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

Thursday, September 03, 2015

day one

Here are some snapshots from my first day in Uganda. It was a rainy one, but that didn't stop us from having fun. Natalie took a group of Senior 2 sponsored students on a well-planned field trip into Kampala to pick up the Africa-pads (so many of you generously contributed to this project, and we thank you!). They also toured some small independent businesses - one a locally sourced weaving operation, another a glass company that recycles glass to make beautiful, new products. Natalie said the girls were fascinated and interested. They were also fascinated and interested in an escalator (first time seeing and riding one).

The downpour made for great puddles to play in. And I brought out the whiffle bats and balls and demonstrated the proper batting stance; it took no time at all before it was clear that there is a lot of raw, natural talent amongst our kids. More on that to follow. I'm hoping to set up a tournament (yes, I am competitive).

The kids seem to be doing so well! It's always so great to be reunited with them. Lots of hugs today.

Tomorrow is my birthday celebration. Tents have been erected. The kids have been rehearsing. I think it's going to be kind of a big deal. I'm excited!


Oliva

Wasswa Henry




Jennifer and Diana


Tina, Beatrice, Irene, Lillian and Natalie


Jennifer, Diana and me


Jeremiah



Sunday, August 30, 2015

which way do i go?

It's the night before I leave for Uganda, and I just finished packing. I was able to squeeze in four bags of Skittles for Rechael at the very last minute. Now the duffel bags are completely full.

Every time I make this trip, I think back to earlier ones. I remember the red shoes I bought for my first trip in 2006. I figured I 'd be stepping out of my comfort zone by being in Africa, so why not do it in a pair of shoes that was out of my comfort zone, too?

I always get jittery before I leave. The long flight is nothing to look forward to, and those of you who know me well know that I don't even like to fly. I've never been able to sleep too well on a plane, though this time (at my sister's suggestion) I am taking along an eye mask, some ear plugs and a neck pillow. The pillow was a gift from a friend a few years ago. It has a battery operated vibrator in it and makes you feel like you're  kind of getting a massage while you're trying to fall asleep. She gave it to me on the flight home from Uganda one time because the day before we left I had piled onto a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) with three girls and a driver and when we went over a bump my tailbone was mercilessly smashed into the back bar of the bike. It was hard to sit down after that. Lynne thought if I sat on the vibrating pillow during the long, uncomfortable plane ride home, I might feel better. After that, she said I could keep it.

I can already feel of the red dirt of Kajjansi under my feet and the warm bright sun bearing down on my shoulders. I can hear the little kids calling out as Natalie and I walk through the village that first morning on our way to the orphanage "hey muzungu! bye muzungu!" as they giggle and wave and run after us a ways. And then I can feel the rush of bodies crushing in on me as I enter the gates of St. Mary Kevin. Arms reaching out to me, hands grabbing mine, hugs and kisses and screams of joy. "Do you remember me, Mama Gloria?" "I have missed you!" "I have waited for you!" 

It's kind of an out-of-body experience. I will, at some point, float above the scene and see it happening down below. It goes on for a long time. There are 180 orphans.

Leo will probably pull my 35 pound camera backpack off of me and hoist it onto his own shoulders. Brian and Willy will shake kids loose at some point and walk me over to Melissa's house so I can sit down, drink some water and recover. Once I get there, Tina will take my shoes off as I enter Mel's house. Sarah and Queen will have wrestled away the rest of the very young ones by then and will have wrapped their arms in mine.

My face will hurt from the smiling and laughing. My head will spin as I try to remember everyone's names. It's been two years since my last visit, and surely little Oliva looks more womanly than girly now. How will I know it's her?

I tried to fall asleep early tonight so I can feel well rested for the flight tomorrow. I had to see the end of the Royals game, and then I had to finish The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and then I had to say a few goodbyes on the phone, but then I was ready to climb under the covers.

I couldn't sleep. I remembered something about a super moon, so I got dressed, grabbed my camera and went outside in search of it. It was too cloudy to see it, so I meandered over to the pool. I think I made my moon (and star) pictures there instead.

Sometimes you have one thing in mind, and then something else comes along that can be just as good - or just as important. I like to be open to those moments and follow the new path that's laid out in front of me.

If I hadn't been open to starting my own non-profit after that first trip when I wore red shoes and when my intention was to work for other peoples' non-profits, I would never have embarked on this nine-year journey that led me to Change the Truth and all the wonderful ripples that have been born of it.

So tonight when I couldn't find the moon, I stayed open to what might come along instead. I just walked in another direction to see what I could see. And there were these pictures.














Thursday, August 27, 2015

champagne?

Whenever I travel to Uganda I am struck, of course, by the differences between my life here and the lives of my friends there. Sometimes it is enough to make me feel ashamed of or embarrassed by the excesses of my everyday life here in America. It's an issue that often crops up for CTT volunteers who travel to St. Mary Kevin on our team trips, especially after they return home. One year team member Sara, a college student at the time, read aloud to the team as we drove back to our hotel on the last day of our stay. We would be flying back to our very comfortable lives in America in the morning. She read an excerpt from The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz:

After completing two years of work in Rwanda helping the poor set up businesses with microcredit, the author was about to have a celebratory dinner with her friend Dan as she was heading back to America for a while.

“We walked into AliRwanda, a luxury store for expatriates that featured a wide selection of goods at exorbitant prices and headed straight for the seafood counter, buying two frozen lobsters flown in from overseas. Croissants and crackers, nuts and olives also found their way into our basket. There was a small but high-quality wine selection with wines from France and Italy and Chile. We were in heaven.

When Dan reached for two bottles of Moet champagne and put them in our basket, I cringed, not daring to ask the price.

The cashier, a large woman with thick forearms and a blue scarf around her head, stared at me intensely with her enormous eyes, Mine glanced downward in a rush of shame as I acknowledged to myself I’d momentarily shifted into a New York way of being, where buying expensive food for wonderful meals was part of what it meant to be part of city life. The woman’s look, though, was enough to bring me back to the local context: At $60 each, two bottles of champagne cost more than many Rwandans earned in a year at that time.

‘Please remove the bottles from the bill,’ I told the cashier.

Looking at Dan, I added, ‘This is just too much.’ Though the food wasn’t inexpensive either, in my mind the champagne tipped us over to the truly decadent.

Gently, Dan put his hand on my arm. ‘We said we were having a feast with champagne. You love champagne. And this is a first. Let’s just have fun tonight.’

He moved the bottles back toward the woman.

I shifted them the other way.

‘I feel a little ashamed by it,’ I said. I just don’t know if it is right to be doing this while we’re living here.’

Dan looked at me. ‘I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense on one level. We’re working with the really poor, and you and I couldn’t be more privileged in relative terms. But don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. If you were at home, you’d celebrate with champagne. If you want to remain happy and alive in this work, you need to reconcile this part of who you are and understand the inconsistencies with the work you do and how it all fits into your whole way of being. Besides, our other choice is the Algerian red antifreeze we normally try to convince ourselves is drinkable wine. You decide.’

We bought the champagne. On the drive to the house we talked about choices and how they would just get more complex. We lived with enormous privilege in all aspects of our lives. Most precious of all were our passports that would allow us to leave the country whenever we wanted and our sense of empowerment that led us to believe we could accomplish the impossible.


The challenge wasn’t whether to buy a couple of bottles of champagne; it was instead not to take our privilege for granted and to use it in a way that served the world and our highest purpose.”


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

a new chapter



Little did I know when I started this blog nine years ago, that I'd still be churning out posts and still be traveling to Uganda in the year 2015. 

But here I am, once again shoving colored pencils and stuffed animals into the corners of oversized duffels and making sure I have enough sunscreen and Malarone in my toiletry bag.

On Sunday, Eddie will take me to the airport, and while I'll be excited about my arrival in Uganda, I'll be dreading the seemingly endless 28-hour journey. I'll be sad to leave home, but eager to see my Ugandan kids. I'll be nervous about the work ahead, but antsy to dive into it. It's always a jumble of emotions when I leave for east Africa.

Two dear friends (of mine and of Change the Truth) will accompany me on this trip: Natalie Boten and Carol Joseph. It will be a joy to spend my days at St. Mary Kevin with them.

I will spend the first half of my trip there. I'll be busy catching up on administrative work with Melissa Mosher (CTT's on-the-ground liaison), hanging out with the children, taking part in some of the planned activities (did I hear you say dance party??) and, of course, making photographs. The days will fly by. 

The second half of the trip will be spent doing something entirely different. Natalie and I will travel to Mbale to work at the Kavule School for the Deaf. We're being funded by a private family foundation to gather information about the school and its operations and to find ways to enable its administration to work toward a more stable financial future. Actually, Natalie will be doing most of that - I will be making photographs of the school, the teachers and students for use on websites, promotional materials, funding requests, etc. While this has nothing to do with Change the Truth and is completely separate from that project, this type of work is actually related to what sent me to Uganda in the first place. On that first trip in 2006 I was a participant in a workshop (for photographers and filmmakers) that explored the ins and outs of working with international NGO's. My plan at that time was to spend my empty-nest years as a world traveler, photographing for NGOs around the globe. I had no intention of starting my own NGO and returning to Uganda so many times, but that is what happened (and I'm glad it did!). But I'm excited about the prospect of shooting for someone else (and getting a stipend to do so) and learning about a completely different organization. 

Located near Mbale is the Abayudaya community, a settlement of 2,000 Ugandan Jews. I have always wanted to visit, and now I will be able to. 

I've been overwhelmed by the daily arrival of letters and small gifts for the kids at SMK! It thrills me to know that so many wonderful personal connections have been established over the years. It's a great feeling to load the duffels with, among other things, shoes, batteries, pencils, games, soccer balls and clothes - all donated to our SMK kids with so much love. After reading the recent articles about baseball in Uganda, I decided to pack a few whiffle balls and bats and introduce our young athletes to one of my favorite sports. Stay tuned for photos! I'm sure there's an Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain or Johnny Cueto just waiting to happen on the playing fields of Kajjansi!

Much more to come. Please follow along as we begin Chapter 10 of the Uganda part of this blog.



Wednesday, August 19, 2015

richard

Richard

I've known Richard for a couple years now. He's seems much older this summer, suffering from a bad hip among other physical ailments.

Richard lives on the street with his dog. He gets around in a wheelchair now, and often I see his dog pulling him down the sidewalk. Richard hangs out in my neighborhood. Some mornings I practically stumble over him on my way to the gym.

I made this portrait in the park next door to my building. Jamison Square has a really cool fountain that attracts families, especially on hot summer afternoons. Kids squeal with delight as the water fills the basin, then recedes. Yesterday I found Richard sprawled on the grassy area in front of the fountain. His dog was lying next to him, the wheelchair at their feet. Kids dodged them as they scampered to and from the flowing water. Parents set up their blankets so they wouldn't get too close. Richard smelled like beer. And his dog wan't tied up. And there was leftover food and trash all around him. He was passed out for awhile, oblivious to the delightful sounds offered up by kids enjoying one of the last lingering days of summer. When he woke up, he climbed into his chair and sat for this picture.

The homeless and the families of Portland coexist at this park, just as they do at most of the other urban outdoor spaces. I don't think the families do it very happily, but they do it just the same.

When we parted, I told him I hope he gets the hip replacement he needs. Richard told me he hopes I find what I'm looking for.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

tom

Tom


We all seek shelter. We all search for home. Home is becoming more and more elusive, though. Emotional shelter, physical shelter, economic shelter… these things, once considered “givens,” are luxuries for so many now and are slipping just out of reach for so many more.

On any given night in Portland, Oregon, there are close to 5,000 homeless people sleeping in shelters or on the street. Portland is not ranked among the top ten cities in the US with these numbers, but it's not far behind the others, which include New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Seattle, Chicago, Washington DC and San Francisco. For a city its size, Portland's homeless situation is becoming a heavy and increasingly urgent problem.

The way I see it, there are five distinct groups of homeless people in the City of Roses.

Families with children:

This is the fastest growing segment of the homeless population here. The predominant causes include lack of a living wage, lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable (or any) health care and lack of affordable childcare.


Presently a family needs to earn nearly $37,000 per year to pay for a two-bedroom apartment in Portland. To accomplish this, a person working a minimum-wage job would have to work 80 hours a week to house his/her family. Throw in drug abuse, mental illness, physical disabilities, loss of a loved-one, domestic violence, family disputes and divorce, and it is understandable why so many people, especially those with children, have been forced onto the street.

This element of the homeless community isn't limited to the urban core, though. Many of these families are struggling in the suburbs. Ten years ago, for example, the Beaverton School District reported fewer than 300 homeless students. During the 2013-14 academic year, teachers and staff counted 1,291.

There are currently more than 800 homeless families in Portland.

Temporarily down and out:

Job loss, divorce, health issues and other traumatic life changes force many people onto the street for a period of time until they can find a way to get back on their feet.

Teens and Travelers:

There's a swell in the number of homeless in Portland, especially during the summer, that is due to young people hitting the road and ending up here. Some simply tend to glorify the "hobo" transient lifestyle. Many have aged out of foster care and have nowhere else to go. Teen pregnancy and parenthood, drug addiction, mental health issues, abuse and abandonment contribute heavily to this element of Portland's young homeless. A growing number of this population is made up of kids who identify as LGBTQ and have been kicked out of their parent's house. The travelers, who eventually move on to other places, are often angry and belligerent and can be really aggressive on the street. They set up elaborate camps with cardboard, blankets and tarps and create huge "settlements" in the parks and along the riverfront.

Mentally ill:

Cuts in public mental-health spending have forced countless formerly hospitalized patients onto the streets. Many simply have nowhere else to turn. A full one-third of homeless people have untreated mental issues. A lot of these folks use garbage cans for their meals. They are victimized on a regular basis. While all of these homeless situations are grim, this one is particularly frightening.

Staying homeless by choice:

Tom, whose portrait I made yesterday, is one of many who have chosen to stay on the street. You could call him my neighbor, since he sleeps on a curb not far from my building. He has lived on the streets of Portland since 1999, after devastating changes from the loss of a job and loss of his home. He has children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren. At 56 years old, he's perfectly content to live outside. He has very few belongings, which he wheels around in a little cart. He has no interest in living in a shelter or men's home because of illnesses he might pick up and violent people he might encounter. He also smokes cigarettes and likes the freedom of smoking whenever he wants. In fact, freedom in general is a big reason he's remained on the street. Portland police kick everyone out of the parks at midnight, but the city has a lenient policy regarding sleeping on the sidewalks (one has to be a certain distance from the doorway to a building), so Tom has a little strip of curb to which he retires each evening. He cleans himself with baby wipes. He uses one of the seven Portland Loos, free flush toilet kiosks located on sidewalks around town. He panhandles some, and he gets food stamps, but mostly he takes advantage of the plethora of services offered in this compassionate and liberal city. (There's a saying among the homeless that you have to be stupid to starve in Portland.) Tom is a good guy. He's smart and friendly. Besides smoking, he has one addiction: reading - he reads paperback novels all day long. Many of his counterparts have drug and alcohol issues, and that keeps them out of the shelters (where one is required to stay clean and sober).

The residents of Portland are getting tired of the growing number of homeless people camping out in their city. There are areas that are pretty scary to enter at night, and there are people with cardboard signs and sad stories on every corner in some parts of town. In the central city, there's the perception that the mentally ill and panhandling homeless will accost (there have indeed been many violent incidents), and that is beginning to erode the city's image. There are pockets of the city that reek of urine and feces, and the encampments are littered with trash. Portland is wrestling with the problem, yet has been unable to come up with any workable solution. It's become a heavy burden for this Pacific Northwest city.

  

Monday, August 17, 2015

what am i hunting for?



“Deep in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still,
But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.”


I've spent a lot of time hunting for and making pictures in New Orleans and Portland this summer. Soon I will be in Uganda doing more of the same.

It's what I love doing more than almost anything else in my life. 

Jane Aspinwall, Associate Curator of Photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, used the above quote from a late 19th century poem titled "The Lonely Hunter" by Fiona MacLeod (which was the pen name for William Sharp) to introduce a short essay about my work a couple years ago. Little did Jane know that the book by Carson McCullers The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (written in 1940) and the subsequent movie starring Alan Arkin had a meaningful impact on me when I was a teenager.

I reread the book this summer (Cartier-Bresson did the cover photo - a portrait of McCullers herself!).

With my camera in tow, I am a lonely hunter of sorts. It's kind of become my mantra this summer.

I am making new work for an exhibition to be held this December at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center in Kansas City. I've decided to call the show "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter."

So often, the hunt ends right back where I started, or more precisely, in my own backyard. After walking the city streets for most of the afternoon, I came upon this fair haired beauty wrapped up in a towel right next to my Portland home.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

mr. toledano: searching for his future

I love pretty much any project Phil Toledano does. In his latest, he's turned himself (with lots of assistance) into a myriad of possible older versions of himself.

From Slate.com:

By his own account, Phil Toledano was leading a charmed life. But in 2006 his mother suddenly passed away. A few years later his father, as well as some of his aunts and uncles, did too.

“It was an extinction event in the Toledano family,” he said. “When it happened, I became apprehensive. What else did life have in store for me? What other dark terrible turns? I began to worry about it more and more and I thought, Fuck it, I can just worry about it, I have to confront this fear, whatever it was. I wanted to anticipate the worst things that could possibly happen to me.”

Against the advice of his wife, Carla, who feared working on this project might push an already fragile Toledano over the edge, he began a photo series—a journey, really—that dove straight into those fears. A book of these photos, called Maybe, was released by Dewi Lewis Publishing this month.

Toledano knew it would be “lunacy” to try to predict the future, so he turned to science and mysticism: He got a DNA test to find out what illnesses he was likely to get. He consulted with fortune-tellers, astrologists, palm readers, and numerologists. He underwent hypnosis and researched insurance company statistics. All to try to figure out what bad things might be lurking around the corner to ruin his life.

For Toledano, throwing himself into work has always been a way to process what was happening in his life. He worked on a series about caring for his father, and recently completed a body of work that dealt with the loss of his sister when he was 6 years old.

“When I do projects it’s like being stuck in a gravity whirl of a planet, they just pull me toward them and I just have to do them,” he said. “I feel I’m lucky enough to be in this position where I can make art, whether people like it or not is another story. I feel a certain obligation to do it. This is my job and I have to produce work. In a way being an artist is kind of like drowning close to the shore, when you’re making work that’s you waving at the lifeguard saying ‘Here I am I’m dong something’ and if you don’t, you sink to the bottom and people forget about you and you disappear.”

While working on “Maybe,” Toledano took acting lessons in order to become darker versions of himself. The entire process was almost like producing a film: He scouted locations, cast extras, and hired makeup artists who spent hours a day doing prosthetic work.

One of the hardest images to make was one of the first ones, of him as an older man sitting in the park with his caretaker. “I would take my father to the park, and he would fall asleep and I would text my friends so I was being my father and that was really hard to do.”

But throughout the work, Toledano said one of the most fascinating aspects to the series was being able to see how the world saw him in all of his incarnations.

“We are used to how we’re seen in the world and so when you suddenly have people look at you differently, it’s an extraordinary experience when you’re used to being seen in one way for 25 or 30 years; the whole project is not about the final art the photographs, but really about the performance, the act of doing it.”

Once he was done working on “Maybe,” Toledano felt a lot lighter and he no longer felt afraid of the things that had bothered him enough to create work about them. It was a highly reflective time for him.


“What’s interesting is, as you get older you begin to consider your future more, when you’re younger you’re oblivious to your future; when you’re older your future becomes more tangible and fragile, people die you get married have kids you fall in love with people, and things become more serious … a lot of my art is I talk about very obvious things.”





















Saturday, August 08, 2015

the secret camps

I learned of this project by Asa Sjostrom recently and was really impressed.

“For the past three years an annual, secret summer camp has been held for women and children in Sweden who are the survivors of domestic and honor violence. The camp, which is organized by the Women’s Rights Organization in Malmö, is meant to bring some sort of normalcy to the difficult lives of its attendees. Children play and swim in the lake, some for the first time, and mothers and children have the opportunity to socialize together without fear of reprisal from their abusive husbands or fathers.

While the camp lasts only three days, the impression it leaves on attendees is significant. Although residents are safe at the traditional women’s shelters, the conditions can feel prison-like. Your life is strictly controlledyou’re not allowed to receive visitors, and addresses are kept secretwhile abusive fathers or relatives walk the streets freely. Children are largely forgotten at women’s shelters, falling somewhere between the adult world and the jurisdiction of authorities. At many shelters, specialists for helping children deal with the trauma of domestic violence are rare. The shelters themselves can be crowded, and relationships between mothers and children often become strained as women go through the difficult process of starting over. The secret camp offers a welcome reprieve from such stress.

Most important is the bonding that occurs between children and their mothers at the camps. For a few days the children can be carefree, laughing and dancing, and seeing their mothers do the same. It’s a positive context where everyone involved can forge new and important friendships. Often the women don’t know anything about Sweden. Many were brought here via arranged marriage and immediately imprisoned in their husband’s apartment upon arrival. Later, once they’ve begun the long and difficult process of leaving their abusive husbands, many women are faced with the prospect of never returning to their home countries. It is a very difficult decision, especially when you are all alone in a new country. These women live in fear. They are hidden from the world. My method was to allow all the women and children I photographed a concealed identity. In this way they could retain their anonymity while making their individual voices heard.” - Asa Sjostrom











Thursday, August 06, 2015

haircut and a shave

I stopped by Mike's usual hangout spot today and felt like I had come upon someone 10 years younger than he was just a couple days ago. He beamed hello when he saw me, called me by name and told me he'd been to the beauty salon for a $9 haircut.

I'm also happy to report that he does wear a shirt and pair of pants under his blanket.





Monday, August 03, 2015

mike



Of all the interesting people I see regularly on the streets of Portland, the guy who walks around wrapped in a blanket has always intrigued me the most. I’ve seen him in our neighborhood each summer since we started coming here in 2008 and have always wondered what his story is.

As far as I can tell, he doesn’t wear much/if anything underneath the blanket. His feet are jet black from dirt and grime. His hair is unkempt, and he has a scraggly beard. I usually see him coming from the corner ATM machine with cash clutched in his fist.

Eddie heard from a woman who works at the Starbucks across the street that his name is Mike, and he’s a millionaire. I finally decided to approach him.

I’ve asked him several days in a row now if I can make his portrait. He’s had the same response each time: “I’m OK.” Then he goes on to say he needs to shave and get a haircut, and then he goes off from there about how he needs to “get motivated” and he’s planning to get his driver’s license and also go to the library. I tell him each day that I think he looks rather royal in his “robe” and that I will ask him again the next day if I can take his picture. He smiles sort of boyishly and reiterates that he needs a shave.

Yesterday I saw him hanging out in front of the Safeway. I greeted him and asked if I could take his picture. He said it might be OK. So, we talked for a long time. I asked a few questions, but mostly he conducted a monologue about a variety of topics, hopping seriously and unpredictably from one to the next. I learned, among other things, that he is 43, his father was adopted, he thinks Steve Martin is funny, he sleeps on the sidewalk near the train station each night, he gets to withdraw $20 from the bank every day except Sunday, he was in the military and he’s traveled to many places, including Puerto Vallarta. The monologue was periodically interrupted with each passerby, when Mike would wave his hand and say, “have a good day”.

I photographed him while he was talking. He was fine with that. I told him I’d bring him a picture, but he didn’t seem too interested. I’m not sure where he’d put it, really. He just has a blanket, after all. He was childlike and sweet, and he seemed really happy that I stopped to chat. Actually, once he got used to me, it seemed like he didn’t want me to leave.

I told him my name early in the conversation and asked him before I moved on if he remembered it. He lowered his head kind of bashfully and said “Gloria.” Then he told me that sometimes he knows certain things when he goes to sleep at night but can’t remember them the next day.

I told him I’d look for him tomorrow. He was happy about that and waved to me as I walked away. He gathered up his blanket and turned to face the people who were filing out of the grocery store.

“Have a good day” I heard him say.











Sunday, August 02, 2015

early morning



While in Portland each summer, I try to shoot every day. Often I wander the city for hours, observing, appreciating and sometimes photographing the many colorful characters who inhabit this city.

Yesterday, for example, I walked 9 miles with my photo gear in tow.

Two mornings ago I had to take Eddie to the airport at 4:30 a.m. When I got back to our neighborhood and was a block away from our place, I noticed a couple sleeping on a bench. It's very common in Portland to see people sleeping on sidewalks, in doorways, under bridges and in the parks, but this couple really moved me. I'd seen them there before on one other early morning walk I had taken. They sleep sitting up, one leaning on the other, and they drape themselves in a blanket. One of them must use a wheelchair, because it is kept very close by.

Friday morning, having just said goodbye to Eddie for a few days, I was particularly moved by the love these two share and the obviously challenging circumstances under which they live. It was still pretty dark out, and the only camera I had on me was my iPhone, but I really wanted to make a picture of them.

So I did.

I took two frames and then decided to run up to my place and fetch my bigger camera before they awoke and moved on their way. When I returned a few minutes later they were still under their blanket, but they were starting to rouse, and it was clear they would be waking soon. So I left.

The picture from my iPhone just didn't feel like it did justice to the beauty, sadness and poignancy of the sleeping couple, so, while I did have that, I really wasn't satisfied. For the next two mornings, this morning included, I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. and walked back to the bench with my Hasselblad to make the picture I really wanted.

But they weren't there.

This morning I even walked a couple miles around the neighborhood searching for them. I never found them.

So, the picture I already made will be the one.

People often ask me which is my favorite camera, and I always tell them it's the one I have on me.



Tuesday, July 21, 2015

sally mann + getting ready to return to uganda

A few days ago I finished reading Hold Still, Sally Mann’s memoir. While so much about which she wrote rang true with me, nothing resonated more than her discussion about the true possibilities of the photographic portrait. While discussing her body of work that consists of portraits of African American men, she had this to say:

“The photographer [holds] all the cards. Exploitation lies at the root of every great portrait, and all of us know it. Even the simplest picture of another person is ethically complex, and the ambitious photographer, no matter how sincere, is compromised right from the git-go… Taking the picture is an invasive act, a one-sided exercise of power…  But at a higher level, which portraiture at its best can achieve, the results can also be transformative expressions of love, affirmation and hope. If transgression is at the very heart of photographic portraiture, then the ideal outcome – beauty, communion, honesty and empathy – mitigates the offense. Art can afford the kindest crucible of association, and within its ardent issue lies a grace that both transcends and tenders understanding.”

I’ve wrestled with the challenges of photographing as an outsider and the notion of so-called (and unfortunately named) “poverty porn” for many years. In 2006, when I first traveled to Uganda, the centerpiece of both my photographic and professional work unwittingly became the children who live at an orphanage in the small village of Kajjansi. As you know, I have spent the last nine years documenting them and helping them change their lives for the better. I am forever inspired by the generosity of spirit these children continue to offer me.

In a few short weeks, I’ll travel to Uganda for the 9th time. In preparation for my journey, I have been revisiting pictures made during the last three trips. Some you may have seen before, but many are being printed for the first time. They are portrayals of just a few of the strong, hopeful dignified people – living in one of the poorest countries in the world - who have enriched me as a photographer and as a human being.

I look forward to the privilege of making more pictures along the red dirt roads of Kajjansi. My hope is that the new pictures, like these, will be imbued with beauty, communion, honesty and empathy, qualities which Mann suggests comprise the ideal outcome of photographic portraiture.