Bio: Leslie Lyons is a multi media creator of art and content. As a Photographer, Leslie has produced images for major music labels (Atlantic Records, Columbia Records, Universal Music Group), indie labels (Rough Trade, Mute Records) and worked with talent that includes Sonic Youth, Pharaoh Sanders, the Strokes, Julee Cruise and Esperanza Spalding among others. Leslie’s image of acoustic punk heroine, Laura Jane Grace, helped brand the AOL Originals series, TRUE TRANS, which was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2015. As a Creator and Director of artistic content since 2011, Leslie has been commissioned by arts festivals from Brooklyn to Seattle to produce engaging, experiential projects that document and present creative collaboration.
Date you started volunteering:
What inspired you to get involved with CPNYC?
The overwhelming mass incarceration going on in our country is of concern to me as a citizen and as an artist. Through photography, I have participated in projects that address this problem as a social issue but often those efforts feel conceptual and in the moment. In late 2015, I read an interview with CPNYC founder, Sharon Content, and realized that the organization’s effort is a direct, practical and successful model that should be supported in every way. Children are not to blame for the ills of society.
How have you served as a volunteer?
I learned about the dynamic aspects of CPNYC’s program by volunteering as a Saturday tutor at first. This gave me the opportunity to make personal connections with some of the kids and permanent staff. Then I began shooting images for the newsletters and web site. My hope is to work with the Programming Division to bring some of my contacts from the music industry and art world in to present enrichment workshops in the future.
Share your most memorable moment as a volunteer.
One day during the after school computer class, I was taking pictures and moving around the room like I usually do. Nobody was paying much attention to me except for a young boy named Fadari; he kept asking to see my pictures. But he wouldn’t just look and go away. He kept telling me how to do it better! Finally, I just put the camera around his neck and helped him with the camera settings for each shot while he took the pictures. Some people say that there is natural talent with creativity but it usually refers to music or painting or, perhaps, writing. To see this natural ability with photography—with a way of SEEING—was astounding to me. It was obvious Fadari had vision.
What are some lessons you have learned through this process?
The biggest lesson I have learned and continue to learn is to never assume anything. Children will always surprise you and, if given the right environment and freedom to do so, they will usually surprise you in the most profound ways.
What advice would you offer to future volunteers?
Just being in the room where the magic is happening at CPNYC is inspiring and helpful as so many people are needed to sustain this kind of effort. But my advice would be to try and identify the unique aspect of yourself, of your experience, of your knowledge that you could bring to the table as a volunteer. This will make the experience deep and rich both for you and for the kids.