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J.R. Blackwell
I am a writer and photographer. Also, kind of a badass.
I am a writer and photographer. Also, kind of a badass.

J.R.'s posts

I didn't know I had Irish heritage until after both my grandparents died.

My great grandmother on my mothers side was from Ireland. Her maiden name was Kelly. She married a man in Glasgow and had a bunch of children. The man she married abandoned the family. When my grandmother was a little girl, her mother would send her and her sisters out to the streets to beg for food and money. They lived in a a tenement building, back at a time when the buildings in Glasgow were black with soot. My grandmothers brother, my great uncle, got rickets. My grandmother was told, from the time she was very young, that she must never admit her mother came from Ireland. They were Scottish.

I went to Glasgow in my twenties. They sandblasted the town and the tenement where my grandmother lived was demolished. A little park with stone benches was in it's place.

When my grandmother was still a child, she was sent to the US to live with her Aunt. Her Aunt resented her as a burden. Her mother, and the rest of the family, never joined her. My grandmother worked in a paper bag factory until she met John, the man she married.

At some point, she told my mother that her mother was Irish. And after both my grandparents died, my mother told me. I was 22.

The last five years have been tough. 

One of the advantages of having something really, really awful happen to you is that it gets some people to stop hating you when good things happen.

You are all very nice people, so you might not be familiar with this.

Years ago, before my infant son died in my arms, sometimes people would get really mad at me. Especially when something good happened to me. (I know, I know, you're happy when good things happen to generally decent people. This isn't about you.) "Ugh," they'd say "She really isn't THAT good," or "I don't understand why so many people LIKE her," or "Why does she have a happy relationship? So UNFAIR" "Why do so many people agree to model for her and not me? I hate her."

Even though I had struggled and worked hard, there was still this anger towards me. I hadn't had it hard ENOUGH. I hadn't REALLY suffered. And therefore it was totally fine to be mad at me when good things happened in my life. Like I was having good fortune AT them. The fact that I was generally nice about it seemed to make it worse. How dare I add being nice on top of my crimes!

Now that I've had something really awful happen, those people have shut the fuck up forever. 

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There is nothing wrong with putting out a call for diverse applicants to your convention/book/art project on social media.

But you should be aware, that if you are a white able bodied straight person, your social network may not reach the audience you want to apply, so a social media post cannot be your ONLY action.

I've seen these calls go out often, and often come up dry. Sometimes someone gets lucky and gets a flood of people. That's awesome. But I've also seen people come up with crickets, especially if they are a smaller operation.

Unfortunately, I've seen this lead people to conclude that diverse creators simply don't exist. They do. They do exist. They might not be in your network, but they exist.

Also, invite The Black Tribbles to your event. You won't regret it. They put on a great show:

"I just want to protect you," has become a Giant Red Flag phrase whenever it's said by a white cis dude.

It's usually preceded or followed by violence, the threat of violence, threatening someone who isn't dangerous to me, or telling me they are taking away some sort of freedom for my own good. 

I will be having a baby in April, so I will be taking a maternity leave from freelance work through June 2017.

Please feel free to contact me for projects taking place after that date if you want to get on my calendar. I already have a few weddings booked for Fall 2017 which I'm really excited about! 

I really want to go to back to church.

And by church, I mean, of course, the monthly drag show that I love. 

Messages from my body used to come like letters:

Dear Madam,
We, the undersigned, have grown hungry. Please remedy this situation at your earliest convenience.
Your body

Sometimes, the letters would have a more urgent tone.


Due to the way you are sitting, I have fallen asleep. Cease this position immediately. Due to your negligence I have already been forced to enact the Pins and Needles Initiative.

Your Right Leg

As a pregnant person, the messages I get are less like letters and more like someone sneaking up behind me, smacking the back of my head, screaming "KLAXON KLAXON" while flashing emergency lights.

"OH MY GOD WHAT'S WRONG?" I scream over the multiple alarms.



"YOU ARE NOT THE DECIDER HERE!" screams by body, switching on nausea, dizziness, and heart palpitations. "NOW YOU HAVE TO LIE DOWN FOR A FULL HOUR!"



Anyway, my morning has been fun.

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This article makes me think about the Star Wars story I really want to see. The one about the Jedi midwives, who usher life into the world, rather than death, who use their powers to heal, who do not carry lightsabers, but who are lights in the dark.

Jedi powers would be amazing for midwives. Jedi could use their mental powers to soothe pain, to turn a baby in the womb to face the right direction for birth, to heal. They could tell you, with a gentle touch, if the baby was in distress.

If the force flows though all living things, then they would be the conduits of that connection, bringing families together in a time of transition and change.

Boy, would that piss the Sith off.

I saw some people questioning how there were such good, clear, crisp photos of an assassination. I was a photojournalist for three years and have freelanced as a photographer for about ten years.

So here's how.

Important people, especially people holding a public facing position, often have photographers around them. The more high profile the person, the more likely that they have, in fact, their own photographer, or a group of photographers that are regularly called in to photograph them. Very high profile people, Presidents, CEO's, Ambassadors, may even have a regular press photographer who is sent to photograph them. In Philly, where I live, I wouldn't say that the mayor knew my name, but he certainly knew me as a member of the press by sight. This is pretty typical.

When important people attend public events, they are even MORE likely to bring a photographer with them, or arrange for a photographer to be present. This might be a freelancer, a member of the press, or their own personal photographer. It is not unusual for there to be more than one photographer at a public event where important people are gathering.

As a note, it isn't unusual for private meetings with important people to be photographed as well. Public people in high profile positions are photographed ALL THE TIME. Members of the public might find this to be improbable, because you aren't followed by a bunch of photographers in your life, but for CEO's, Presidents, and yeah, Ambassadors, this is pretty typical. In my experience, these folks are pretty good subjects because they are so used to having their photo taken.

While a typical person may run from violence, photojournalists, especially experienced photojournalists, the ones who are, say, MOST LIKELY to be assigned to high profile people, turn towards the action. In the three years I was a photojournalist, I learned how to run towards the action, to push forward, to keep photographing, even when things got intense. Many photojournalists feel a responsibility to record events, even at great personal risk. I was fortunate that I never encountered serious violence, but I can tell you, from personal experience, that focusing your efforts on taking the best photo, the most accurate record, can give you a sense of focus in an intense experience.

You might think that it is difficult to take a photo with a giant camera without attracting notice. It really isn't. Sure, it takes time to learn to do this, but after a while, most photographers know both how to blend into their environment without attracting attention, and how to call attention to themselves when they want a subject to look directly into a camera. You know who would be really good at this? An experienced photojournalist. If I know how to do this, and I'm, you know, only three years into photojournalism, a person who works for AP who is assigned to photograph a high profile person CERTAINLY knows how to do this.

Also, we live in a world where everyone has a camera in their pocket. When hundreds of people are present at an event, it is not shocking that someone may be taking a photo.

So the fact that there were clear photos does not surprise me at all.

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