Tracey Olkus: As The World Turns

Illustration of grifter Donald Trump selling bibles by Thomcat23
The Grifter. Artwork by Thomcat23, Copyright 2024

Text by Tracey Olkus, Copyright 2024

.

As The World Turns

.

Conflict and climate change have brought about unprecedented migration from the Middle East, Africa, and Central America to Europe and the United States. The war in Ukraine , the war in Gaza, Iran , China, the overall normalization of totalitarianism, a growing distaste for western liberal ideals and mounting global antisemitism will undoubtedly have an effect on our elections in November. The global nature of today’s chaos is undeniable.

There are agents of chaos whose  relevance depends on maintaining conflict at any cost. At the top of this list (but not limited to it)are Hamas leadership , Netanyahu, Putin, and our very own Trump.  In my opinion, The Palestinians and the Israelis both have the worst leadership they have ever had. Hamas is a terrorist organization that brutalizes its own people.The leaders of Hamas have become billionaires grifting off the huge amount of foreign aid meant for their struggling people and started a brutal and unwinnable war (not that anyone wins in war). Their only post war plan is more chaos. Netanyahu’s blanket support for West Bank settlements, disregard for the  Palestinian Authority and miscalculation of the tremendous threat from Hamas caused incalculable damage. His attack on the Israeli judicial system brought on a sustained 40 week protest  which has begun again because of his disastrous handling of the war and continued detainment of Israeli hostages. He is facing fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges presently.  His iniquitous actions will see him headed to prison once the war is over. Putin, the puppet master , promises his people a return to the greatness of Imperial Russia. While he has become one of the richest men in the world, the average Russian’s standard of living has gone down. As a distraction he has to put  on a show of expanding the Empire at the grave expense of Ukraine and Russia’s own economy. Meanwhile, killing dissidents within and beyond Russia’s borders and using the Russian military as hired mercenaries in Syria and across Africa. If Trump is a clown show, it’s the John Wayne Gacy type. He has turned the Republican party into a cult of partisan hysteria that seriously threatens the legitimacy of Democratic values and norms. Never before have we had a presidential contender so hell bent on destroying western style liberal democracy with his promise to be a dictator, to jail opponents, to turn back hard won rights,and not just to abandon our European allies but also to encourage attacks from their Russian adversary. 

For these men, these agents of chaos, peace means disappearing into the dustbin of history. They rely on each other’s existence to maintain their own power. Hamas needs Bibi. Bibi needs Hamas. Putin and Trump need each other. And they all need the war in Gaza to rage on.

I  think that all of this is connected to a global rise in totalitarianism that goes beyond these players  .I am starting to believe that the Israeli and Palestinian people are simply pawns being used in an international game of chess where the goal is to extinguish the prevailing ideals of western democracy. This would explain why we are forced to focus on one tragedy and ignore others -like  the hundreds of thousands killed in ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen.The first step in this game is to create a nebulous enemy that serves as a boogieman for both the Right and the Left. The next step is stoking a deep political cynicism leading people  to disenfranchise themselves through apathy. This is where the triangulation of authoritarianism, democracy, and antisemitism comes into play.

In the US we like to break down current events into simplistic story lines where there are easy to differentiate “good actors” and  “bad actors”. The war in Ukraine seemed like an easy narrative;  An average guy (Zellensky) uses Democracy and the power of the vote  to defeat a corrupt oligarch. Then he courageously leads his country in an  existential battle  against a sinister foe who targets unarmed civilians and bombs their schools, hospitals, apartment buildings. The cherry on top is that Zellensky is jewish and the progeny of holocaust survivors.This story spoke to Americans. We love the David vs Goliath, oppressed vs oppressor story. 

 

Israel’s  predictable extreme response to the savage attacks on October 7th allowed  far right players to flip the script and present Jews worldwide not as David but rather as the monstrous Goliath, the oppressors not the oppressed. The story fits perfectly into old antisemitic tropes of  Jewish world domination and blood libel. And that fast- the Ukraine story disappears and the war in Gaza goes on a never ending news cycle fanning the flames of  ethnic and religious hatred.. . 

 Republicans have been hell bent on eroding if not completely erasing the major tenets of Liberal democracy. American Jews have been solidly aligned with these core values and strongly supportive of the Democratic Party. Republicans needed something to split the jewish vote and neutralize that powerful Democratic support system. Republicans also needed to fathom a spectre that would turn away from the Democratic Party, the very people that stand to gain from those Liberal ideals- namely Progressives, people of color, the LGBTQ community and  young voters in general. Republicans desperately need people to be so thoroughly distracted that they forget about losing their own reproductive rights, they forget about book bans and attacks on the LGBTQ community, they forget about disappearing DEI and voting rights,  they forget about the existential climate change crisis, forget about gun violence ,etc.These things would have to happen in advance of the 2024 presidential election. There are more registered Democrats than registered Republicans so a combination of gerrymandering , deflection, and the good ole’ “Divide and conquer” strategy would be  needed to allow the Republicans to snatch power. 

Left leaning Democrats are encouraged through social media and memes to turn their backs on their party. They are encouraged to believe  that all of the candidates are the same ( nothing could be further from the truth). The best scenario is a choice between the lesser of two evils so why bother voting at all . Republicans hope this group can be distracted from the important issues that affect their lives now and into the future.Their anti Israel sentiment has increasingly resembled straightforward antisemitism. And remember Jews embody the essence of Liberal democratic ideals so the left is being swayed to see the center of their own party (not the Republicans) as the enemy.  As we get closer to the election we are seeing printed sings decrying  “Genocide Joe”  -a name that seems to be sprung from the head of Donald Trump himself. 

 T.S. Elliott said , “between the idea and the reality is the shadow”. This is where American Jews are now. Former allies are now hostile – with anti war protestors becoming increasingly supportive of Hamas -even carrying signs that say “Rape Is Resistence”. There have been calls for boycotts of Jewish owned businesses, harassment of jewish students, and vandalism of jewish institutions. Republicans, are trying to capitalize on this. They point to the protestors as a sign that the Democratic party has exiled the Jews. Trump recently made a thinly veiled threat , “liberal Jews voted to destroy America.” (by supporting Democratic candidates and causes) ” Let’s hope you learned from your mistake.”.  Nick Fuentes, the untempered right wing extremist podcaster  who promotes putting the US government under authoritarian “Catholic Taliban rule” did not mince words when he  recently called for the execution of “perfidious Jews” as soon as Trump is re-elected. I never thought I would see anything like this. 

Against all odds, and to my utter surprise, Biden ,on the other hand, has been a great president. Our economy has boomeranged back. The stock market is hot. People are working. Wages have gone up. Restaurants are packed. Manufacturing is returning to the US, Infrastructure is being overhauled. And student debt relief has started to trickle in.  But this is the boring business of the Democratic  legislative process. We are not going to see memes with Pete Buttigieg singing JT’s “Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it”. And I worry that it’s the memes that move people to vote. 

I think that the Democrats are counting on women, black , and LGBTQ  voters to be motivated by the devastating reversal on reproductive rights and  attacks on DEI programs and LGBTQ rights and generally by a concern for the planet. That really should be enough but I don’t think it is. They also think that the average person is paying attention to the fact that things seem to be working well right now. But good news doesn’t sell as fast as bad news. I really hope that the jewish Democratic block stays strong. I really hope that women remember how essential reproductive rights are to every single aspect of their health and wellbeing and how dangerous a Trump presidency would be.  And I really hope  the anti Israel protesters do not hand over their future to an authoritarian by throwing their vote away over this issue.   Apathy could be the critical deciding factor in November. Historically speaking, increased antisemitism comes with an  uptick in conspiracy theories being taken as fact and an easier acceptance of authoritarian rule.  It seems the whole world is trending in this direction.  The entire Arab world is run by dictators. China, Russia and Belarus have brutal  dictators. Poland, Holland, Italy and Turkey now have far right wing governments. France is teetering on the edge. I’m sure I am missing many more here but this cosmic shift has my hair standing on end. And I have never wanted to be completely wrong about anything as I do now.

.

Stylist Tracey Olkus photographed for The Vixens Series by Tony Ward
Tracey Olkus. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2024

.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

For almost two decades, Tracey Olkus  has been transforming faces and elevating styles from her private studio in Philadelphia. Specializing in everything from everyday glam to commercial shoots to TV and film. 

 
Tracey’s artistic interests extend beyond the chair. With a passion for costuming, she crafts bespoke headdress designs available through commissioned works.  
 
As the curator of The Performance Salon, Tracey provides a platform for emerging and established artists to showcase their talents in an intimate setting. From musicians, to thespians, writers to chefs, The Performance Salon has become a hub for artistic expression with performances that leave audiences mesmerized.
 
But Tracey’s interests go beyond her professional pursuits . A dedicated patron of the arts and the finer things in life, she enjoys hosting extravagant dinner parties and whimsical camping trips…often simultaneously.
 
When it is time to escape, Tracey can be found exploring the world, talking to strangers, and collecting stories from every corner of the globe. And along the way, she is most happy to have has amassed an eclectic collection of friends that share her passion for the extraordinary.

Mikel Elam: Today is a New Day

Mixed media artwork by the great Mikel Elam for Tony Ward Studio
Artwork by Mikel Elam, Copyright 2024

Text by Mikel Elam, Copyright 2024

.

Today is a New Day

.

Today is a new day . This is part of my studio practice. I try to just keep going and exploring new avenues often. Don’t get me wrong; I use my best judgement as of today. However if I grow; I might even like yesterday’s actions . Although never any regrets. I am only making decisions on what I know at that time.  My core, my foundation are and will always be rooted in positive actions. However, being human is not always constant . We carry baggage and pain.  We also carry wonderful moments. I’ve learned if I am about to be negative in emotions I should stop – and take a deep breath, give thanks to The Divine for my existence and then whatever it was I was feeling will fade. I use art as a metaphor for life. Perhaps as a visual artist I recognize this as a gift and my unique connection to the universe . We all have gifts and shifting times is inevitable. Today is a new day.

About The Artist: Mikel Elam was born in Philadelphia. He attended the University of the Arts receiving his BFA in painting. He also attended the School of the Visual Arts in New York. He has been showing his paintings in numerous gallery spaces nationally and internationally for the last 25 years. Mikel recently exhibited his work at the University of Pennsylvania’s, Annenberg School of Communications.

To learn more about Mikel Elam’s art work, link herehttps://tonywardstudio.com/gallery/mikel-elam-painter/

Tracey Olkus: Behind The Scenes

 

Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2024

.

Tracey Olkus:Behind The Scenes

.

Tracey Olkus and I have known each other for decades.  Philly is a small town amongst creatives.  We worked together on shoots over the years as she is one of the best hair stylists in Philly, but I never had a chance to photograph her as a subject, for years I only worked with her like any other colleague in the Arts. Tracey always had this allure but shy in a way or so it seemed. Last year I invited her up to my new studio in Elkins Park to assist on a shoot and I also invited her to attend a party at my house during the summer. That’s when it finally clicked that I wanted to photograph her for The Vixens Series.  The time was ripe.

After several back and forth communications, she agreed and noted that she had never been photographed by a professional photographer before.  I felt honored and I think she cherished the moment. So the process began.  I asked Tracey to put some fashion together from her wardrobe and explained the process of how I work with creative director, KVaughn. They too have known each other for decades so communicating  by Zoom was easy and so began our team’s creative journey.  There would be four to five changes within a two hour shoot schedule.  My lighting assistant, Anthony Colagreco was working the lights. Fortunately for us, Tracey had lots of interesting costumes that KVaughn curated and molded into the style in which the series has become known. KV especially knows I have a thing for hats. Tracey is also a headdress maker. A creative match made in heaven and the pictures are always the result.

Tracey indicated on the eve of her sitting that she was a little nervous.  That to me usually indicates the person that I am photographing is fully immersed in the creative outcome, which through my experience tends to lead to a positive result.  I simply assured her she was in good hands.

.

.

To be cast for The Vixen Series contact: Tony@TonyWard.com.

To access The Vixens Series gallery link herehttps://tonyward.com/the-vixens-series/

Lileet_Miriam: Work is Work Isn’t It?

 

Text by Lileet_Miriam, Copyright 2024

Photography by Tony Ward,Copyright 2024

Styling by KVaughn

.

Work is Work, Isn’t It?

The concept, by design, is meant to be transactional. An even exchange. You provide “x” set of skills for a particular field so therefore you should be paid “y” in return, right? The good ole “employer/employee relationship.” But, what happens when you are both the employer/employee that must rely upon a third party (cash app, social media platform, or even a reputable banking institution) that is designed, let alone meant to provide you with the steady income you worked for only to be told in return, sometimes without warning, “no, we can’t provide you with your hard earned money because THESE set of skills you possess, we actually frown upon.” Welcome to the constant struggle of the current sex worker.

As The New York Times reported in November of 2023, “workers in sex-related industries – whether creating online content, or working in a strip club or even a legal brothel, – often risk their safety and face social and employment discrimination. But a lesser-known struggle is that it’s often difficult to maintain a basic bank account and other financial relationships that most people take for granted.” The ability to maintain a business bank account, a line of credit, or to generally use the financial services of banking institutions or service providers like Zelle or Venmo, are essential to commercial undertaking. In the life of a small business operator, that quickly bleeds into one’s personal life and ability to perform basic economic functions like use a checking account, obtain a mortgage, or even keep a credit card. Unfortunately, for many sex workers, who are disproportionally women, these basic rights are denied, forcing them into a continuous cycle of financial instability and hardship. 

Whether driven by moral condemnation or financial risk assessment, too often women involved in sexually explicit work find their access to banking institutions and financial service providers denied. According to a May 2023 report from the Free Speech Coalition, nearly 40% of workers in the adult sex industry have experienced account closures and denials of service in this past year alone. 

Some of the dangers are clear. The inability to access financial services and banking causes significant financial instability and prevents the creation of new businesses and wealth. This cycle in turn forces workers in the adult sex industry to depend on less reliable third parties or operate through the use of far less secure payment methods like cash and cryptocurrency. The negative impact far transcends the business end of the operation for most small business operators. Lack of credit and easily documented income can quickly have a negative impact on one’s personal credit, impacting the very basic needs of modern life. 

Work is work, except for when a bank decides that it is not the type of work that one should be doing. Then work becomes an arduous journey to secure a glimpse of financial security. For many women, who comprise a significant sector of modern adult sex work, this has become a reality which often compromises their ability to work for a living. 

 

Antoinette. AKA Scorpiana: You Cannot Pour From an Empty Cup

Beautiful tall black woman models a KVaughn couture jacket photographed by Tony Ward Copyright 2024
Antoinette. AKA Scorpiana. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2024

Text by Antoinette, AKA Scorpiana

.

You Cannot Pour From an Empty Cup

.

You cannot pour from an empty cup. 

This was the single best piece of parenting and life advice I have ever received and my continuous reminder to take care of myself. Navigating multiple polyamorous partnerships requires a lot of time and effort but those relationships continuously fill my cup. It was thru one of those relationships that I was introduced to rope bondage, and with it a whole new world in the BDSM community.

Chinese woman hanging upside down in bondage in her bedroom
Savanna. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2024. Rope Work by Scorpiana.

Rope spoke to me in a way nothing had previously. The artistry, the physical challenge, the emotional connection it can foster. Being restrained was the first time in my life I could turn my brain off and just be in the moment, in my body. Learning to tie others was the most fantastic puzzle that continues to challenge me physically and mentally years later. It is a rare situation where I have never gotten bored, and boredom is ever present in my life as a human with ADHD. Balancing my kink life with my vanilla life as a working mother of two kids has me literally and figuratively pulled in multiple directions every day. Yet it is thru rope that I keep my cup full for the rest of the things in my life. Rope bondage has provided a unique emotionally connective experience with friends and partners alike. It is an expression of my creativity and an artistic outlet unlike any other.

closeup bondage photo of woman's butt
 Tony Ward for KVaughn Scarves, Copyright 2024. 

Sculpture with the human body, a transient dynamic living piece of art. Expanding access to rope bondage for those who are traditionally not included due to body size and ability is this intersection between my professional life as a physical therapist and my personal life as a rigger that allows me to share my love of learning and teaching with other marginalized groups. Tying others, and being tied, has been a source of joy that has kept me happy and grounded and better able to show up in all other aspects of my life; as a parent, as a partner, and as a physical therapist. 

.

Beautiful tall black woman models a KVaughn couture coat photographed by Tony Ward Copyright 2024
Antoinette. AKA Scorpiana. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2024