"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Saturday, January 24, 2015

kudos to nelson: blog post by melissa

Joan Faith, Nelson, Melissa

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the 65th Annual Makerere University Graduation of one of Change The Truth’s sponsored students. Wasswa Nelson joined 13,770 other students in graduating this year from Uganda’s oldest and largest public University. Truly a remarkable achievement here in Uganda!! Nelson graduated with his Bachelor Degree in Computer Sciences, and trust me, the future of this young man is very bright.

Due to the masses of graduates, Nelson only received an invitation for 2 people to attend his graduation ceremony, so Joan Faith and I were incredibly honored to be those invited. There were so many graduates that each student received only a brief individual moment of acknowledgement when their name was read amongst the other graduates in their particular program. But when that moment came, the emotions of pride in Nelson and his accomplishment was completely overwhelming!

Nelson is one of the most ambitious young people I have ever known, but here in Uganda that ambition accompanies LOTS of hard work. Nelson is not afraid of hard-work, long hours, diligence, and maximizing every opportunity. I look forward to seeing where life will take Nelson next… it will be excellent!!

Congratulations to Nelson!!

- Melissa

Thursday, January 22, 2015

some gordon parks beauties from the 1950's - never seen before until very recently

“Gordon Parks was only a teenager when he left his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas. The youngest of 15, Parks chose to make a living for himself after his mother passed away, and wound up becoming the first African American photographer for Life Magazine.
Only two years after his first Life assignment, Parks returned home for a photo essay on segregated education. Journeying to Fort Scott and other Midwestern cities nearby, Parks photographed his childhood classmates, capturing their faces, families and homes while recording details about their occupations and incomes. The photo essay, for reasons that remain unknown, was never published, and most of the images went unseen.
And then Karen Haas, curator at MFA Boston, stumbled upon an image of Parks' that changed everything.

From this original image, an exhibition was born. Haas mimicked Parks' journey to revisit his old classmates from an all-black elementary school, visiting Kansas City, Saint Louis, Detroit and Chicago -- everywhere except Columbus, Ohio, to see what remained of the spaces Parks immortalized. ‘For Parks, it became this trip back into his past to present this national issue to the mostly white readership of Life Magazine through the lens of his own life.’
The poignant images depict everyday life for African Americans in the 1950s -- playing pool, reading a book, watching a baseball game -- all under the regulations of segregation. Along with the images, Parks recorded details about his former classmates' current lives, for example, that Norman Earl Collins was doing quite well, making $1.22 an hour at Union Electric of Missouri. 

’What I love about the pictures is the way I feel as though when I look at the expressions on their faces I can see the pride each of these families felt standing in front of their houses,’ explained Haas. ‘Parks made an effort to pose his subjects in front of their houses with these strong nuclear families -- the way so many families in Life Magazine are posed to begin with. That white middle class family pose. To pose African American families in front of their homes, I think, would have been quite startling to the readership. I'm fascinated by the gaze. Each of them trusting their friend, not only this fellow African American, but someone who'd grown up in Kansas with them. What they'd experienced together, the poverty, the childhood struggles. And now he's the famous New York photojournalist, he's a success story. And each of them is trusting him, telling him their stories.’

Not surprisingly, from the moment the 42 photographs were installed on gallery walls, the reaction from museum employees and visitors was overwhelming. ‘It's been really wonderful talking to people around the galleries and hearing their reactions. We've been struck by how contemporary it feels, how timely these issues are, obviously, even today. Here was a photographer, he'd only just begun at Life Magazine less than two years earlier. They assigned him this story on segregated education and he's already given the relative free reign to focus the story around his own childhood. It doesn't look dated to me. It feels like there is a lot we can talk about.’
This isn't the first time a Gordon Parks exhibition has hit close to home. His ‘Segregation Story,’ on view at the High Museum in Atlanta, depicts an Alabama family living under Jim Crow segregation in the same decade. Parks' images, despite capturing an altogether different time, still speak to a nation where issues of racism are pronounced, whether looking at police killings or the Oscar race.

One of Haas' main hopes for the exhibition was connecting to the children of Parks' subjects -- the subjects, as well as Parks, are all deceased. ‘The children were my hope,’ she said. ‘I spent a lot of time doing genealogical research. I tried to find a number of the children and had no luck, until the other day, the phone rang. It was this little girl from one of the pictures, who is now in her late sixties. She's retired and lives in Arizona and we just had the most amazing conversation about her mother and her mother's friendship with Gordon Parks and how she was able to do many of the things her mother wasn't able to do in life. Her daughter has gone on to get a teaching degree, a doctorate, she's travelled the world. It was incredibly emotional.’
‘To think, I can email her the pictures and I can read her her mother's yearbook quote and I can look at the picture of her playing the piano and what that meant. I can look at what an image of an African American girl sitting at a piano on the South Side of Chicago would have meant to Life readers back in 1950. That was a real sign of people's commitment. They were investing in an expensive musical instrument for their child, in aspirations for their future.’

The exhibition, full of beauty, suffering, pride and injustice, is both powerful and heartbreaking. Gazing upon the images, we're struck by a combination of amazement and horror, at the strength these subjects possessed and the struggles they endured. The bittersweet imprint is reminiscent of Parks' own feelings upon his graduation:
‘Twenty-four years before I had walked proudly to the center of the stage and received a diploma. There were twelve of us (six girls and six boys) that night. Our emotions were intermingled with sadness and gaiety. None of us understood why the first years of our education were separated from those of the whites, nor did we bother to ask. The situation existed when we were born. We waded in normal at the tender age of six and swam out maladjusted… nine years later.’”

- by Priscilla Frank, The Huffington Post

Monday, January 19, 2015

happy mlk day

Photos I took this past week at Operation Breakthrough:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

a different kind of model

I like to try new things. When I was asked to photograph pumps, I jumped at the chance.

At first I had no idea how to approach these medical devices with my camera. They were hard and shiny and full of buttons and LCD screens. They seemed cold and sterile. But I know they also serve a great purpose: saving lives by allowing people, such as cancer patients, to get their drugs in a safe and efficient manner.

So I started to think of the machinery from a more compassionate point of view. As I unpacked the pumps and lined them up on a table, I tried to see their unique personalities.

Call me crazy, but, it worked for me.  

Just another day at the studio*, then, making portraits of pumps people. Making portraits.

The client was pleased.

* My studio now, since I move out of the Livestock Exchange Building, is any place that will work. I made these photographs in my apartment, using the natural light that comes in through the blinds.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

american soldier

I am one lucky girl. The Nelson-Atkins Museum is basically in my back yard. I've been hearing about this upcoming exhibit for some time now and am eager for it to open. "American Soldier" will grace the walls of the museum soon, and I am really looking forward to seeing it. Below is the notice about the show from the Huffington Post.

'American Soldier' Photos Expose The Many Faces Of Modern War

 “What does a soldier look like? Once you reduce the term to a specific type of serviceman or woman -- taking into account the era, the country, the war, the branch of the military, the rank -- can you settle on a particular image of a soldier? Is she, or more likely he, wearing fatigues or full regalia? Is she being honored or is he in the midst of fighting? Is she stationed in your city or is he currently living in barracks across the globe?

Of course, the actual faces of a sharp shooter in Gettysburg, a Marine Captain in South Korea, and a Private First Class in the Gulf are wildly different. Their daily lives are distinct, their psychological experiences are personal, and as a result, the ways we think about and remember these individuals varies too. But the term ‘soldier’ holds some universal meaning, conjuring scenes of both honor and embattlement, hierarchy and chaos, pride and regret. The many ways we perceive and interpret the concept of ‘soldier,’ in all its complexities, adds up to our collective understanding of conflict around the world.

American Soldier,’ an upcoming exhibition at Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, explores this collective understanding. Through 50 portraits of American servicemen and women, from the Civil War to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the show presents a range of emotionally charged images of all contexts.

Judith Joy Ross, American (b. 1946). P.F.C. Maria I. Leon, U.S. Army Reserve, On Red Alert, Gulf War, 1990.

Larry Burrows, English (1926–1971). Reaching Out, First-Aid Center During Operation Prairie, 1966

Larry Burrows, English (1926–1971). The mission over, Farley gives way, from Yankee Papa 13, 1965.

David Douglas Duncan, American (b. 1916). Marine Capt. Ike Fenton, Naktong River Permieter, No-Name Ridge, South Korea, 1950. 

Joe Rosenthal, American (1911–2006). Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima, February 23, 1945.

W. Eugene Smith, American (1918–1978). Frontline Soldiers with Canteen, 1944

Photojournalists and documentarians, artists and loved ones captured these images, focusing on the faces of soldiers as they stand to attention, sleep amidst equipment or beg for medical assistance. From the grim to the glorious, many of these images have or will become part of the visual history of war in the modern age. Just as the photos echo civilians' varied glimpses into the military machine, they reflect the ways in which photographers frame conflict from all sides. W. Eugene Smith focuses on the beads of sweat dripping from a helmet, Joe Rosenthal sees the raising of a very famous flag, Larry Burrows snaps a fleeting grimace and the late Tim Hetherington captures the shadows of a dorm in Afghanistan.
The exhibit will be on view from January 23 to June 21, 2015. The museum is also soliciting images of your own (or your loved ones') military experience. Share your photos on social media and use the hashtag #AmericanSoldierKC to share with the museum.”

from The Huffington Post  |  by Katherine Brooks

Sunday, January 11, 2015

most prized possessions

Anna Ream tried careers in both investment banking and financial advising, but often felt like a fraud. When she started studying photography in 2008, things finally clicked.

‘I find with photography I don’t care how dumb my questions sound because I’m so driven to know the answer,’ she said. ‘I’ve always been on the quiet end of things, and this has given me a voice that nothing has in my life and I want to learn how to use that effectively.’

Early on in that process, Ream turned her camera on what was both near and dear: her children.

‘Having children in the home, they’re readily available subjects,’ Ream said. Starting out with her own three children, Ream began working on an ongoing series that focuses on children with their most prized possessions, ‘Comfort Objects.’ Ream describes these objects as ‘a toy or blanket that takes on emotional importance to a child’ and said she is ‘fascinated by [their] link to parenting, and to motherhood in particular. The mother is where so many physical, emotional, and psychological needs are met and focused.’

Currently, Ream has photographed roughly 75 children and hopes to turn the series into a book. She said working on the project has been a way for her to focus and learn from the children she photographs.

‘It’s interesting to think about what it’s like to be a kid,’ Ream said. ‘I was the kind of kid always looking for the next step. I kind of wanted to get through childhood.’

‘I also have an attachment to these objects because they’ve played such a role in my children’s lives and its sad when they move on from that. It’s sort of sad to see those transitions.’

Working with children can also be unpredictable experience, something Ream has embraced throughout the project.

‘You never know what you’re gong to get but I also think that’s part of the magic of working with them,’ she said. ‘I try to involve them as much as I can in the entire experience. I find it interesting that to photograph something that is so important to them changes the dynamic and it’s a way to honor and respect them. I find going in there and not asking for the smile, not forcing it too much makes it a more natural interaction and less pressure and hopefully more fun.’

- Slate, Behold, the Photo Blog

Interestingly, I have been making plans to photograph some of the children at St. Mary Kevin Children's Home with their most prized possessions, a project I started a couple years ago and never finished. I am going March 1st and can't wait to work on it!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

new work

If you haven't already seen this, here's a quick look at some of the new work I've done lately… all assembled in one neat place. With a great Emmet Gowin quote to boot.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

hello edward and lewis?

I have spent the past few days making some new black and white images from older captures made in Uganda.

The following only happens to me every now and then:

I'll be working on a picture, and some iconic, historical image starts hovering in the corner. It's kind of a cool and comforting experience. I mean, I'm sitting here in front of my computer all alone in a quiet room. I've not spoken to anyone most of the day as I've worked on these new pieces. I am basically in a vacuum. So, when these older images occur to me, and I make connections with photographers' ghosts and their pictures, I feel really connected to the long trail of images and image-makers that have gone before me. And that is a good feeling.

Here is my new picture. It was made in Uganda at St. Mary Kevin Children's Home.

Below are the images that have been floating around and keeping me company as I've worked on it. Granted, both Hine and Weston made sure every possible square inch of these images was in razor sharp focus, and I have done just the opposite, but still. The basic structures of these pictures are very similar. And not in a way that I mind at all. So, I nod to Edward and Lewis today.

photograph by Lewis Hine, 1920

photograph by Edward Weston, 1927

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

final post from team 8: suzanne

Suzanne and Alfonso

Magic Number 4…

"The number four has always been my favorite for as long as I can remember and so it seems fitting that on my fourth trip to SMK as part of Team 8 that there would be four significant moments that stood out over the 10 days that I was there.   

First moment:  Day one as I am walking through the village toward SMK this 4 foot 5 or so little person, in a sweet dress, is standing guard at the gate to Melissa’s. The moment she spots me, she takes off and greets me with a smile as big as Lake Victoria and a hug that would make a giant melt. It was like a Hallmark commercial complete with tears of joy for both of us. This was my little Oliva, whom I had not seen in two years.

Second moment: Another Oliva moment was when we were walking around school holding hands, she quietly said to me, 'Suzanna, I will never forget you.' This stopped me in my tracks. I know that this beautiful young girl stole my heart three years ago when I saw her amongst all the children of SMK quietly sitting on a chair with her small hands gently folded in her lap. She was just a sliver of girl who spoke little or no English, but somehow through holding hands and just being with one another, we formed this incredible bond, that despite the distance, has grown and flourished. I know in my heart that I will never forget my little Oliva.

Third moment: It’s often the simple things in life that are the most meaningful. My third moment was just that, simple. I was reading some books outside the girls dormitory when the skies opened up and it started to rain buckets. We all made a mad dash for the dormitory to take cover, Rita, Oliva, Kaifa, Fiona, Evalyn and me. We sat on a bench, finished reading our books and listened to the rain pound the sheet metal roof like thunder. Held captive by the storm, we started an impromptu dance party, which turned into a 'rain, rain go away' dance. It was the best time, just the six of us hanging out, So often as volunteers you think you have to come prepared with activities, games and projects, but the reality is all you have to do is be present. 

Fourth moment:  Is a combination of little moments; out of the blue, little Oliva planted a kiss on my cheek, Alfonso (Boy-Boy) came out of nowhere and bear hugged me (Boy-Boy hugs are the best), Peter Damba surprised us all with a visit to SMK on Spirit Day, the kiddos and I decorated the tent on Christmas morning, and the Cobb family and I, with Rose and Joan as tour guides, visited their Secondary School, St. Noa.

They say that life is a series of moments; well my cup is overflowing with all that I have come to treasure these past four trips to SMK with the kiddos. To simply say thank you does not seem to be enough. I can only say that I will never forget a single moment or any of them, ever."

- Suzanne Garr

Saturday, January 03, 2015

team 8: some parting shots

Thanks to Suzanne and Dawn for these incredibly lovely and joyful photos!