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

Thursday, October 08, 2015


I bet I hadn't written a haiku poem since middle school, but that was our first assignment for the Midwest Jewish Artists Lab (which started this week). We were asked to bring a piece of recent work and write three lines to introduce the work we make. It was a nice way for us all get to know each other a bit as we begin this journey together. Among us are dancers, poets and visual artists. A very interesting mix!

My haiku:

In the early Spring
The wind curls around your face.
Eyelashes flutter.

Have a great weekend, all!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

jordi pizarro: twins

“A few months ago New Delhi-based photographer Jordi Pizarro came across a magazine story about the small town of Kodinhi in the southwestern state of Kerala, India. Home to about 2,000 families, Kodhini is reported to have a whopping 250 pairs of twins (give or take a few). Pizarro says it’s a phenomenon that no one in the village has been able to explain.

(To put that number in perspective, according to the Telegraph that’s more than six times the global average, and one of the highest twinning rates in the world.)

Wanting to see pictures of all these twins, Pizarro did what most people do—he searched online. Surprisingly, he found very few professional images, so he set off for Kodhini straight away to make photos of his own.

That journey, made along with a friend and translator, took him first to the capital of Kerala, where he learned that there would be a mass for 400 sets of twins at a Christian church in the south of the district a few days later.

‘My friend and I started to laugh,’ says Pizarro. ‘After having lived in India for two years, you learn never to be sure about anything in this country, and you can’t make plans too far in advance, since sometimes things happen and sometimes they don’t.

‘So we arrived very early at this church. I was totally nervous and anxious thinking about the twins—and whether or not this mass would be real.’

But real it was. Prior to the mass, Pizarro found the director of the church and got full access to photograph the ceremony.

‘After a breakfast of tea and cookies, we started to see sets of twins dressed exactly alike coming up the road,’ says Pizarro. ‘I jumped out of the car and I started to speak with the people, asking them, Why are you coming here? Where are you from?’

The lighting inside the church was dim, so Pizarro made portraits of many of the twins outside, in a more natural setting. The next day, he continued on to his original destination, Kodhini.

After his positive experience in the church, Pizarro expected it would be easy to find twins to photograph in Kodhini, but to his surprise, no twin would let him take their picture without permission from the director of the local ‘twin association.’ And it turned out that that guy wanted thousands of dollars to grant permission. Citing his ethics as a photojournalist, Pizarro refused to pay.

Frustrated and disheartened, Pizarro was smoking a cigarette outside when a well-dressed man approached him. He spoke a little English and asked Pizarro what he was doing in Kodhini. Pizarro explained his project, and the man, a teacher at a local school, said he knew most families in town and offered to introduce him to twins. The only thing he wanted in exchange was the opportunity to practice his English.

‘It was perfect,’ says Pizarro. ‘We spent three days with the teacher going to visit different houses in the village, and the scene was very different—all the people received us well and were super happy to have a professional photographer taking portraits of them.’

Continuing with the style he had started outside the church, Pizarro decided to use the tropical vegetation as his backdrop and to have the twins wear the same clothes.

To create the final images, he used a Photoshop filter that emulates the look of Kodachrome film and added borders from scanned vintage photos.

‘What I like from this series is that looking at it gives a sensation of something magical,’ says Pizarro. ‘The images feel familiar, like a family album.’"

[Jordi Pizarro is from Barcelona and is currently based in Delhi. This article was published on the National Geographic blog.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

a new gig

I’m flattered to have been one of 12 Kansas City area artists invited to participate in 2015-2016 Midwest Artists Lab, a project funded by the Covenant Foundation and sponsored here in Kansas City by the Jewish Community Center.

The Lab engages Jewish artists from five US cities (the others are Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Madison and Chicago) in the exploration of Jewish sources relating to an overarching theme. The theme this year is “Echos: Voices of Wisdom.” Along with my colleagues (all working in different mediums) we will create pieces that are reflections on the theme as well as the shared learning experience.

The Kansas City group will meet twice a month beginning the first of October and will explore ancient and modern, traditional, oppositional and radical Jewish sources relating to the theme. Facilitated by Jewish educators, scholars and other artists, we’ll have interactive investigations of texts and multimedia sources, as well as hands-on exercises exploring art, Jewish art, the artist’s relationship to his/her/others’ works and the role of culture in community transformation.

The kick-off for the Lab begins during a weekend retreat in Milwaukee, where we’ll have the opportunity to meet all the participating artists and begin our journey into this project. Selected work made by my fellow artists and me will be exhibited in a show during May, the final month of the Lab. We're each also paid a stipend for our participation.

I haven’t been to Milwaukee in many years. Eddie and I lived there in 1979-1980, so it will be fun to revisit my old haunts. I’m really looking forward to working side by side with the other KC artists - including Robyn Nichols, Linda Lighton, Nicole Emanuel and Allan Winkler – and getting to know fellow artists from the other cities, too. Should be a really interesting few months!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

roman vishniac

On this eve of Yom Kippur, the most holy of the Jewish holidays, I'd like to share work by Roman Vishniac. His work has always been a major inspiration to me. I was happy to learn there is a show opening at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts entitled "Rediscovering Roman Vishniac." More people will learn about his work now.

Here is a blurb from the museum's website:

More than any other photographer, Roman Vishniac profoundly influenced contemporary impressions of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Vishniac created the most widely recognized and reproduced photographic record of that world on the eve of its annihilation, yet very little of his work was published or printed during his lifetime (1897–1990).
Roman Vishniac Rediscovered provides an introduction to Vishniac's radically diverse body of work—much of it only recently discovered. Known primarily for his poignant images of Eastern Europe, Vishniac was in fact a remarkably versatile and innovative photographer. This exhibition repositions his iconic photographs of Eastern Europe within a broader tradition of social documentary photography. Vishniac's career spans more than five decades, ranging from early engagements with European Modernism to highly inventive color photomicroscopy.
As an amateur photographer in Berlin in the early 1920s, the Russian-born Vishniac took to the streets, offering intelligent and wry visual commentary while experimenting with new approaches to framing and composition. He documented the Nazi rise to power and photographed impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe.
After fleeing to New York in 1941, he opened a portrait studio, recorded American Jewish communal and immigrant life, and established himself as a pioneer in photomicroscopy (taking photographs with a microscope). In 1947, Vishniac returned to Europe to document Jewish displaced-persons camps, the ruins of Berlin, and efforts of Holocaust survivors to rebuild their lives. Vishniac's work in color photomicroscopy was his primary focus for the remainder of his life.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

my last night at smk

The Jewish New Year occurred while I was in Uganda. On my final night at St. Mary Kevin, my Jewish friends and family were in America celebrating this important holiday, Rosh Hashanah. My grand kids were eating apples and honey, symbols of hope for a sweet year to come. While I'm not a strictly "observant" Jew, I did miss being at home for this special holiday.

I didn't feel well that last day, having finally succumbed to the scratchy sore throat and headache that had been festering for a couple days. I stayed in my room all day until just before dinner. After a delightful bowl of soup with Melissa, I made my way through the inky blackness of the Uganda night toward the dorms to see if I could round up a few kids for some goodbye hugs. It was almost bedtime by then. My flight didn't leave until after midnight, so I had some time.

Walking toward the entrance to SMK, blanketed by blackness, I began to hear the throbbing of drums and the uplifted voices of children.

Melissa explained to me later that one of the teachers has recently begun "prayer service" for those children who wish to participate. It takes place just before bedtime, and it involves singing, drumming, outstretched arms, tears streaming down faces, intense joy, intense sadness, a bible reading and thoughtful, heartfelt prayer.

And I do mean heartfelt.

I was so moved. Watching these children reach deep inside themselves, express gratitude to a higher power for the goodness in their lives and ask for strength to move forward was humbling and incredibly powerful. I don't know how long they had been going on already, but I got to watch for a good half hour or so.

When the children finished, they gathered around me and gave me long, tearful hugs.

In my mind's eye, I handed each a slice of apple dipped in honey. Then I wiped away my tears and headed for home. I couldn't have asked for a sweeter, more meaningful ending to my trip.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

uganda: parting shots + pockets

In my farewell "address" to the kids, I talked about pockets. After making sure they knew what a pocket was, we talked about what most people put in them. I asked if anyone had anything in their pocket, and Leo produced a broken part of a plastic toy he'd found on the road. I talked about how important it must be to Leo to have picked it up and put it in his pocket for safekeeping. 

Then I told them that before I had left America to come to Uganda, many people had called and expressed a desire to shrink down small enough to fit in my pocket so that I could bring them with me. They got a kick out of that visual.

I went on to say that now that it was time for me to go, I wished I could shrink each of them down to a size that would fit in my pocket so I could could take them home with me.

I reminded them that, of course, this isn't possible, but then I told them that the most important pocket of all is one that you can't even see. It's invisible, but it is deep and wide and holds so many important things. That pocket, I said, is in our hearts. And lucky for us, sometimes it is so full it feels like it's bursting at the seams!

So that no matter how far away we are from each other, no matter how long it has been since a special CTT friend has visited, even if someone isn't ever going to come back to visit, we all know that we're carrying each other around in this special pocket - and because of that we'll always be right there for each other.

In her good-bye letter to me, Queen wrote that she wished she could fit in my real pocket, but that she knew I'd always be close by since she was in my heart pocket and I was in hers. I'm glad she "got it" and I hope the other children did, too.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

the shoe that grows: a happy day

before new shoes

Today we distributed the cool shoe that grows five sizes. We had enough for kids in Primary 1 through Primary 4. Kids who didn't get shoes received a backpack/bag. Everyone was really happy with their gifts.

It was quite an operation. First, we adjusted the shoes to small, medium and large sizes. A few of the older boys helped with that task as we sat around in Melissa's kitchen. Then, we had all the kids line up by grade so we could give each one a pair of shoes and then adjust them to fit exactly. A couple of the matrons and teachers joined us and helped out a great deal. Even our good friend Peter, who had come for the day to visit, got in on the action.

We figured we'd collect and throw away the plastic ziplock bags the shoes came in, but the kids wanted them. These shoes are very special to them, and they want to keep them as clean and neat as possible. In fact, once we had fit a kid in his/her pair and written his/her name on them, the shoes were promptly removed and safely stored in the ziplock. These are treasures for children who don't get new shoes very often, if at all.

Brian helped us get the shoes ready for handing out

All lined up and waiting patiently for their new shoes

Teacher Mary and Matron Josephine show the children how the shoes work

Big smiles all around!