your own, or someone else’s!” I’ve taken her advice to heart. I’m currently working on my memoir, traveling and promoting causes that align with my core values. I’m grateful to Jose Ramon for including me as part of this project. #SixtyIsSexy #LiberationIsAProcess #SoloUnaVida
Andres Chulisi Rodriguez - Actor/Self Published Author/Director/Producer, and human having a spiritual experience. I have been keeping an eye on The White Shirt Project. And I love what it stands for, the people involved and of course the infamous white shirt photo-shoot that came along with the project. I had no idea whatsoever what it involved being that I was told to just bring myself. Getting there I thought of anxiety, I thought of depression, thought of trauma. How so many people I love deal with these crippling entities. Yes entities because after a while they become an unwanted guest at the worst of times. Also, being a survivor of traumas like rape and molestation myself, I was calm until the white shirt went on. That's when it got real for me, and a wall of emotions started to come up. The sadness, the faces you put on to disguise those feelings that make you feel as if you’re not in your own body. José starts to ask questions, and once I hear that shutter of the camera it gets to the core, and there is a stone face of anger. Angry that it doesn’t let my friends live a full life; angry that fear is what it lives on. Angry that I can’t do a thing about it, just sometimes be next to them and not say a thing. Angry to the point that they themselves can’t feel, can’t talk, can’t move, can’t live and I say FUCK IT ALL! Fuck to depression, anxiety, and the past traumas that it feeds on. FUCK to the lack of worth it takes from them, to the world that has no empathy towards them, to the medications that make it worse and most of all FUCK to the lies the mind plays on them when all they want to do is live.
Esther “Star Angel” Pagan
White Shirt Project
My shirt of white pure Builds Contrast Not of anguish Struggling my demons From within
That grey cloud No...don’t follow me Anymore
I am free to be Who I am Love me Or leave me.
Orlando Ferrand - Writer & Visual Artist / CreateTank Founder & CEO When I wear a white shirt, I feel engulfed by a hybrid between Monalisa and Walter Mercado that catapults me into duplicity. There is never one emotion cancelling out its counterpart in the spectrum. I am the lunatic in a psych ward and the white collar worker on Wall Street. I’m the artist, the dreamer, and the broken-hearted. I’m the therapist, the healer and the hope-seeker. I am love and hatred. I am joy and grief. I don’t wear the white shirt; the white shirt wears me.
Jevon Martin - Founder and CEO of Princess Janae Place I am a Grandfather, Parent, Brother, Uncle, & Son. Mentor to the TGNC Community & abroad. When I think about the White Shirt Project I think of strength, awareness, vulnerability and accountability. As I answered the questions, I relived past feelings & emotions that lead me to think about what I been through & what situations I allowed others to put me in. Growing into the man that I am today, I can say that when I look into the mirror I see the truth. I see someone that doesn't look like what he's been through, & can carry the weight of many & still walk light. As I stay true to myself, knowing that one is not born a man he becomes one. I can fulfill my passion to be of service to others, by reminding myself "If not me, then who?" "If not now, then when?"
Connie Pacheco - Owner/Founder of Recoveries R US, LLC - LMSW, CASAC, FDC, CRPA CARC “Shhhh! Every thing is going to be all right,” those were the last words I heard prior to leaving my beautiful island of Puerto Rico. I left my innocence, my virtue and my purity there. My life in NYC was full of secrets, the kinds that blemish the soul, darkens the heart and question the meaning of life. They are the kind of secrets that ruin your childhood forever. As a result, those secrets are responsible for the woman I am today; it took me some time to convert those secrets to power, success and most of all to understand that it was not my fault. As a survivor of many things from child abuse and domestic violence, to poverty and every thing in between, I managed to persevere. Silence still gripped me with its claws, and it wasn’t until I dug deep that I realized that I was no longer a victim of my circumstances. The White Shirt Project represents purity and innocence to me. It represents the freedom I felt when I revealed my secrets and allowed the world to see who I was and what I have become. Today, those secrets are precisely the reasons for my awareness, strengths, and my compassion. Thank you Jose, for creating a platform for people to express themselves without judgment.
Vivian Lopez Ponce - Advocate/Activist/HIV Spokesperson/Peer Educator/Housewife I had a lot of emotions while doing The White Shirt Project. It felt empowering yet sad at the same time. I know that I’m not the only one who suffers from PTSD, Depression and Anxiety. Often it becomes difficult to adjust to situations, and it is overwhelming. I’m honored to be amongst everyone in the project because it makes me feel like I am not alone. Let this be the light we shed to let others know that they are not alone as well.
Albert Rodriguez - CEO of GNote Entertainment LLC White means light to me, and it is pure. It cleanses all the negativity away. Wearing a white shirt makes me feel powerful, professional and in control both at work and out. The White Shirt Project enables and encourages others to be powerful and live life in the light.
Lee Soulja-Simmons -Performance Artist Will you see me now? In a room full of people, I am invisible unless I am dressed in full costume. Can you see me now? In a show cast with model types, my beauty is undefined until I am dressed in full costume. Do you see me now? Today, I am the contradiction. Stripped down to the most basic of costume, so that people can see the “real” me. Now tell me... Is it really me you’re looking at or is the beautiful iconic WHITE SHIRT?
Richard Pryor Jr. This is how I feel about today… Pain, molestation, sorrow, death, and guilt don’t define me. It does however allow me to express emotions from my soul which allow me to breathe. Knowing each step I take going forward is growth, strength and power makes me stand tall to be who I am.
Michael Brady - Executive Director of the Third Avenue Business Improvement District/Master Planner for the South Bronx Waterfront/Bronx Community Leader/Positions Industrial Real Estate for Quality Job and Community Centered Activation The White Shirt Project hit close to home for Brady. As the first openly gay man in a traditionally Irish family, he had to grapple with several issues - one of the most important being the concept of belonging. First while growing up in upstate New York as a not out gay teen to moving to the South Bronx 15 years ago and being an outsider looking in, Brady developed his sense as a protector; not just for the community he represents, but for himself as well.The White Shirt Project had Brady relive one of the most challenging experiences of his life; the loss of his best friend to suicide, and had him walk through the moments of when he felt alone and betrayed by a loss to mental illness. Brady commented, "even when you are surrounded by people, you can feel so alone. That is how I feel sometimes and how I felt during the time when we lost Heather." This trying time recommitted Brady to being a protector for the neighborhood and the Bronx, but also for himself. He puts on armor every day to protect the people and himself.
Rhina Valentin - Founder/CEOLa Reina Del Barrio Inc. The White Shirt Project process was a memorable moment of give and take while simultaneously experiencing the yin and yang of our existence. In order to understand you must have breakdowns to allow for breakthroughs to occur. In order to cleanse oneself you must go deep down to the source and be brave. You must look into that tarnished mirror to begin to polish. Once that resin has resurfaced, and has been removed all that is left is nothing. It is then that you have possibility to create anything and everything. White to me represents a blank canvas in which we can create all the beautiful colors that live within the rainbow spectrums of our lives. Therefore, I reclaim who I am! I stand representing a Goddess Warrior of Light, in the midst of darkness. I’m living my best self - con mucho amor y miel, and No One can tell me otherwise! I AM a Lotus Flower.
Yina Santiago - Restaurant Manager Tears come down my face as if spring was raining over me. I am immune to the storms of life. I have been uprooted from the ground underneath my feet. I am a shadow.
Rosa Garcia - Restaurant Owner “The moment I heard about the White Shirt Project and saw the amazing pictures of each individual and how powerful and fearless each of them looked, I knew I had to be part of this. For a while I have been working on accepting myself for who I am, accepting people close to me trying to take their lives away and leaving me behind. I no longer live life looking for ways to please society. I look forward to ways on how I can be a better person inside and out and a role model for my 2 girls to learn through me that it is ok to not fit in. Sometimes it’s best to stand out. Loving yourself should always be your first task at hand.”
Douglas Says - Designer Douglas Says - I rarely ever wear white except for maybe a wife beater. It’s my honor to be in “The White Shirt project.” Being part of this project is a way of showing my support for two long time friends I grew up with. I watched them go through their issues without ever having a clear understanding of how they must have suffered during that period even though I was still in my youth. To be clear let’s just say that… I understand now...DS.
Joyce Gonzalez - United States Marine Veteran The White Shirt project is a fantastic endeavor that sheds light on the stigma of mental illness. I am a Marine Corps veteran who suffers from PTSD and depression. I have gone to war and have been told you might not come home. I have been beaten, battered, and bruised by people most dear to me. I have been sexually assaulted. I have lost friends to suicide as a result of PTSD and depression. I have spent my whole life hiding behind my stoic faces and awkward laughs. Wearing this white shirt enabled me to begin sharing my story. I am not my mental illness. I am learning that the past has provided me the strength to see tomorrow. The white shirt signifies peace and tranquility to me. Finding that peace within myself when the storm is always brewing has been one of life's biggest challenges. The White Shirt Project is so important to people like me. It is a platform for healing. Thank you so much for allowing me to be part of this and share my story.