Milan Burnett: I Am That I Am

portrait of beautiful black model
Milan Burnett. Photo: Tony Ward. Copyright 2021

Text by Milan Burnett, Copyright 2021

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I Am That I Am

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Looking back, outside of the mundane gossip and remedial conversation, there were two things that I hated to hear most while in school – “Milan, why are you so nice all the time?”, and the lackluster attempt of a so-called compliment, “You’re really pretty for a black girl!”. Being asked why am I so nice all the time always guaranteed for a quick, sarcastic remark such as, “So would you rather me be an asshole?!”. Simply because, well, who doesn’t like nice people? As for the latter, the best I could conjure up was an awkward, “Thanks, I guess?”. For any young girl growing into her teens, being called pretty by a cute boy in school was like an invisible badge of honor, one that could instantly put a pep in her step for the rest of the day. However, when being complimented gets limited to just “for a black girl”, unfortunately, that badge of honor does not wear the same.

I never labeled myself as the “pretty” or “popular” girl in school. I always wore glasses, and nothing special stood out about me. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens, early 20’s, that I realized the standard, regurgitated, concept of beauty, was just that – Standard. After tons of self reflection, and learning more about my indegineous background, I realized just how exclusive I truly was. Of course, eventually growing into my hips and womanly figure helped with that, as well. From the shape of my eyes, to the coils of my hair, to the complexion of my skin – I am exclusive – Regardless of who may feel otherwise.

Gaining knowledge of self has changed my thought process completely, making it easy for me to be comfortable in the skin I was blessed with. Once timid, shy and self conscious, I now wake up with an everlasting pep in my step, radiating an abundance of self-love and confidence. I am beautiful as I am. I am fierce. I am strong. I am a luminous etheric being, manifested in the physical form. I am Milan.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR : Milan is currently an administrative healthcare professional, originally from New York, now residing in Philadelphia. Aspiring model and real estate broker. Free thinker. Humanitarian by nature. Spiritual revolutionary in the making. This is Milan’s first contribution to Tony Ward Studio.

Bob Shell: Marijuana Legal in Virginia

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2021

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

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Marijuana Legal in Virginia

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Much to the surprise of many, recreational marijuana became legal in Virginia on July 1. I never thought I’d see something so progressive in stodgy old Virginia.
There are limits, of course. You can have up to an ounce for personal use or grow up to four plants. Possession of more than an ounce up to a pound will get you a $ 25 fine.
If you want all the details you can read the story in the Galax Gazette, an excellent regional newspaper here in southwest Virginia. (www.galaxgazette.com).
The reason this resonates so strongly with me goes back to the summer of 1969.
I was living in Richmond, Virginia, in a nice, three-bedroom, apartment on Grace Street. I shared the apartment with four other people. One weekend we had a friend from Washington, D.C., visiting with us.
Saturday morning, the Richmond narcotics police raided the apartment. They did not knock or identify themselves. I was standing in the kitchen at the back of the apartment when a man strode down the hall and pointed a gun in my face. I had no idea who the hell he was. I was twenty-two at the time, never been in any trouble. This was the first time in my life that I’d looked down the barrel of a gun pointed at my face. It scared me so badly that I almost passed out.
As it turned out, the police searched the place and found nothing. But, in the pocket of the man visiting from D.C. was one ‘joint’, one marijuana cigarette.
We were all arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, a felony at that time, facing possible thirty year sentences!
Now, let me repeat, only one person possessed marijuana, and he didn’t even live there! But, that was how police treated ‘hippies’ in the ’60s.
We all hired lawyers, but were denied bail and spent three months in the old Richmond City Jail.
In court it came out that the search warrant was for a different address. Our lawyers tried to get the case thrown out on those grounds, but the judge refused.
We went to trial, and in a great show of ‘judicial mercy’ were only sentenced to three years each. That’s a cumulative fifteen years for one silly joint.
Thankfully, our lawyers pleaded with the judge and got the sentences suspended. But we were forbidden to associate with each other even though we were best friends. So we were split up, and I went back to Roanoke, where I’m from, and went to work for a local TV station and theater.
My dear friend Mark couldn’t take the stress and killed himself, a promising young life ended for nothing.
The first time I was to meet with my probation officer I showed up and was taken to his office.
He read my file, and said, “Possession of marijuana, eh?”
When I said, “Yes,” he got up from behind his desk, locked his office door, sat back behind his desk, and pulled a joint from a drawer. We shared it. I never had any trouble with my probation officer!
So, after my three years of probation was over, I petitioned the governor to expunge my conviction and restore my rights. He and my father were friends, and my petition was quickly granted. I could vote, own guns, whatever I wanted to do. I took my voting rights seriously, and voted in every election from 1972 until 2007. Then I was convicted on the current absurd charges and lost my rights all over again.
But, back to marijuana. When I was arrested for possession back in ’69, I didn’t have any. But I’d been smoking it since 1965 when I went off to college at Virginia Tech and found it abundant on campus and cheap. I smoked it pretty regularly through the sixties, seventies and early eighties, and then just tapered off.
When my late girlfriend convinced me to try some of hers in 2003, I hadn’t had any in years. The stuff she got from a student at Radford University was by far more potent than anything we had in the ’60s and ’70s! I couldn’t handle it. One hit and I was ‘One Toke Over the Line,’ as Brewer and Shipley sang.
The law legalizing marijuana in Virginia has penalties for giving any to young people under the age of twenty-one, but that’s unrealistic. Once it’s legal, young people and kids are going to get it, just as they already get alcohol.
Now, even though marijuana possession becomes legal on July 1 of this year, selling any amount is still illegal, and the state’s legal dispensaries won’t open until 2024! So you can legally have it, but there’s no legal way to get it!
Also, when marijuana becomes legal on July 1, everyone in jail or prison for possession will be released, right? Wrong! There’s no provision in the law to resentence people serving time for possession of a legal substance!
The legal theory is that they broke the law as it existed at the time, so they won’t be released. The Governor wanted to include a provision in the law that would have automatically resentenced those people, but opposition in our legislature told him if he insisted on including that provision, the bill would die. So he took what he could get.
That’s Virginia politics!

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/behind-bars/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Studio News: Water Main Break

Water Main Break: 6th & Bainbridge Streets. Philadelphia


Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2021

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Water Main Break

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In the early hours of Sunday, July 25th a 100+ year old cast iron thirty inch water main broke at the intersection of 6th & Bainbridge Streets in Philadelphia, causing a massive flood of epic proportions. Water department  officials on the ground at the epicenter claimed that it was the largest main break they had ever seen.

At approximately 2:00AM a resident of The Ward Studio was awakened by a large crash of water breaking glass on a floor below her bedroom prompted her to get up to see what was going on.  The resident, a close friend of the Ward family, had the presence of mind to immediately begin videotaping the wall of water descending onto the property. 

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LIWEI VIDEO

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Within minutes all of the below grade rooms including; lounge area, kitchen, dressing room, darkroom suite, editing room, workshop and bathroom were all under approximately 24 inches of water.

There was extensive damage done to the property, including  thousands of vintage black and white and color negatives that I was preparing to review in anticipation of an upcoming exhibition in the fall.  

The city of Philadelphia has stepped in to mitigate the damage while my family sorts out the damage and loss.  Mitigation efforts are currently underway to save as many negatives as possible. All activities including studio and darkroom rentals have been suspended until further notice.

Diana Desiderio: Night Swim

Portrait of Diana Desiderio by Tony Ward, Copyright 2021

Text by Diana Desiderio, Copyright 2021

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Photography by Tony Ward, Copyright 2021

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2006 is feeling closer and further from me everyday. I was wrestling professionally on PPV, a guest on the Howard Stern show and I had finally done an amazing shoot with Tony Ward for Hustlers Taboo magazine. Things for a then 24 years old me were happening. I didn’t have a set career or any clue as to what direction I was going to go. That’s what you do in your 20’s. Aimlessly going on with life as it was coming, just riding the wave. July of that year had made everything stop when my older sister had passed away that summer in a car wreck. The devastation hit me harder than one could ever imagine. I wiped out off of that wave I was riding and found myself over the next five years slowly sinking to the bottom of the abyss that was called life. Self destruction quickly set in. I had left wrestling; was being over medicated with psych drugs, which led me to my journey of self medicating which led to a full blown narcotic addiction. 

Rock bottom is a lonely place, but a perfect place when your down, hopeless and out. I had managed to push everyone and anyone that ever gave a damn away. Undoing all that I was working for or towards. That’s how quickly you can rise and fall. When your young, things are there for the taking and you just take it all for granted. Why not, it’s all right there being handed to you hand over fist. And I took it all, but when my life was hit by tragedy I was 100% accountable for letting it all go to ruin. I don’t regret facing those bad times. Talking about it and doing what it took to get through them. Putting in the work and getting help so that I can get the real me back to myself. It’s not easy and for everyone. I had to realize I was meant for so much more; that I deserved way better than what I was encountering. By this time, December 2011; I was 29. And I signed myself in at a rehab facility voluntarily and got the long awaited help I needed. I chose life. Coming back into the world after being down so damn long is surreal.  You are not only relearning who you are organically; but releasing the demon that carried you through the darkness and didn’t want to let you go. Life feels like a night swim; alone and bare allowing the universe to see every bit of you. Raw, exposed and unapologetic. 

I worked really hard through the years trying to figure out what direction I wanted to take in my life. Not many people who go where I’ve gone get to live to fight another day. I also had faced a new struggle with body image issues. I was no longer a 20 something thin model type. I was healthy, but I let my physicality go as I was more focused on staying the course of the straight and narrow instead of looking at all of me and keeping on top of myself. I needed to find a purpose again. I needed to continue the work. It was time to manifest change across the board.

In 2015, a lifelong film producer friend of mine offered to host me for a visit to her L.A. home. At that point life went stagnant and I needed a reset. While visiting, she had gotten a quick commercial gig for a popular money app we are all familiar with today and asked if I wanted to make a few bucks being a Production Assistant. Going on runs, being on set, supporting the big wigs. In the freelance film industry; you take the work when it comes but on your own terms. This had my attention right away. Take as much work as you want, make your own schedule, and gain a career without having to drop 100k on film school?! SIGN ME UP. I saw if you worked hard and put the time in this could blossom into the career for me.

I came home from my trip to SoCal and decided that this was an opportunity that I could not turn down. 33 years old, I packed up and drove across country with hopes that this could be my shot. It was. I’ve worked with recognizable names; commercials, short films, still work and music videos. I had worked hard and made my way up from a PA, grabbing Directors coffee and running errands to a Production Supervisor. Being a Production Manager/Supervisor you are the center of the universe of a shoot. You prep the job by getting everything all the crews need in order to support the Directors creativity so that we can make the project come to life, while hiring the crew and vendors as well.

It is all a chaotic world until we actually get up to the day of shoot; that’s where I can focus on the accounting aspects for the company and start pulling all the behind the scenes elements together.  There’s no business like show business. It’s 24/7, and thankless at times. It would be a lie to tell you something was missing for me out there in LaLaLand. I’m East Coast born and raised. Home was calling. 

I had arrived back home to Philadelphia on New Years Eve 2018. Humbled, harmonious and able to continue everything I had worked so very hard for in my career, I was welcomed with open arms in the city of brotherly love. It’s been a crazy journey to say the least, life’s been give and take; times are up and down. Whenever I feel like I start to lose myself again; I try to remember who I am during that night swim; raw, exposed and unapologetic. And keep going.

About The Author: Diana Desiderio  is a motion picture production manager based in Philadelphia.

Darkroom Rental

The Ward Studio Darkroom

Darkroom: Black and white processing and printing services.

This is the darkroom where Tony Ward spent countless days, months and years making thousands of gelatin silver archival prints for his well known body of black and white photographs exploring various subjects including; portraiture, fashion, nude and erotic photography of which he became world renowned.

 

The darkroom was built in 1985.  This unique creative space is available for rent to the public at The Ward Studio on a per project basis.  Photographers that rent the darkroom may keep processing chemicals for developing film and prints stored at the studio for ongoing darkroom sessions.

 

Price for darkroom rental:

We offer a four hour minimum at $175.00. Any time over the first four hours is charged at $50.00 per hour. Photographers are responsible for their own chemistry. Amber bottles are best for storage.

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Price for darkroom consultation:

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Professor Tony Ward is available for one on one consultations regarding darkroom process and technique at $200.00 per hour. 

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Location: 704 South 6th street Philadelphia, Pa. 19147

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To schedule a darkroom session:

Contact: Tony@TonyWard.com

Phone: 267-475-0828

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Note: Any person using the facility must present proof of being vaccinated for Covid.