Research and Creativity Expo: Gabe Rahme ’19 Advocates for Social Justice Through Photography

Research and Creativity Expo: Gabe Rahme ’19 Advocates for Social Justice Through Photography

Research and Creativity Expo: Gabe Rahme ’19 Advocates for Social Justice Through Photography

The 2019 Research and Creativity Expo is coming up on May 1-10. To get our community excited about the student presentations that will be featured at the Expo, we’re speaking to several student presenters, finding out more about their research, and learning about their hopes for the future. At John Jay, research is a key element of our mission to educate for justice, because evidence-based data and thoughtful analysis opens minds and helps communities build a more just society. Our next student presenter is Gabe Rahme ’19, a Law and Society major, who uses photography as a tool of self-reflection and to advocate for social justice.

Can you tell me a little bit about your project and how you came up with the idea?
My self-portrait project was really what I like to call “divine inspiration” because it came out of nowhere. I knew that I wanted to take pictures of myself and my life, because I wanted to reflect on who I was, what I wanted to do, what I liked, and what my fears are. I remember when I first started thinking about this project; I looked through pictures on my phone and saw pictures that said something about me and what I’m afraid of. And, pictures that described how I think and what I like. My pictures represented an aspect of me—my mental processes or something literal about me—and this became the guide for my project.

“My pictures represented an aspect of me—my mental processes or something literal about me—and this became the guide for my project.”—Gabe Rahme

What were the most challenging aspects of conducting this research? What were the most rewarding?
The most challenging part was challenging myself to get more creative. I don’t consider myself to be the most creative person by nature, so I try to set little goals for myself. For example, if I were going to take pictures today, I would give myself a goal of taking pictures of a specific word or employing a new technique like using flash, making use of dark lighting or doing something with the motion blur. I use these objectives to challenge myself to be creative and do something new. At the same time this project has been rewarding because I have learned a little bit about myself and I have learned more about photography.

What have you learned about yourself?
I’ve learned that I can be very creative and that I can think creatively. There was one picture I took right after I broke my ankle, where I was sitting in bed. My goal was to capture a photo of this moment and make it look dramatic as well as dreamlike. I realized that the camera had this flash setting that could give the photo some dramatic lighting. It took a little bit of time, but the picture came out really cool. I was glad to be able to find my creative ability through this project.

A self-portrait of Rahme after breaking his ankle
A self-portrait of Rahme after breaking his ankle

What was the whole research process like?
I let my whole John Jay experience inform part of my research. For example, I’m a Philosophy minor and I like to use what I’ve learned in class in my photography. In my Intro to Philosophy class, I was taught about Socrates’ idea about family and where you’re from and how this is a reflection of you as a person. When I’m taking pictures of my family, I bring Socrates into that. I take the pictures and make sure to highlight why I love my family and my hometown, because these things have formed me into the person that I am today.

Was there a professor that helped you?
My photography professor Corrine Botz was very helpful. She introduced me to many artists who do self-portraiture. There’s one in particular, that sticks out to me, his name is Robert Gallegos. He’s really interesting because the focus of his self-portraits is about being Mexican. In his self-portraits, Gallegos dresses up as Mexican stereotypes—a farm worker, a cholo—as a way to claim the stereotype and flip them from something negative to something beautiful and powerful. Gallegos uses these societal stereotypes as the center point of his self-portraits, to open the conversation about what these labels really mean, and what it means to typecast someone.

“With photography you’re able to document a moment in time and use that as a catalyst for change.”—Gabe Rahme

You’re going to be participating in the Research & Creativity Expo. Can you tell us what this experience has done for you?
First of all, I feel really honored. I never thought that I would be presenting at an Expo like this. I think that this experience has made me more aware as a photographer and more eager to inspire others. That’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, to encourage others to view life through a different lens and to start a conversation about the steps we can take towards a more just and fair society.

What are you excited to see at the event and what are you nervous about?
I’m excited to see other people’s artwork and research and just to be able to talk to the community in general. I feel like throughout my four years here I haven’t really reached out to the John Jay Community as much as I should have, and this is a great opportunity to do that. In terms of nerves, I’m pretty nervous. As much as I appreciate everyone liking my photography I feel like I have a lot to improve on. I can be my biggest critic. It’s a little bit nerve-wracking because I’ve never had the spotlight on me, but I’m still excited to present my photography. 

As a college focused on justice issues how does your research help move the needle forward, justice wise? 
Well, going back to Gallegos, it can bring attention to racist stereotypes and injustices in that way. With photography you’re able to document a moment in time and use that as a catalyst for change. So for me, being the son of a Lebanese immigrant man and having a Dominican mother, I am very in-tune with the injustices happening to my people on both sides. In terms of the Middle East, it’s like a playground for all the world powers to bomb and kill and play politics there. And in the Dominican Republic, we have had our own issues too. And Dominicans living in the U.S. have their own challenges. So I feel like with photography and with my background, being able to express that through self-portraits, I’m able to imitate Gallegos and show the injustices that happen and what’s going on with people from my culture. Being at an institution like John Jay, where we advocate for social justice, I feel like it’s really important to document injustices through photography.

“Being at an institution like John Jay, where we advocate for social justice, I feel like it’s really important to document injustices through photography.”—Gabe Rahme

In five years, what do you hope you’ll be doing?
I definitely hope to be expanding on my hobbies such as photography and making films. Hopefully, I’m a lawyer by then, getting started in my career, and starting a family. As of right now, I’m going to be attending St. John’s University, School of Law, in the fall. I would like to work under a judge, as a clerk, or court attorney, and then eventually become a judge.

Can you finish this sentence for me? Without John Jay...
Without John Jay I would have missed out on a lot of experiences. I’m really grateful to this school because I remember my first semester I was a big mess. I actually had taken two years off, because I didn’t know if school was for me. John Jay helped motivate me and push me in the right direction. I went from a C-student in high school to being a straight A-student in college. Here at John Jay, I pursued a lot of extracurricular activities, like the Portland Police Bureau Internship which I was scared about because it was really selective. They only choose four applicants a year. I also took part in a judicial internship with Justice Wilma Guzman in the Bronx, which was a great experience. I feel like without John Jay always pushing me in the right direction, and giving me opportunities for my career, I would be pretty lost. John Jay's a great place, and I’m really happy I came here. 
 

To learn more about this presentation and others, make sure to come to the Research and Creativity Expo from May 1-10.