Russell Frederick: Once Upon A Time We Were Kings

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

WHY?“George.” Age: 31. Rikers Island Jail, New York, 2001. © Russell Frederick

Editor’s Note: Russell Frederick has amassed an incredible portfolio since he began documenting the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1999. He has a commitment to men whose lives have become entangled in the criminal justice system. It is a commitment that goes beyond the camera. In his work with young men at the Kings Against Violence Initiative in Brooklyn, he witnesses first-hand the school-to-prison pipeline. We asked Frederick to think about the men he’s met over the years, the ones whose stories have stayed with him, even haunted him. What he reveals in this photo-essay, Once Upon A Time We Were Kings, is an intimate knowledge of who these men are. His work captures both the possibility and failure as they attempt to rebuild their lives.  



Our society vilifies men that are imprisoned; they are forever labeled and reduced to something less than they are. The title of this work, Once Upon A Time We Were Kings, allows us to think of these men as “Kings.” It also speaks to uplift. It is a way to restore them. The portraits here show a kind of before and after: who these men were before they were imprisoned and who they were after that experience. In many ways, both overt and subtle, the images depict that they are still very much in a state of confinement even though they are no longer physically in prison.

(Pictured Above) While at work, “George” (identity kept confidential) was arrested on charges by his girlfriend for assault and attempted murder. He maintained his innocence. However, he was immediately terminated from the two full-time jobs he held because of this arrest. Following a full investigation, the charges were subsequently dropped. After two weeks of being incarcerated at Rikers Island, he was released. The psychological and emotional toll of the experience, however, remained long lasting for “George.”

Russell Frederick 2“George.” Age: 44. Far Rockaway, Queens, 2014. © Russell Frederick

“George” stands in front of the home he purchased in 1999 and then lost in 2001 after his incarceration. It was the first and only home he owned. He has not been able to rebound after his time in Rikers Island. Since then, he has had unstable work. He battles hypertension and depression and is currently on dialysis and anti-depressants. He lives in a studio apartment in Long Island.


Russell Frederick 3Tim. Age: 50. Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, 2014. © Russell Frederick

Tim was a boxer and a champion for Golden Gloves, the national competition for amateur boxing. In the 1990s, he was caught up in the warfare of the streets plaguing the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Tim served two years in the 90s at Ossing Prison, also known as the Sing Sing Correctional Facility. While in prison, he got into a horrific fight that left the retina in his right eye permanently damaged. Tim currently works at a pizza shop in Brooklyn where he makes deliveries.


Russell Frederick 4Tee. Age: mid 30s. Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn 2007. © Russell Frederick

“I’d rather be doing this than be in jail,” Tee told me. He is proud to be a cleaner working on Fulton Street, Brooklyn for The DOE Fund and its Ready, Willing and Able program. It aims to help the formerly imprisoned achieve permanent self-sufficiency. Tee never disclosed to me the exact reason why he went to prison. He said he spent eight years behind bars for a foolish mistake he attributed to being young. Now, he says that his dream job would be to have his own cleaning business and give people who have been in prison a second chance.


IslBGRasheed. Age: 23, Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, 2007. © Russell Frederick

I first met Rasheed in 2003 when he was 19. He had a record of 5 F’s (Felonies). He is photographed here at the age of 23 on Franklin Avenue with some of his friends. At the time the photo was taken, Rasheed shared that he was very depressed. He had a baby on the way. A G.E.D. program, affiliated with Apex Technical School in New Jersey, had accepted him. However, his parole officer denied his participation because the program was out of state. This was the last time I saw Rasheed. He is currently in a prison upstate.


5_RUSSELL copyWillie B. Age: 20s. Calliope Projects, 3rd Ward, New Orleans, 2006. © Russell Frederick

While documenting the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans on a grant for the Open Society Foundation, I met Willie B. He is from the 3rd Ward and has lived there all of his life. The scar on his face is from a fight where he was struck with a hatchet. The damage blinded him in the left eye. Willie B. dropped out of school at the age of 15 to help out financially in his home because his mother wasn’t working. There were times when his family went without electricity and food. He got involved in street life and ended up doing time. I didn’t ask him where. He did share with me, “School don’t matter when you hungry. Money matters. I wish I could get a good paying job but that’s a pipe dream when you have a record.”

Russell FrederickRussell Frederick is a self-taught Brooklyn-born photographer of Panamanian heritage. He is the recipient of grants from the Open Society Foundation, New York Foundation of the Arts, Brooklyn Arts Council and the Urban Artist Initiative Foundation. Frederick is a member of the African-American photo collective Kamoinge and is represented by KEYSTONE photo agency in Switzerland. As an educator, he dedicates time to mentoring at-risk young men with the Kings Against Violence Initiative as the Men’s Program Director. 



OF NOTE Magazine is free to readers, free of advertising, and free of subscriptions—all made possible by generous supporters like you. Your tax tax-deductible gift will help us continue to feature innovative and emerging global artists using the arts as tools for social change. OF NOTE Magazine is a fiscally sponsored organization of the New York Foundation for the Arts, a 501 (c) (3), tax-exempt organization. All donations are 100% tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. 

0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 0 Flares ×


683 Responses to “Russell Frederick: Once Upon A Time We Were Kings”
  1. Every after in a even though we opt for blogs that we read. Listed beneath are the most current web-sites that we pick

  2. Peculiar article, exactly what I needed.

  3. we came across a cool website that you simply may delight in. Take a appear should you want

  4. Every as soon as inside a although we choose blogs that we study. Listed below would be the most up-to-date websites that we select

  5. VIAGRA says:

    Every once in a though we pick out blogs that we study. Listed below are the most current sites that we choose

  6. Leisure says:

    I conceive you have noted some very interesting details , thanks for the post.

  7. we came across a cool web-site that you simply may possibly love. Take a appear in case you want

  8. porno says:

    Im obliged for the blog post.Thanks Again. Fantastic.

  9. Very good info. Lucky me I found your website by accident (stumbleupon). I have bookmarked it for later!

  10. Web Design says:

    You have brought up a very good details , appreciate it for the post.

  11. There is perceptibly a bundle to identify about this. I believe you made various good points in features also.

  12. togel sgp says:

    I wish to voice my passion for your generosity in support of all those that have the need for help with this subject matter. Your very own dedication to passing the message throughout ended up being especially informative and have surely encouraged somebody like me to reach their objectives. Your amazing helpful tips and hints can mean much to me and far more to my office workers. Thank you; from all of us.

  13. ps4 games says:

    Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to mention that I’ve really loved
    browsing your weblog posts. After all I will be subscribing
    for your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

  14. Hiya very nice website!! Man .. Excellent .. Wonderful .. I’ll bookmark your site and take the feeds additionally¡KI’m happy to seek out a lot of useful information right here within the publish, we need work out extra strategies on this regard, thank you for sharing. . . . . .

  15. ROBUX says:

    Every when inside a whilst we choose blogs that we read. Listed below are the latest web pages that we select

  16. 3d design says:

    But wanna input on few general things, The website style is perfect, the content material is real excellent. “The stars are constantly shining, but often we do not see them until the dark hours.” by Earl Riney.

  17. It is really a great and helpful piece of info. I am glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Hello my friend! I wish to say that this post is awesome, great written and come with approximately all significant infos. I’d like to look extra posts like this.

  19. Thanks-a-mundo for the post.Really thank you! Really Cool.

  20. Shopping says:

    I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one these days..

  21. Nice weblog here! Additionally your website a lot up very fast! What web host are you the use of? Can I am getting your affiliate hyperlink on your host? I want my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  22. ps4 games says:

    Somebody necessarily assist to make severely posts I’d state.
    This is the first time I frequented your web page and up to now?

    I surprised with the analysis you made to create this actual post extraordinary.
    Fantastic job!

  23. This blog was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped
    me. Many thanks!

  24. Naija news says:

    Wonderful story, reckoned we could combine some unrelated data, nonetheless truly really worth taking a appear, whoa did one find out about Mid East has got much more problerms at the same time

  25. Kizi says:

    Hey! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy
    reading through your posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects?
    Thanks a ton!

  26. Insurance says:

    I have to voice my appreciation for your kind-heartedness for those people that must have help on this one theme. Your real commitment to passing the message around became wonderfully practical and have constantly helped some individuals much like me to reach their goals. The warm and friendly useful information entails a whole lot a person like me and somewhat more to my mates. With thanks; from each one of us.

  27. ps4 games says:

    Now I am going to do my breakfast, after having my breakfast
    coming yet again to read more news.

  28. I’ve been surfing on-line more than three hours these days, yet I never discovered any fascinating article like yours. It’s beautiful worth sufficient for me. Personally, if all website owners and bloggers made good content material as you probably did, the web can be a lot more useful than ever before.

  29. Garden says:

    great points altogether, you simply gained a brand new reader. What may you recommend about your publish that you just made a few days in the past? Any sure?

  30. Shopping says:

    Hey there, You have done an excellent job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally recommend to my friends. I am sure they’ll be benefited from this website.

  31. ps4 games says:

    Everything is very open with a very clear description of the challenges.
    It was truly informative. Your site is very
    helpful. Thank you for sharing!

  32. It’s in reality a great and useful piece of info. I am glad that you just shared this useful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

  33. Only wanna state that this is very beneficial , Thanks for taking your time to write this.


0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 0 Flares ×