Register Tuesday | June 25 | 2019

Fantasies Photojournal

Taking the lens cap off of "Fantasies Made Fresh."

All photos by Eamon MacMahon


Toronto-based photographer Eamon MacMahon spent several days on assignment in Illinois and Missouri for "Fantasies Made Fresh" (Issue 12), Scott Eden's exploration of the sex economy in the communities surrounding East St. Louis. On his return, MacMahon emailed Maisonneuve creative director Audrey Davis about his experiences.


From: eamon macmahon
To: Audrey Davis
Subject: Re: East St. Louis

hi Audrey,

hope you got the photo ... could you put a credit on it please (Rebecca Hartman, 2004)? i know i'm a little late with this email, but i wanted to tell you a bit about the trip to st. louis. anyway ... it was the most challenging and, definitely, one of the most valuable assignments I've had ...

... when i arrived in st. louis it was very, very hot. it was almost unbearable ... the air was hard to breathe ... thick, heavy, moist air, and the temperature didn't drop much at night ... one of the things that struck me right away was the sound of the insects ... so loud they were almost a little scary. it sounded like you would expect the middle of a swamp to sound. needless to say, i was uncomfortable and unsettled when i first arrived ... the only escape i had was paul's house, which was my island of peace and safety for the four days i spent down there.


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i was very nervous and excited on my first trip across the mississippi to east st. louis ... almost everything that people told me, and anything i read about the east side, was negative. it was made out to be like a war zone ... burnt-down and crumbling buildings everywhere, rampant crime ... many people on the missouri side had never even been there and it was about a ten-minute drive away. brooklyn was not what i expected ... it really did seem like a typical, quiet small town when i first drove in there (except for the massage parlours, strip clubs, drug dealers and prostitutes) ... people were gardening, having barbecues, kids playing ... and there were a surprising number of churches (including one that was right next to a brothel) ... i drove around, apparently unnoticed, and left ... it was a peaceful thursday afternoon in Brooklyn. i decided to return the next morning when the light was better ...



brooklyn, friday morning 6am; i had heard about an old graveyard somewhere near the town and i approached the first person i saw to ask where it was ... he was black, in his twenties, riding a small bike, holding a bottle in a paper bag. he started peddling my way as soon as he spotted me ... when i drove up to him he looked confused and a little upset. "do you know where the old cemetery is?" i asked. he was not happy, "man you need to go home," he said with a hurt scowl pointing towards st louis. "what?" i didn't know what to say. "go on." i just looked at him. "bye!" this time with a slight threat in his voice ... i drove out of town, heart pounding, feeling horrible ... my next few trips into brooklyn were met with similar suspicion, and angry stares ... it felt awful ... i soon realized that the only white people that came to brooklyn were there for the strip bars and brothels and they didn't drive outside of a very small part of town ...



so i figured i would need a local contact if i wanted to wander around and take photos ... by a stroke of luck i found a website about brooklyn; ... it was a small site with a few poems and a short history of the town put up by zakkiyya boatner and her father charles, both of whom had grown up there ... they had started an organization whose purpose was to restore brooklyn to the state it had been in before all the corruption and strip clubs, etc. ... when i contacted zakkiyya she was a little suspicious of me at first and wanted to make sure that i wasn't going to portray brooklyn in an unfair way ... she found it very funny that a white person was sent from canada to take photos there. "poor you!" she said, laughing. eventually she agreed to take me around on sunday and show me a few places.



on saturday i met with jack corbett, we spent a couple of hours together, had lunch, looked at his extensive collection of machine and hand guns and that night we met at mustang sally's, a strip club/brothel, for a beer ... the whole day left me feeling a little sad.

sunday; ... zakkiyya, a woman in her early fifties with long dreadlocks, took me, along with her daughter, granddaughter and grandson, around east st. louis for the entire day. her father, reverend charles t. boatner, told me all about growing up in brooklyn, how it had changed, how corruption had ruined it and was keeping it down even now.

zakkiyya told me that many of the clubs on the east side were run by the mafia, and it had been that way from the beginning ... they were obviously very sad about the state of brooklyn now. i was still a little nervous about taking photos, but any time we were confronted by angry locals, zakkiyya told them who we were and what i was doing, and everything was fine. in fact, most people were very welcoming and friendly (i was surprised by how many people thought of canada fondly, as a place with no racism and no segregation, as the place where slaves had escaped to) ...



later in the day we went to visit her blind cousin nate ... he lived alone in a small bungalow in brooklyn ... this was one of the funniest things that happened on my trip; i wanted to take nate's photo, but zakkiyya insisted that he change his shirt (which was ripped) ... he made his way to the bedroom to change, using a cane ... a few minutes later he walked out wearing an old shirt that said "toronto, canada" on the front. we all burst out laughing. "how did you know, nate?!" zakkiyya asked him, meaning how did he know i was from toronto, and how did he know what shirt he was putting on. "how did i know what?" he was totally confused ...

the last morning was when i took all of the photos in the fog ... and in the end i think they are the photos that really sum up the mood of the place ... the swamp, the heat, the ominous, unsettled feeling that followed me everywhere ...

ffewf ...

that's as long an email as i can manage ... and that's the short version. i just wanted to thank you for enabling me to have this experience ... what i wrote here really doesn't do it justice ...

i'll have access to email for the next couple of days, if you need those captions ... hope you're well,

eamon

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