Arlene Gottfried is a force of nature, a whirlwind, a quiet storm of power, beauty, and strength. From her soul pours forth not only some of the most distinctive portraits but a voice... A voice that comes from deep, down inside the bone, from the marrow where blood is born and truth is known...
A voice that vibrates with a force that tells of a spirit that transcends the physical realm and lifts us up, high, higher, highest as we become one with love. A woman of voice and vision, Gottfried overflows with a mystic energy few embody but all can feel. She is a medium, a vessel, a channel through which this current flows from heaven to earth. She remembers how it all began, so many years ago, the pathless path that led her to The Eternal Light Community Singers on who were singing at a Gospel fest on New York’s Lower East Side.
“It started with the story of a little girl. Her name was Monet. In October 1990, I went with a friend to Erasmus Hall. That has been my high school. There was a gospel concert. It was mystical. It was meant to be. “Those were the years when I was freelancing as a photographer. I’d get a call from a magazine and I had to run out the door. It was so much stress. But this night I could relax.
“I was at the concert taking photos, and the one of the sopranos had a two year old daughter. I took photographs of her that night. The little girl was killed. She was hit by her mother’s boyfriend and she died one week later. “I was just coming from photographing a funeral of a Puerto Rican girl in the Bronx. I was still wearing a dress when my friend told me what happened to Monet. I went right over to her funeral.
“My God. The singing. I had always loved gospel. We grew up in Brooklyn, in Crown Heights. When the white flight happened we were one of the few families left there. One of the women would bring her family and her organ out and have church right there on the street.
“Monet and the funeral, her life really touched mine in a major way. When I went to church, her mother Monique remember that I took her last pictures and asked if I could bring the photos to the choir rehearsal. So I came and I stayed five years, as a singer.
“It was like a family. The leader, Selwyn Rawls, was really intense, passionate beyond description, and a great singer. That’s how I knew there was a spirit more powerful when we would be together and sing. There was a current moving through us and I wanted to take a picture but I couldn’t break out. There was so much love in the choir. When Selwyn passed away, the choir broke up. There was no one to fill his shoes.
“When I take photographs, I am drawn to character, in general. I’m drawn to the people of certain places, places like Coney Island, Brighton Beach, the Puerto Rican Day Parade—the endless places to go that you make a day trip out of. Pictures are a part of that experience. I like following my heart.”