SOUTHERN BROOKLYN – During the coronavirus pandemic, people have been stepping up and helping out their neighbors by raising money, handing out food boxes, along with doing everything in between. And then there is Anna and Jordan Rathkopf. This Bay Ridge couple is there to capture it all. These people giving back? They call them Southern Brooklyn Community Heroes.
Anna was born and raised in Prague, Czech Republic. About 16 years ago, she moved to the U.S with her Brooklyn born husband — whom she met at an 80’s themed nightclub in Prague. Now, Anna and Jordan, both 40, live in Bay Ridge with their son Jesse, their turtle, their fish, and soon perhaps, a dog. When the coronavirus hit, the full-time photographers found themselves without work. People who had pre-booked them for events were canceling them for obvious reasons. In April, they had an idea.
Jordan was talking to his friend on Facebook, a widow with two kids. She was telling Jordan how scared she was. If she got sick, what would happen to her children? A week later, she was handing out food to undocumented workers in Bay Ridge and Sunset Park. Jordan had never been more in awe.
“I was just so moved, inspired, when I saw that, that I felt I had to do something, too. I couldn’t just continue sitting at home and absorbing all the kind of scary stuff I was seeing online. And just seeing her doing that stuff made us feel better and made us want to do something,” he said. “It made me realize how lucky we are that we’re literally not starving and that we have a roof over our head. And, so we just decided to start documenting.”
Up until that point, the couple had been afraid of going out and were self-isolating after Anna was experiencing coronavirus symptoms. Four years ago, Anna was diagnosed with breast cancer. After chemotherapy, radiation, a lumpectomy, and biological treatment, she was put on Tamoxifen, a drug used to treat breast cancer, which she will be on for the next eight years.
“For me, the pandemic is another reminder of our mortality. So I have been facing it the second time around. And it’s difficult,” Anna said. “It’s difficult to see your world crumbling around you yet again gain from a different reason.”
And now, this strong woman and her husband go out and document everyday heroes.
“We saw the absolute bravery and heroics of the people in the community who, you know, aren’t getting paid to do this,” Jordan said. “It’s not like it’s part of their job. There’s nothing in it for them other than just the need to help others.”
“I’m really just inspired by their selflessness, their sacrifice. They’re doing this because they want to help people,” he continued. “And something about that for us is just such a positive thing right now when there’s so much pain and struggle.”
They decided to call their project Southern Brooklyn Community Heroes, as they were documenting mainly in Southern Brooklyn. A lot of the people they document, they found through their Facebook feeds. Some of them were activists, but some were people who maybe had never volunteered in their life except now.
“We were seeing all the heroes in the media, you know, all the essential workers, all the medical professionals, and we just kind of felt like, these people are also heroes in their own way,” Anna said. “Their work is directly supporting the medical professionals as well, by helping people stay inside, by helping feed people and addressing issues of hunger and poverty… They just really are heroes to us.”
Anna and Jordan don’t go out to document together; one will go one time, while the other stays at home with their son. While they are out, they photograph volunteers. But that’s not all they do. They ask questions. They talk to people. They want to know all it is about why it is so important for these people to give back. And then Anna and Jordan started recording these interviews. As Anna explained, they want it to be “a time capsule of inspiring people doing great things.”
Each photo tells a different story. They’ve captured Kashif Hussain working one of the iftar food carts in Midwood. They’ve captured Shahana and Sabia Hanif as the two sisters delivered food to their neighbors. And they’ve captured Nowshin Ali, purchasing food items to deliver to people who so desperately need help.
“A lot of expenses are still piling up and we are not quite sure how this will impact our business in the longterm. And so it’s scary and that’s probably been the most immediate impact on us,” Jordan said of having no income. “But then again, when we do this project, we see how lucky we are, it just makes it hard to complain. I feel guilty complaining about things when I see how much worse some people have it. People who have lost loved ones, have become really ill themselves or are literally fighting for survival economically.”
Despite all of that, Anna and Jordan have a tremendous amount of hope. After all, it’s hard not to have hope after seeing the incredible work neighbors are doing to help one another in a difficult time while risking their own lives. There’s so much bad in the world, Anna explained. But when you look closely, there’s so much good as well. And that is what Jordan and Anna capture so wonderfully.
“I don’t think that ‘good’ has enough voice because people who do good, they don’t mostly have the need to talk about it. So I really want to give a voice to people who are doing great work. And I just love that it’s across the whole community,” Anna said. “I sometimes feel like people are being divided by politicians. It’s so easy to divide people. It’s so easy to create these borderlines like Muslims, Christians, Jews, and all these different labels. And then you see people are actually not like that.”
“I still believe that more people do good than bad. The bad is just louder. And that’s why I think that we should give a loud voice to the good. Because if you show other people that people are good, I think that they will follow more,” she said. “It gives me hope and humanity to see people selflessly helping each other. It gives me tremendous strength.”
While their time capsule page is still under construction, you can view some of their pictures above, or you can also view their personal website in the meantime.