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

Friday, December 19, 2014

young artists from smk get opportunity to visit art galleries

"Today I took Willie, Oscar, Brian, Nicky and Issy to a couple of art galleries in Kampala. Art teacher Michael had arranged for a guided tour at the University Gallery at Makerere, and we got to meet with the gallery director. I wish you had been able to see our young artists' faces as they walked around in awe. It was pretty darn cool. The gallery director even took us into their art storage that was recently updated with funds from the U.S. Embassy. It is small, but it was fun for me to get to share a little of what I do at the Nelson-Atkins with them.

I had asked for her to address the business end of being an artist. It was… interesting to say the least. She talked about how galleries worked, and then she mentioned some of the prices the works were receiving when they sold. The kids got so excited, until I had to explain how rare having gallery shows are for an individual artists, how much work you have to put into making then happen and how most artists also have a regular full time job as well. I'm not sure anyone believed me, until the director at the next gallery and Michael said exactly the same thing.

Overall, I think everyone really enjoyed it and left inspired to try some new things." - Natalie

Issy, Brian and Michael


Nicky and Oscar

Willy, Brian, Oscar, Nicky, Issy, Michael and gallery director

Thursday, December 18, 2014

blog post from team 8 leader natalie!

Among her other star qualities, Team leader Natalie is also a very good writer. I think you'll find her first blog post from Uganda both entertaining and poignant.

"Having visited Uganda twice before, I left this time feeling like I knew what to expect. I have my favorite things to eat. I know what shops to visit in Kajjansi to make sure I get a fair price on my afternoon Fanta. I even have a favorite driver to take me to all the places I want to visit. So I have to admit, when Melissa told me that we would be going into Kampala today to finish up Christmas shopping for the kids at SMK by taxi, and then taking a boda boda back to school with our heavy packages of undershirts, bras, and vasoline, those anxious feelings of not knowing what to expect, or how to behave, that I had prior to my first visit crept back in. 

Taxis here are not like in any other city I have ever been in. They are closer to small buses with designated routes. They aren't marked with their destination, and you kind of just need to know which one to get into. Thankfully, as Melissa says, this is how she rolls, and I really didn't need to figure any of these things out for myself. It was, however, for this newbie, still quite an adventure as we drove down Entebbe Road into the heart of the city.

Sponsored student Rachael helps shop at the market

In order to purchase the items on our shopping list we make our way through the wholesale market. This crowded alley was filled, stories high, with shop fronts selling literally everything you can imagine. In bulk. Think Costco, on a busy Saturday at Christmas time, but with large trucks making their way through the aisles as you are trying to carry your purchases without the aid of a large shopping cart. Then multiply that by five. It's overwhelming at best, but I couldn't help thinking the whole time what a treat it was to have the opportunity to do something so new to me.

We made it back to Kajjansi with all of our goodies, and got off at our stop that was still  more than a mile from home. With no other option, we hopped on a boda boda--in other words, a motorcycle taxi. Well, Mel hopped, I sort of hesitantly sat down after carefully explaining to my driver that I had never been on a motorcycle--ever, and he need to go slow. Very slow. His good nature obliged and we made it through the village in one piece. I can't say that this is my favorite mode of transport here, but I did enjoy the short ride for the new experience it gave me.

So feeling pretty proud of myself for trying all of these new, slightly intimidating, things, I unexpectedly encountered another 'first' as I sat down to recount my adventures. A gentleman who works at the hotel came over, and after chatting for a bit, he asked me if I went to high school. Naively, I was taken aback. Well, of course I went to high school, I thought. I actually went to college. And graduate school. Then as immediately as the thought entered my brain I remembered what a luxury attending high school in Uganda really is. Most kids don't. And of those that do, only about 30% actually finish. 

And that is why I am here. It is what CTT is working so hard to provide for our kids. Not just the opportunity to go, but a support system that encourages them finish. I'm under no grand illusion that CTT alone will be able to provide every child that needs it with a high school education. But I do know that for those we can assist, it is a lasting gift that will continue to benefit them, and their community, long after they have left the security of SMK. This year, our team members will proudly get to celebrate with three wonderful young women who have attained this goal. Racheal, Catherine and Shelia have recently completed their Senior 6 exams and have a lot of new 'firsts' in their futures. And it is because of this, that I am really so incredibly excited to be back in Uganda. - Natalie

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

what happened after this picture was made

This photograph has become a favorite for many who view my work from Uganda. It never fails to elicit a smile. I thought it would be nice to share once again the tale of my encounter with the bra salesman. The following is a re-post. If you've already read it, feel free to resume your web surfing.

My Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Maurice owned a top notch clothing store in Lexington, Kentucky, my hometown. I bought all my clothes there, I worked there when I was old enough, I even got to go on a NY buying trip once, and I was always treated like royalty by the Tots 'n Teens salesmen and women. My aunt Evelyn was a force with which to reckon - a self assured and successful businesswoman who took no crap from anyone. When it was time for my first bra, she was the one who noticed the tiny breast buds, she was the one who put me in a dressing room at the store and called out to the sales ladies "get some training bras for my niece to try on!" and she was the one who pronounced my first flowered cheesecloth bra a perfect fit (much to my sheer terror and embarrassment).

Every woman I know has a "first bra" story etched into her mental scrapbook.

Early one morning while in Uganda a couple weeks ago, I was riding a boda (motorcycle taxi) along the dirt path leading to the orphanage. I spotted two women sitting by the side of the road - both had huge piles of clothing in their laps. I asked my boda driver to stop. I hopped off, thanked and paid him. I was curious about these large stacks of clothing.

Turned out they were bras. Hundreds of them. The woman explained they were selling them to the villagers.

A man soon approached on foot. The display of bras that hung from his arms was almost too much for me to bear. It was one of the weirdest, loveliest, most heartbreaking, poignant, comical sights I had ever seen. I knew I had to make a portrait of the bra salesman, and he kindly obliged.

Of course, then he wanted me to buy a bra or two.

We walked along the road together for a while and talked. I told him I might just might be able to round up a few customers for him.

By the time we reached St. Mary Kevin, word had already spread that Mama G. (that's me) was striking a deal with the bra man. Within five minutes, a gaggle of girls had gathered outside the SMK guest house. More streamed in as my new friend set up shop. He quickly realized it was his lucky day.

What ensued over the next fifteen minutes was pure joy. Girls giggling. Girls squealing. Older girls looking down the shirts of younger girls (sizing). Beaming young girls trying on their first bras. Girls adjusting straps. Girls laughing. Girls giddy. Pink bras, lacy bras, flowered bras, polka dotted bras, sports bras. Girls sharing. Girls admiring. Girls approving. Girls clucking. Girls delighted. Girls grateful.

Girls without their moms or aunts or grandmothers there. Just Mama G. and the other adults who had gathered to see what all the estrogen-driven commotion was about.

The girls tried on the bras over their clothes. They were each others' mirrors. Unbelievably, amid the chaos (arms reaching, hands searching, fingers snapping hooks and adjusting straps, heads nodding) each was able to find just the right bra - the perfect size and color.

The bra man was grinning ear to ear. He had hit the jackpot.

We quibbled over a the price for a few moments, I paid him (a whopping 50 - 75 cents per bra) and then the girls lined up to thank me, one at a time. My face ached from all the smiling I had just done.

It was one of the sweetest, happiest mornings I've ever experienced.

Monday, December 15, 2014

a feature on feature shoot

I'm happy to report that my Uganda work is on Feature Shoot today.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

congratulations to nelson!

Along with Billy, sponsored student Nelson will graduate from Makerere University next month. Nelson's degree will be in Computer Science.

In a recent email, Nelson wrote, "Born as a nobody, very soon I will be somebody flying that black graduation hat in the air."

Following his last exam this past June, our industrious and talented young friend worked with AidData.org for three months, helping with geo-coding and analysis. Once that internship expired, Nelson began working as an intern doing Microsoft SharePoint development for ACTS, a Florida based company. He spends his spare time working on his start-up company, Sodzo Limited and as a Research Assistant at Makerere in the Artificial Intelligence Development Research Group.

Regarding life after college, Nelson wrote, "I thought leaving college would avail me with enough time to sleep, watch football or visit friends, but NO. Maybe I was wrong. Waking up at 6:30 AM and going to sleep at 1:00 AM has been my daily routine since I finished classes in June. Trust me, if you're in college, there is plenty of time to waste - more than in the real world."

Those of us who know Nelson know how determined and focused he is. Once he sets his mind to something, he is halfway there. We are so proud of his accomplishments, which have included two trips to the US to present research findings. We have no doubt that Nelson, who has been sponsored by CTT since secondary school, will fly very high after graduation, right alongside his graduation cap. In his own words:

"I have worked really hard. When I finish college, I should get high pay. In the real world, payment is commensurate with skill."

We'll keep cheering you on, Big Nels. And we couldn't be more happy for you. You're doing what you love, and you are succeeding on every level. Bravo!

Friday, December 12, 2014

meet team 8!

Team 8 leader Natalie is just about ready to head to Uganda. Not far behind her will be the other members of this awesome group. They will be carrying over 450 pounds of art supplies, medical supplies, gifts, clothing, games, school supplies, soccer balls, frisbees and more - all to make the holidays a fun and memorable experience for the 180 kids at St. Mary Kevin.

The team is made mostly of returning volunteers, which says so much about how profound these connections are.

Holly and Anna Cobb were part of Team 6. They had such an amazing time that they have convinced the rest of their family to join them on the journey this year. Alan, Gus and Wyatt will soon get to meet the special children they've heard so much about from Holly and Anna for the past two years. This will make for a truly unique family volunteer vacation, just as the Soslands experienced last year at this time. CTT is lucky to have the support of families like these!

Suzanne Garr will be making her FOURTH trip to St. Mary Kevin! Suzanne was smitten by the kids the minute she walked onto the grounds back in 2010. Thanks to letter writing, Facebook and Skype she has maintained close relationships with many of them. They love her dearly and can't wait to see her again. Suzanne is an important and active member of the CTT family. She sponsors two children in secondary school and led Team 6. Her enthusiasm and compassion is contagious. We look forward to hearing all about Spirit Day this year, Suzanne!

New board member Dawn Taylor will be making her third trip to SMK. Her traveling companion and fellow volunteer will be daughter Emily, who will be visiting for the second time. These girls are counting the days til they can get their arms around the kids, all of whom will be ecstatic to see them again. It means so much to our kids that their friends from American do not forget about them and do return.

The fearless leader of Team 8, Natalie Boten, is eager to get this party started! She's been planning for months and has some great surprises in store for the kids this year. She has promised to submit blog posts regularly so all of us can keep track of the team's experiences. Since we can't stow away in their duffel bags, this will have to do. Natalie will be landing on Ugandan soil for the third time, and she can hardly wait!

Safe travels and good luck to Team 8. You're a fantastic group - each of you has something very special to offer the kids. We'll hear more about those things as your blog posts roll in.

There will be a big old love-fest starting up pretty soon in Kajjansi, Uganda.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

meet the new change the truth board members!

Fred Grossman

Fred is a clinical psychologist who transferred his practice from Kansas City to Portland, Oregon in 2010. He has been in practice since 1977.

In addition to his work as a psychologist, Fred has volunteered in a variety of settings, including a women's shelter, an AIDs clinic and an adolescent diversion program. He has also worked with clergy to provide more effective delivery systems to parishioners. Fred has traveled to Africa twice to volunteer for Change the Truth.

In his down time Fred enjoys hiking, traveling and spending with with his wife Cheryl and hits children erica, Ian and Dennis.

Jennifer Smith

Jennifer is a career educator with 20 years classroom experience. Honored to be selected a Regional Finalist for Kansas Teacher of the Year in 2014, she currently teaches 8th graders American History in the Blue Valley School District in Kansas. A devoted Royals fan, Jennifer is also an avid reader, loves to cook, and travels with her husband, Jeff, as much as they can.

Jennifer has visited Uganda as a member of Team 4, during the summer of 2012, and as Co-Leader of Team 7.

Dawn Taylor

Dawn has spent her career in the nonprofit sector, primarily in fund-raising and executive leadership in the arts and architecture field.   Her career has encompassed 17 years in roles at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and in 2010, she was named Executive Director of American Institute of Architects Kansas City, where she leads one of the country’s top AIA chapters. 

Her volunteer career has focused on three distinct but equally beloved parts of the world:  Kansas City, North Carolina, and Uganda.

In the Kansas City community, she is an 11-year volunteer at Operation Breakthrough and a past board member of Quixotic Fusion and Kansas City Artists Coalition.  Dawn  is a devoted and active Duke University alumna and is involved with the school on a local and national level in several leadership positions.  Her volunteer contributions were recognized in 2009 with a national award from Duke Alumni Association.

She has traveled three times to Uganda (Teams 5, 7, and 8) with Change the Truth.  She cherishes the relationships she has made with the children at St. Mary Kevin and the other team members from around the world.

Dawn credits her first trip to Africa in 2011 with her desire to pursue a social impact business to benefit people in the developing world.  That venture is Red Dirt Shop, launched in April 2013 with a business partner.

Dawn grew up in a family that donated their time, talent, and treasure to many causes. Dawn wants to model this same devotion to helping others for her two teenage daughters, Sarah and Emily.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

emmet gowin

Emmet Gowin has long been one of my "photo heroes." I told him so at the book signing following his lecture last week in New Orleans. His talk was dreamy. Meeting him was the same. Here are just a few of his pictures that have motivated and moved me over the years.

Sunday, December 07, 2014


Magoffin County, Kentucky, 2014

I’ve spent the past three days at PhotoNola, the Crescent City’s annual festival of photography. Organized and run strictly by volunteers, I thought it was an extremely successful event.

I got to spread my work before from some impressive portfolio reviewers, including curators, directors and editors from highly respected places like New Yorker magazine, the Getty Museum, Tom Gitterman Gallery, Pier 24, Aperture, The Harry Ransom Center and Crystal Bridges Museum. 

I got to see some inspiring work being done by my peers, my fellow reviewees.

The highlight of the event was hearing Emmet Gowin address us all in his keynote presentation – one that moved many to tears.

And speaking of tears, let me tell you how emotional an experience like this can be.

Making photographs is my job. Marketing the photographs is also my job (I wish it wasn’t), so that is why I attend events like this every couple of years. It is up to me to get the work “out there.” It is helpful, as well, to get feedback from professionals whose opinions I respect.

The opinions can and do, of course, run the gamut. Looking at art is a highly personal matter.

I was really happy to get positive feedback on both bodies of work I schlepped to PhotoNola: the pictures I’ve made in Uganda and the newer work I’ve been doing in eastern Kentucky. It was the first time I’d shown the Kentucky portfolio, so I was especially eager to get reactions to it.

Responses like “pure”, “terrific”, “poetic”, "resonant”, “textural” and “edgy” are important to hear when your project is in its infancy, when you are flooded with self-doubt and fear.

So I was feeling pretty high until I sat across the table from someone who, after looking at the third picture, called the work “caricature-ish.” He tapped into my aforementioned self-doubt and went on to say that it was obvious the subjects were “stone-faced” and “walled-off” in front of a Kansas City Jewish woman with an expensive camera - an outsider on every possible level. While extremely complimentary of the Uganda work and of me as a photographer in general, he questioned the Appalcahian pictures even to the extent of asking me "is this really how you want to spend your time photographing now," implying that, as an older woman, there's not a lot of time left! Whoa.

Two reviews prior to this one, I had tears in my eyes. That was because the reviewer called my work “exquisite” and wondered why it had not gotten more recognition outside of the Midwest. This man (someone I respect very much) was deeply moved by and impressed with the work and wants to help me find a way to move forward on a more national level.

So the tears that rimmed my eyes just an hour later came not necessarily because of what this next reviewer was saying, but because of the cracks that exist in my sense of self-worth as a photographer and the questions I have about what I’m doing and why. This young man was absolutely entitled to his opinion, and I respect him for feeling confident enough to express himself. What brought the tears were the age-old ghosts of insecurity and self-doubt, demons all artists have to deal with at some point or another.

The weeks leading up to this event were filled with shooting, printing, editing, assembling “leave-behind” packets, making travel arrangements, etc. Now comes the sorting out of the feelings with which I’m left. I'm looking forward to following up on the good reviews I had, which was essentially all of them except one. 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

packing party for team 8: melissa and antwain are the guests of honor!

Look at this assemblage of wonderful Change the Truth volunteers. What a special group of people.

It was a fun night packing duffels for Team 8 and catching up with Melissa and Antwain, who are in the States for a visit. It was so great seeing them both and being with all these wonderful former team members.

Jennifer Smith

Jeff Mildner

Natalie Boten

Eddie Feinstein and Melissa Mosher

Lynne Melcher

Dawn Taylor

Jane Voorhees and me

Jane Voorhees and Antwain Mosher

Jeff Mildner

Jane Voorhees, Melissa Mosher, Jennifer Smith, Dawn Taylor and Avis Smith

Melissa Mosher, Nick and Lindsey Jarrett

Nick and Lindsey's daughter Eva

Jane Sosland

Melissa Mosher and Ann Thomas

Natalie Boten, Ann Thomas, Ashton Thomas and me

Antwain, his brothers Melvin and Tarez and Melissa

Natalie with 400 pounds of goodies ready to go to the orphanage

Monday, December 01, 2014

more new work from appalachia

I'm putting in long hours preparing for PhotoNOLA, the portfolio review I'll be attending in New Orleans beginning later this week. I'll be showing both the Uganda and Kentucky work, as well as my Grandma book (looking for a publisher!) and will attend a couple workshops and lectures. I'm looking forward to showing my brand new work, all of which I am just now printing for the first time. I'm also eager to meet the other photographers who'll be converging on The Big Easy for three days of nothing but photography. We'll all be sharing our work with the public during a "PhotoWalk"at the Ogden Museum from 6 - 9 PM on Friday night. If you're in the area, please come say hello.

I met some really good people on this most recent trip to eastern Kentucky and am appreciative of their willingness to be part of my project. In particular, I'd like to give shout-outs to the Perkins and Cole families. I'd also like to thank Vickie Ducette and Tonya Caudill for taking time to show me around.

Here is my second batch of new images from Appalachia.

Magoffin County

Magoffin County

Magoffin County

Magoffin County

Magoffin County

Magoffin County

Powell County

Magoffin County

Magoffin County

On this trip I went to Inez, Kentucky. I wanted to see the house where Lyndon Johnson had crouched on the front stoop to discuss the lack of jobs in Martin County with the home-owner, Tom Fletcher. It was fifty years ago, and Johnson was generating support for his proposed War on Poverty. At that time 60% of the population in Inez lived below the poverty line. Johnson was helicoptered into the small mining town for some good photo ops; this image became an iconic picture of the War on Poverty.

The Fletcher cabin is still standing, and I did get to see it. There's a metal fence with a "no trespassing" sign posted. It looked abandoned, but there are plenty of Fletchers still living in Inez (Tom and his wife had eight kids). The roads in Inez are now well-paved, there are some new, bigger homes similar to those seen in any town in America. The people to whom I spoke said the schools and hospitals are much  better than they used to be. Still, however, Martin County is one of the poorest counties in the country, with a poverty rate of 35% (more than twice the national average). Jobs are very hard to find, and only 9% of the adults living there have a college degree.

There's a nice, new community center in the middle of town. That's where I found these young men. They had been playing basketball. Turns out they'd never heard of Lyndon Johnson or the War on Poverty, but they said life in Inez is pretty good for them.

Martin County

The stats in Inez aren't much different from the other counties I've been visiting in eastern Kentucky. The poverty levels are highest in the areas tucked away in the hillsides - in the "hollers". Here the unemployment rates are very high, few people attend college and there's an incredibly high percentage of people collecting disability. A substantial number of people smoke and consume unhealthy food and soda, and there are enormous problems with drug and alcohol abuse/addiction.

The War on Poverty has helped improved lives, that's for sure. Some of the people in Inez, though, say it was just a skirmish, and that there needs to be another declaration made - the sooner the better.