In a brightly lit room on the third floor at Coney Island Hospital, the photographer Anthony Bonair sat in a chair by the window and ate his lunch out of a beige-colored tray filled with meat and vegetables.
The nurse who served it to him took a small sample of blood from his index finger to check his sugar levels. Bonair talked right through the whole process and didn't seem phased by being poked or prodded. Maybe it's because this is his ninth hospital visit since his kidneys failed in January 2008.
Bonair undergoes dialysis treatment three times a week. To further compound his problems, Bonair is nursing two wounds: one from a bicycle accident a year ago and one from a recent spill in his home. And just a few weeks ago, he had surgery for a biopsy of his liver.
"This has been the roughest that I've been," said the 65-year-old photographer. "But there is a lot that I would like to do."
And when he's not in physical therapy or dialysis treatment, he's on the phone talking to art collectors who he hopes will buy his work. He is both a sick patient and a shrewd businessman.
He approaches almost every challenge and project with the same fervor and passion that has won him shows at galleries from New York to Florida, from Smithsonian catalogues to the New York Times and other prominent magazines.
"He has an excellent work ethic," said Donna Thompson, an art professor who has known Bonair for 20 years. "When curating photography exhibitions, Anthony, is the consummate professional. He is organized, timely, communicates well, and is purposeful in executing his vision."
Dressed comfortably in dark fleece pants and a white t-shirt to combat the discomforts of hospital food and surgery wounds, Bonair recounts important moments in his life with a smile. He even broaches tough memories like divorce and racism with peace and understanding.
His favorite and most memorable "firsts" are mostly about photography. He remembers the first time he picked up a camera over 35 years ago at a rally in Washington D.C.
"I came back to New York to get the film processed," said Bonair. "And all the heads were cut off."
At that time he was employed as an accounting clerk at the now defunct Wometco Photography Services, a large Manhattan-based photography company. After that first batch of botched photos, his employers wanted to make him a better photographer. And that's when he developed a love for photography.
"After that, I was known as 'the pest,'" said Bonair. "I never went to lunch and in the evening, when I didn't have school, I was always in the lab, learning, studying."
Bonair was studying accounting at Hunter College when he met his mentor, award-winning photographer Roy DeCarava, in a photography class. Bonair was inspired by his photography and the social commentary embedded in his work.
"He once said to me, 'This is your universe, go out an explore it,' and I think that's what I did." said Bonair.
His first subject was dance. A classmate at Hunter who studied dance took him to a ballet performance.
"I went and I was just ignited by it," said Bonair.
He produced black and white photos that depict strong and sinewy dancers who move with grace and power across the stage. He showcased some of these photos in his very first exhibit in Harlem in 1974.
His most recent exhibit at the Skylight Gallery is entitled "." It is a reminder of his boyhood in Trinidad, where his father created costumes and participated in carnival parades. He recalls how the colorful and ornate costumes were destroyed when the event was over. He saw the same thing happen when he watched the carnival parades in Brooklyn as an adult.
"I thought, 'Why are these costumes not in a museum?'" said Bonair. "So I said to myself, I have to make a commitment to document the culture and acknowledge the costumer designers for the kind of work they have been doing."
The collection of 20 images depicts Caribbean carnival culture and costumes in Brooklyn. The 16 x 20-inch photographs line the walls with images of colorful and flamboyant costumes with feathers, beads, glitter and seashells. Metallic accents and chromatic paint reflect a culture of life, brightness and celebration that Bonair wants others to remember about carnival culture in Trinidad and in Brooklyn. Two mannequins don costumes that give a three-dimensional sense of what the costumes looked like.
"The impetus for this exhibit was to preserve, photographically what this carnival culture was all about, " said Dulce Ingleton, curator of the exhibit.
Ingleton, 60, has known Bonair for 30 years and helped curate many of Bonair's shows, including the first show where Bonair served as curator in the early 1980's, entitled Foreign Exchange which showcased the work of women photographers in celebration of International Women's Day.
"It was a very exciting show," said Ingleton, "His work just seems to work together and you come up with a theme, it's just all very magical to me."
"I always felt like I like to arrange things," said Bonair. "So when they gave me the opportunity to do it, I did it and it was really good."
Bonair has been featured in 50 exhibits and several anthologies and catalogues. And as if that wasn't enough for his resume, he also served as the curator for ten exhibits, some for other artists, and some for his own work.
Physical limitations like dialysis treatment and bicycle injuries keep him tethered to a bed. He says that he no longer is as active as he used to be. But when it comes to photography, Bonair insists that there is still work left to do.
"I still have these ideas that come to me," Bonair said. "The concepts are there. I just need to start working on it."
Bonair's latest work, "Carnival Masqueraders" at the Skylight Gallery in Restoration Plaza will conclude this Wednesday, January 5th.