“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

Sunday, December 31, 2006

new orleans

I haven’t flown during a busy holiday season for a while… forgot all about the coughing, sneezing and sniffling that tends to eventually blend into the chorus of babies crying, three year olds screeching and the endless drone of video games turned up way too loud. Did I mention the cute little seven year old whose feet were digging into the back of my seat?

It was freezing cold in the Dallas airport. So I am now sporting a stylin’ orange and gray Longhorn sweatshirt. A couple of people with Texas accents approached me to ask what I thought of the end of that game yesterday. Unfortunately, I was clueless.

Aw, what the heck… hook ‘em, Horns!

I cruised into Slidell with the “Ragin’ Cajun” blaring on the radio of my rental car and tried in vain to find something beautiful on, near, or kind of near the highway.


Everything still looks really torn apart. The trees are dead and twisted. Signs are mangled. Many, many homes along the way are still heavily damaged or just completely destroyed.

In the converted warehouse that is now our home, I’m in bunk #18, next to a woman named Amy from Atlanta. The food tent is in the parking lot, and the showers are a few steps past that. We’ll be up bright and early tomorrow morning to begin our assignment. Believe it or not, this is all very exciting for me!

For those of you who come to this blog to read about Africa, please bear with me for a few days.

There is no way I could ever be doing any of this (Poland, Uganda, Louisana) without the encouragement and support (emotional and logistical) from my unbelievably wonderful husband, Eddie. (Those of you who know the guy know that I am not exaggerating about the unbelievably wonderful part).

Saturday, December 30, 2006

if I had a (sledge)hammer

I’ve got my sleeping bag, work boots and work gloves packed, and I’m ready to go.

Tomorrow I leave for New Orleans to meet up with a group from Nechama (Hebrew for “comfort”) the Jewish community's disaster response organization. Based in Minneapolis, since 1993 they have deployed hundreds of volunteers to help communities clean up after floods, tornados, and other natural disasters. Their mission is based on the Jewish value of “Tikkun Olam” - repairing the world through acts of goodness. We (folks from all across the US) will be staying in a converted warehouse in Slidell, Louisiana and taken into New Orleans by van early each morning to gut houses.

The work that is left to do in New Orleans is immense. If it were not for volunteers lending a helping hand, the recovery effort there would be in even worse shape than it already is. Although Nechama is a Jewish-based volunteer organization, it offers help to all people regardless of religious affiliation or class. They generally serve the most vulnerable during natural disaster events: the elderly, the poor, single parents, and people with disabilities or other health problems. All of these groups usually find it difficult to cope both physically and mentally with beginning to clean up from natural disasters. Nechama offers its services free of charge and does not solicit donations from persons helped. Nechama works closely with organizations such as the Federal Management Relief Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army

Just as I am a firm believer in making pictures in my own backyard (that is, not relying on the exotic-ness of a photograph taken in a far away land to make it successful) I believe in helping others in my own backyard (that is, not relying on the exotic-ness of a place or its people to make the effort seem somehow more important).

More to come… from GloriainNewOrleans.

Friday, December 29, 2006

article

There is a very nice (front page!!) article in this week's Kansas City Jewish Chronicle about Change the Truth.

I am so grateful for the local coverage. Between this and New Letters, the word about Change the Truth is definitely getting out in this neck of the woods. I think it's a good start!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

pen pals

For those of you who are interested in starting a pen pal relationship with one of the children at the orphanage, I have three names remaining from the last round. They are boys. Their ages are 12, 13 and 16. Please email me if you'd like to begin corresponding with one of them, and I'll give you his name and address.

If any of you who have already begun writing to your pen pals would like to share excerpts from your letters, by all means send those to me so I can post them here on the blog. I think everyone would enjoy hearing what the children have to say to you.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

africa




I have received a lot of letters and emails since I started this blog. Most have to do with, of course, Africa. What has struck me is this: people who have been there have said that it got hold of them and has never really let go.

I have been treated to reminisces of journeys there, of childhoods spent there, of people met there, and of photos and journals that have been made there. Without fail, those who have been to Africa have been changed somehow by the experience and long to return.

In my correspondence with fellow workshop students, the common thread that seems to bind us now is that we want to go back.

What is it about Africa that draws us in and keeps us there? Why, in the middle of lunch at Panera’s with Eddie the other day did I start crying as I was drawing comparisons between life here in the US and life as it appeared to me there in my three short weeks in Uganda? Why do I still think about the people I met and the places I saw almost constantly? The songs, the faces, the sounds of the city streets, the quiet of the village, the rich colors, the cool breezes, the smiles flashed by new friends, the rain on my face, the grit on my skin, the children’s hands in mine, the haunting skies, the red, red earth. I don’t know. The images and the feelings just don’t seem to fade.

In one letter I’ve read and re-read, Bono was quoted: “For Africa, it is going to take all of us.”

I’m not sure what he meant. But I can’t seem to stop turning his words around in my head.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

bronia

As I sat in my car in the school parking lot waiting for Max on his first day of third grade, I saw Bronia for the first time. She could be kind of hard to miss, given that she’s not even five feet tall, but her stride, her sense of self determination, her age, her general presence - well, all of that was difficult to overlook. She was at school every single afternoon to pick up her granddaughter, who was a few years younger than Max, and I would watch her with great curiosity as she moved toward the school doors. Moments later, as she and Rebecca would emerge from school and walk past my car, holding hands, laughing, obviously enamored of one another and happy be to reunited, I caught a glimpse of the number tatooed on her arm, and I wondered more and more about this woman.

I soon learned her name from a friend at the synagogue and began to hear stories about her. Turns out, Bronia was a well known (and well LOVED) icon in Kansas City. She still is.




Bronia was born in 1926 in Turek, Poland. When the Nazis came to Turek in 1940, she was relocated to a ghetto. From there she was sent to three concentration camps, Inowroclaw in 1940, Gnojno from 1941-1943 and Auschwitz from 1943-1944. She then was sent to a labor camp, Reichenbach, on a death march to Zalcweidel, and then to Nederzachsen from which she was liberated in April, 1945. Practlcally every member of her family had perished. After the war, she studied English and worked as a nurse at displaced persons camps in Germany. She came to the United States in June, 1947.

She went on to marry, have four children and several grandchildren. She and her husband owned a bakery. Bronia eventually became a highly requested speaker for local and regional schools and other organizations, telling the tale of her life during the Holocaust. Hearing her story was, and still is, a a compelling moment. Hearing her story can also be a profoundly inspirational and life changing experience.

In 1999, I began a project for the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education. I was given the opportunity to photograph local Holocaust survivors. When I realized I would have the chance to meet Bronia, I was thrilled. I made her portrait at the bakery one morning, but more important, I made a friend who has become an important and enduring force in my life.

I have yet to meet anyone who embraces each day and each person she meets with more gusto than my friend Bronia.

To spend time with this smart, funny, kind and gentlewoman is to get a huge dose of love and laughter (not to mention some great chicken soup, if you happen to visit her around mealtime... scratch that - anytime really). And if you are paying attention, you can also learn an important lesson or two... about things like tolerance, kindness, compassion and love of life.


Today, Eddie and I got to sing to her as she celebrated her 80th birthday with her many friends and family members.



Happy Birthday to Bronia, a real treasure. I count myself as one of the lucky ones whose life has been touched - and changed - by the courage, strength, determination and goodness that defines this very special woman.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

updates

Paul Dorrell of the Leopold Gallery here in Kansas City has offered me a show of the Uganda work at his new space, scheduled to have its grand opening in March. My show will open April 27th and run through May. Paul seems really passionate about the work, which is great, and he also cares about helping support the cause, so he has offered to donate a portion of all print sales to “Change the Truth.” I think that is very cool. I am hoping to show about thirty pieces. The prints I am making are 13” x 19.” He has asked me to give a gallery talk, as well, so I am now clearly motivated to get my video/slide show put together. More info on this exhibition will follow! In the meantime, he now has a small inventory of my “Convergence” work. I am really looking forward to working with Paul, and his gallery assistant, Robin.

You may have noticed a new addition to the blog. On the right hand side I have listed some of my favorites place to go on the web. I will update this periodically. And speaking of updates, the nice guys at Greentie Design have made some additions to my website, which now includes the Uganda work, more pieces form the Shredding Project and a few new portraits. These guys are great to work with, and if any of you have design needs, whether it be print or web, I recommend them highly. You can find them at www.greentie.com.

There has been a flurry of activity over at the Jewish Community Foundation where their mail carrier has been delivering a lot of checks for “Change the Truth." Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

new letters magazine

Volume 73, Number 1 of New Letters Magazine is hot off the press! As you may recall reading in an earlier post, Robert Stewart, the editor of this highly regarded literary magazine, expressed immediate interest in the Uganda photographs back in November just after my return home. He was committed to getting the images published in the upcoming issue, and he and his staff did indeed manage to put it together in short order. I got to see a finished copy yesterday. It is a beautiful issue, packed with outstanding poetry, essays, fiction and reviews, along with many of the pictures I have been sharing with you on this blog. The cover features one of the photographs I made at the boxing gym in Kampala. Bob suggested that it be reproduced in color, and I happily trusted his judgment. I must admit it looks pretty darn nice. I especially love what Bob has to say in the editor’s note:

"Two days after I arranged with Gloria Baker Feinstein to publish her extraordinary images of Uganda, and of orphaned children there, a church I visited featured a group called the Children’s Choir of Uganda. Those events occurred independently, a coincidence probably best not elevated to the level of 'synchronicity,' but I did notice common traits between the choir’s performance – just three girls and two boys, dressed in white – and these photographs. Both exist in a context of deprivation and terror, and both bring with them life and joy.

As the Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jimenez once explained, a work of art can be said to be complete when the perfect and the imperfect are in equilibrium. No one goes out looking for art. One merely puts himself or herself into a state of openness. What brings these Ugandan children and some adults to us, now? 'Of the 24.7-million people living in Uganda, East Africa, 13 million are under the age of 15,' Gloria Feinstein has written, 'and 2.2 million have lost one or both parents to the two-decade-long civil war or to AIDS.' She points out, also, that the whole of Africa has 12 million orphans today and, according to a UNAIDS report, will have 18 million by 2010.

The stories, poems, essays, and photographs in this issue do not back away from such facts and realities, which one poem here recalls as 'slaved land' and another as 'terrible dreams.' We know we have achieved the level of art when such visions of difficulties find balance with another truth, one just as tough. Take a look."

If you would like to get a copy of the magazine – and I’d encourage you to subscribe – go to their website at: www.newletters.org. Single issues are available now at the UMKC bookstore and will be at Borders in a week or so. You can also call: 816-235-1168 or e-mail them at newletters@umkc.edu.

New Letters has been tremendously supportive over the years, and I am always so honored when they choose to publish my photographs.

Monday, December 18, 2006

good people

I have begun corresponding with a man from Seattle who has spent time at St. Mary Kevin’s (my initial contact with Rosemary and Michael was made through a friend of a friend in Seattle, and all these folks know one another). Not only does he seem to fully understand the organizational and financial aspects of the way things run at the orphanage, he also seems very tuned into the emotional and educational needs of the children who are there. His name is Scott. On his most recent to Uganda, where he has visited a lot of different schools and orphanages, he even made a “music video” of the children at St. Mary Kevin’s singing one of their wonderful songs. He is going to share that with me so that I can include it in the power point presentation I am assembling. Scott couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about the place, and he gave me permission to use an excerpt from his email:

“I was frankly stunned by the talent of these children. How incredibly impressed I was with that was only exceeded by the vision of Rosemary and how SMKOM was doing such outstanding work (with such limited resources) to advance a new generation. She shows the world how it is possible to bring children from the brink of disaster and take them to the launch pad of success in life. I have been in most regions of Uganda and Kenya: SMKOM sets the mark - all they need are better financial resources. They have the values, vision, management skill, transparency and accountability - it is all there in place right now - and they have commitment to love for these children. Throughout Africa this kind of love is demonstrated - it is the most powerful force arrayed against the health crisis in Africa - it is so much bigger than what the West does in aid. But Rosemary has shown how to magnify and make so much more effective this work. The whole idea of bringing "motherhood" into the idea of orphan care utterly transcends (and quite frankly puts to shame) the typical Western ideas about foster care. And to see a rock solid commitment to what is, in effect, affirmative action on behalf of young women - completes the picture. Well meaning Europeans and Americans have so much to learn from the staff and managers there. I am delighted to team with you in this work.”

Change the Truth will simply continue to be a better foundation with people like Scott in our corner.

This is true, also, of people like my friend, Laura, who shared this letter she sent to her young nephews in Chicago - children who, this year, are receiving the gift of a donation made in their honor, rather than another toy to toss on a pile that is already quite large:

“Recently my friend, Gloria, went to Uganda, East Africa to do a project there to photograph the orphanages. She has set up a fund that is called Change the Truth, which will directly benefit the children at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood in Uganda, East Africa. The money that I am sending there in your honor will enable the children in the orphanage to go to school and get an education to better their lives. I thought that since education is so important to our family, and since we are all getting an A+ education, it would be thoughtful for us to allow other children to have the same opportunities.

I hope this year the children of all of our families will realize how fortunate we really are to have wonderful families, good health, great education and love and support from one another. I hope this donation can make a difference in other children’s lives.”

And in this corner we are building, there is also my son. For Chanukah last night, Max gave me a check made out to Change the Truth.

I am so fortunate to know these generous and thoughtful people.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

the baker gallery

I was invited recently to attend the lecture and book signing for Annie Leibovitz when she come to Kansas City next month to promote her new book. Sure takes me back…

Some of you may know that in the 1980’s I had a place called The Baker Gallery. It was in the days when collecting photography was just coming into its own, when important pieces by important photographers could be had for less that $500, and when well known photographers were accessible and approachable. The gallery became a meeting place for local and regional shooters – on Saturdays many could be found there, hanging out schmoozing, looking through the latest photo books, going through the flat files, buying postcards and posters, talking about their latest work. The tried and true Kansas City art collectors slowly came around to acknowledging photography as “art” and started to assemble interesting photo collections of their own. Every month, there was a new show, accompanied by a crowded opening with cheap wine and lots of good conversation. I started the gallery when my oldest, Abbie, was just a baby, in the living and dining rooms of our home in 1981 and soon relocated to 800 square feet of gallery space in a section of town known for its galleries and antique stores. I had no idea, really, what I was getting into – I just knew I loved making photography, I loved the history of photography, I loved collecting photography, and I loved educating other people about the wonders of it all. I showed many of my favorite photographers, of course: Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt, Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Andre Kertesz, Imogen Cunningham, Joel Meyerowitz and Aaron Siskind, among others. The Baker Gallery was in existence for over ten years, and during that time I had the great pleasure of bringing some of the photographers I showed to Kansas City for their opening and for a lecture. It was a blast. Among those who graced the premises of the gallery were Judy Dater, John Pfahl, Nancy Burson, Marsha Burns, Ken Josephson, Annie Leibovitz, and even, Kertesz.

It was the Annie Leibovitz opening that really put the gallery on the map. Most of the people who frequented the gallery before Annie came to town for her opening and book signing were limited to serious collectors, photo enthusiasts and art students. After the big event on that cold winter’s evening in December of 1985, the gallery was known to just about everyone in town. Her images of pop culture icons brought people out of the woodwork! There were so many people who wanted to get a copy of her book and have her sign it that there was a line going all the way around the block. She had me crank up the music to deafening heights, she had her giant stamp pad placed next to the huge stack of books so that she could put her handprint on each one she signed, the press covered it, well, it was a pretty wonderful time. (By the way, Annie had an oversized stamp pad tucked away in her bag which she hoisted out once the opening reception finally died down. She took off her cowboy boots and proceeded to put both footprints on my copy of the book).




Those gallery days were heady ones.

Annie will be back in town in a few weeks. A lot has changed in the 21 years since I saw her last.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

it's official

Word came down today that Kansas City's premiere photo lab will no longer process film - black & white or color - as of January 1, 2007. Just not profitable anymore, they've informed us. I have gotten various e-mails from fellow photographers titled "End of an Era" and "The Good Old Days are Over." Not only do I feel sad, but I also feel old, dinosaur-like really. (I mentioned this to one pal, and he quickly shot back this response: You, Gloria, are aging like a fine wine... in my case, it's more like cheese. Thanks, Michael. That made me feel a little better).

Anyhow, what does this mean to someone like me who actually does still shoot film? (I know, you're gagging at this point, choked with disbelief and horror). It's true. My Hassie still gets a very good workout. For my portrait work, that's pretty much all I use, and for my fine art stuff, it's the same sad tale. I know, I know - I can still process film in my own darkroom (still one of my favorite rooms in our house) but when a person has 25 rolls of 120 on a Monday morning, lots of shooting to do, letters and emails to write, a foundation to nurture, laundry to tend to, volunteer work, grocery shopping to do, well, you get the picture... (Please, no violins). I have jobbed out my film processing to Custom Color for many, many years. A couple of years ago, I even started jobbing out most of my printing (Jesse, you're the best), due to a lack of time and a sore back and legs from standing in the darkroom all day. I guess I could send the film to a lab out of town, but that seems complicated. Still (she whines) this is just not right. I am not ready!! Does this mean I have to make the plunge for real, for good, for sure, to the digital side - no turning back?

I suppose I knew the day was coming. Who have I been trying to kid, anyway.

There's something really beautiful about film. There is a quality to a silver print that is timeless and lovely and magical and wonderful, and well... silvery!

There is also that connection to my younger self, I guess.

Okay, so let it go, Gloria. Grow up, get real, join the 21st century. Grab your CF card and march with your head held high to your nearest computer to begin downloading!

I'm trrryyyyying (moan, whimper).

Wait, just let me run one more roll of film through my 30 year old plastic toy camera, Diana - you know, for old times sake. And can't I take my 40 year old trusty, sturdy, faithful Hasselblad out for a spin just a few more times? You know, just the two of us? After all, we've been together for a long time now.

I am going to miss those two dear friends a lot.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

l’dor va dor

In Hebrew it means “from generation to generation.”

As a child growing up in central Kentucky, I was keenly aware that my parents were always quietly helping those in need. It wasn’t until a few days ago, however, that I made the connection between a particular program my father initiated many years ago at his business and the Change the Truth fund I have just started.

My father owned and operated a scrap metal yard for 57 years. Many of his employees were African Americans, struggling to provide for their families. Back in the fifties, he established his “tuition plan.” Here’s what he told me about it:

“I was always interested in the education problem. After the local universities opened their doors to black children, I started asking some of our employees about their kid’s education. As a result of these discussions, I decided to offer to pay tuition to a state university for any child of an employee who had worked for the firm at least five years. I did not keep a record of our successes, but I remember once that a son of a press operator surprised me by graduating with a degree in engineering and going to work for Lexmark, and there was another engineering graduate who got a job in Cincinnati. Though many of the children dropped out, some years we had as many as five or six in the program.”

The children I met in Uganda are able to attend school for free until they get to secondary school. The fees at this point vary, but most are in the $100 to $300 per year range. I asked Michael what the fees are for the children who attend schools in the area around St. Mary Kevin’s, and he sent me this response:

“The secondary school fees are US $95 per term, and we have three terms in the year which makes it US $285, and I am sure if everything goes well, the children will be happy.”

As I was wandering around the grounds of the orphanage one day, an extraordinarily poised and beautiful young woman named Josephine introduced herself to me and started tagging along with me as I made pictures. With tears in her eyes at one point, she basically pleaded her case to me. She looked me square in the face and told me that her father had died and that her mother could not afford the fees that she now needs to attend school. She told me, in nearly flawless English, that she wants to be a lawyer or a teacher. She was taking a chance with me, though she never asked directly if I could or would help her.




Okay, so now I am making an appeal. Josephine and others like her need our help. Please consider making a contribution to the Change the Truth fund, if you have not done so already. Click on the link to your right, the one that says “donate now” and you’ll see where you can send a check.

My dad told me he mailed his check yesterday. How cool is that? He’s still teaching me… and still setting a tender example of kindness, generosity and compassion.

...From generation to generation.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

cool comments

Your work and commitment to your cause is admirable - don't forget that the work you are doing is good and right for our world and that because of your decision to make a change - great things are happening.

-Susan P.

I was listening to the news this morning about water on Mars and Harvard's rethinking of what constitutes basic core knowledge and how to teach to undergraduates. Then I think about benighted Burundi and oppressed orphans in Uganda. What disparity in the human experience!

-Leslie M.

The St. Mary Kevin community, Rosemary and I are so happy for everything you are doing for the project. I have been visiting your blog ever since you left. I think you should tell Eddie that you are changing the truth. You are really showing exactly what is at the orphanage and I am sure it will change the orphanage in future.

-Michael M. (director of St. Mary Kevin Orphanage)

I am so moved by the foundation you have set up for the orphanage. Every young person one meets in Uganda needs school funds so badly that I am glad you are helping. Although this won't be but a drop in a bucket, I'm planning to ask my advisory group if they would like to donate our collection to Change the Truth. I'll be in touch. Meanwhile, WOW!

-Val O.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

done, made or conducted without the knowledge of others


My son in law, Sam, recently wrote a song, which is an ode to Emily Dickinson. He and Abbie sing it together, their sweet voices harmonizing beautifully in the chorus:

"Emily binds her secrets up with a needle and thread..."…

Abbie joins in on the word "“with" and it gives me goosebumps when their two voices complete the line, sort of woven together themselves. Anyhow, I must admit to not knowing a whole lot about Emily, and I've been wondering what Sam meant. After doing some quick research, I learned that the poet, who only had a handful of pieces published while she was alive, kept most of her poems hidden away. Hundreds of them were discovered by her sister, Lavinia, upon Emily'’s death. They were found, mostly written in pencil, mostly untitled and often unfinished, tied into little handmade books, stitched together with string by Emily's own hand.

I've been listening to that song a lot lately. As a result, I have been thinking about secrets.

Keeping them, knowingly or unknowingly, is something I think we all do. As someone who makes art, I must confess that secrets often become part of the fabric of an image I am making (especially one that is particularly personal) or even, the reason for making the piece in the first place.

The old family pictures I “"stitched" together (The Shredding Project) are, for me, a lot about secrets - secrets we kept from one another then, things that we imagined where going on then, but kept to ourselves, thoughts we had about one another, but kept to ourselves, etc.

Even the pictures I made in Uganda hold many secrets. The children in the photographs have many of their own - some very horrible - and you can just about begin to see the murmuring of one of those secrets poised on their lips if you look hard enough.

My favorite photographer, Diane Arbus, once said, "A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know."

Every Sunday, some members of this family go to a site called postsecret.blogspot.com. Posted on it each week is a collection of peoples' secrets, which they now feel the need to share with others (although they are all anonymous.) You might check it out sometime if secrets intrigue you, too.

I guess, based on the definition I found in on old Webster's dictionary, you could say that anything we make or do alone is a secret.

It's the process of revealing that secret that is so interesting to me.

Friday, December 08, 2006

james kim

As my family has followed the James Kim story, each of us, in our own way, has been taken back in time thirteen years. In October of 1993, my sister’s 38 year old husband, Rob, left Seattle early one morning to fly a small plane to Kelso, Washington with his colleague, Lena. The two worked for public television – Rob, a videographer, Lena, a producer - and were working on a story about old growth forests in the northwest. The weather was bad that morning, and fog overtook the area. Rob’s plane went down. Lena died on impact, but Rob survived the crash itself. He climbed out of the wreckage and began trekking across the rugged terrain, one that was very similar to what James Kim tried to navigate, toward the highway. Rob went missing for two days. Search and Rescue, accompanied by close friends and family members, found him later the second day. Like James Kim, Rob died from hypothermia. He, too, had begun to shed his clothes. He, too, possessed the mental skills and the physical attributes for surviving such dire conditions, but, in the end, the temperature dipped too low. Like James Kim, Rob left behind two beautiful daughters and a smart, kind and loving wife.

I think about Rob’s heroic last few hours often. I heard my sister tell the story a hundred times to her two year old about how “Daddy tried so hard to get back to you, to us.”

Now I think about James Kim’s last hours, how he reached deeper than he probably knew he ever could, to try and save his family. I also think about the way the story will be told by Kati Kim to her daughters, and how, over the years, they will come to know him through that story and the memories and legacy he left behind. He, like Rob, seemed like an amazing husband, father and friend.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

great holiday gift idea!

“To see and read about the direct impact your efforts, and those of other contributors, can have on the lives of these wonderful people is something I would like to be a part of. Thank you for sharing your stories and for taking the next step. This project gives people the opportunity to become a bit closer and more humane to one another, and that is a fantastic thing in this world full of so much hatred and violence!” -Patti R.

Some good friends of mine have decided to give donations to Change the Truth to their friends and family for the holidays. They asked me to print up some cards that will be mailed to the recipients to notify them of the gift. I thought this was a terrific idea, so I printed up quite a few of these cards. If you think you might want to follow my friends' lead and give the gift of supporting the orphanage, please let me know. I can mail you the cards once you've made a donation.

Also, I have assigned pen pals to everyone who has asked for one. I have a few children on the list who have not yet gotten a pen pal, so if anyone would like a name and address, please pass that request on to me, as well. Included on the list of kids who would like a pen pal are: a 14 year old girl, a 16 year old girl, a 14 year old boy, a 12 year old boy, a 16 year old boy, and a 13 year old boy.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

just the facts, ma’am

St. Mary Day and Boarding School was established in 1987. The next year, the name Kevin was added in honor of a Ugandan saint, Sister Kevin, who kept the interests of children foremost in her heart. The word “motherhood” was added to the name, as well, to recognize the fact that the school is about family and raising children, not simply “housing” orphans.

Rosemary, the founder, defied many social barriers when she began integrating orphans into the fabric of the school, but she felt compelled to do so as AIDS began to ravage the country and sometimes wipe out entire families. More than half of the school’s population now is made up of orphans. They call St. Mary’s home, and they call Rosemary mother.

The school raises some of its own money by farming and brick making. The children literally built their school and lodgings with their own hands. Not only does the school benefit from the use of the bricks and the sale of the bricks, this project supports the needs of orphans who endeavor to mainstream into Ugandan society by teaching them a vocational skill.

Children at St. Mary Kevin have come to Uganda from as far away as Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan, Congo, Chad and Niger. They have been abandoned, often abused and mistreated. As I have mentioned before, many of the children come from northern Uganda, where they have lost their families to the “hidden” war that is being waged by the Lords Resistance Army. In fact, 25% of all children over ten years old in northern Uganda have lost one or both parents to the war. Only the AIDS pandemic has created more orphans in the St. Mary Kevin community.

The main goal, as stated by Rosemary, is to provide opportunities to orphaned, disabled and disadvantaged children by accessing primary and vocational education as a way to uplift their standard of living and promote awareness of primary health care.

These are the objectives that have been spelled out in her executive summary:

- provide care, parental love and shelter to the orphaned
- counsel drug addicts, initiate them into the school system and, when possible, reunite them with their families
- acquire and distribute scholastic materials
- make parents, guardians and teachers realize the need to freely talk to their children about STDs, especially the HIV/AIDS epidemic
- assist the children to start simple income generating projects like poultry, piggery and growing of vegetables in order to earn a living
- train the children in vocational skills to make them self-reliant citizens of tomorrow












Tuesday, December 05, 2006

satchel paige and max

Today my baby turns 18. Well, he’s not a baby, of course - he’s taller than me and usually has a few days worth of stubble on his chin. He wins by a mile whenever we have a tickling match or a game of ping pong. He’s even in the process of applying to college. But in my mind, Max will always be my little one, the baby who needs tending, the one who needs extra doses of nurturing.

I remember Max at 18 months. He used to pad about the house in his little blue Mickey Mouse shoes, going from room to room with toilet paper dragging in one hand. You see, he would go into the bathroom, start to unroll the toilet paper, then walk around into different rooms doing whatever it was he was doing in each room, and leave a trail of toilet paper for me to follow. I guess he wanted his independence, but he also wanted to make sure I knew where he was at any given moment.

Which brings me around to Satchel Paige. “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” Paige apparently posed this question at some point in his illustrious career, because the quote ended up on a birthday card that someone sent me years ago. I have had it hanging in my office ever since. I like the notion that you can basically create your own reality about things in life, even when it comes to your age.

If I wasn’t paying attention to the calendar, I could imagine that Max was still 18 months old. One night recently, he managed to convince us to let him stay out later than his curfew, and I was pleasantly surprised when he called a couple of times to make sure we knew where he was. No toilet paper, but it sure seemed like he was casting a similar kind of safety net.

If I wasn’t paying attention to the calendar, I could imagine that I am still that 36 year old who ran around the house, following his little paper trail, pretending to be startled when I discovered him in the next room, scooping him up in my arms, turning him upside down and tickling him wildly, the two of us dissolving into uncontrollable laughter.

It’s not that hard for me to be whatever age it is that I feel like being. Even when the unexplainable aches and pains of A.G.E. scream for attention, and even as Max continues to spread his wings as a young adult, I feel lucky to have wonderful and lively memories that can - and do - easily transport me (us) back in time.

Happy birthday, Max.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

december in kansas city



Several inches of snow have blanketed Kansas City. The first snowfall of the season is always a sight to behold. Kids on sleds, quiet streets with no traffic, smoke billowing from neighbors' chimneys, icicles hanging like bits of sculpture from tree limbs.. it's actually quite beautiful. I'll get tired of it after the third or fourth storm, but the first one is always nice.

I have been gratified by several events that took place during the two days that the snow fell. First, we hit the 50 mark for "Change the Truth." That is, 50 of you have asked to be included as friends of the orphanage, expressing a desire to donate clothing, money, books, communicate with a pen pal, etc. I am so happy to have reached this point - a first step, but a big one. Next, Brian, an immensely talented photographer and designer who was a participant in the workshop, has graciously offered to help out with the design work for "Change the Truth." Brian did some amazing photography in Uganda - I loved his work. I had not seen his design work until recently, and it, too, is quite impressive. He "gets" what this is all about, and I am thrilled to have him in our corner. I also heard from Tim, another workshop friend and fantastic photographer, who has offered to do what he can to try to get the songs the children at St. Mary Kevin's sing "out there" somehow. Tim used to be in the recording business (among a myriad of other interesting and admirable accomplishments) and feels he may be able to help out in that arena. I am really excited to start working with him on this project! And then, last but not least, the Jewish Community Foundation informed me that the first few checks for "Change the Truth" arrived this week. I wrote to Michael at the orphanage to give him the good news, and he is so happy!

So am I.

I wondered as I watched the snow fly on Thursday and Friday what the kids at St. Mary Kevin's would have thought of it... seeing snow for the first time. One day when I was at the orphanage it was pouring down rain, and the children were loving every minute of it, in spite of the fact they see rain all the time. They were dancing in it, chasing each other around in it, getting soaked to the bone. I imagined them running and jumping in my front yard here on 58th Street, their heads tilted upward so they could catch the snow on their tongues. I could practically hear all the shouting and the laughter.

Friday, December 01, 2006

an old fashioned kind of gal



I was told recently by an Apple rep that, on average, people shoot five times as many pictures with a digital camera than they do/did with a film camera. I bet some shooters go way above that number. It made me stop and think a bit about this whole digital revolution, which I have begun to join kicking and screaming, by the way.

People sometimes ask how many images I made before I got to a key picture, like the bird that is on the cover of my book. I shot four frames of that bird, total. I spent most of my time watching what was going on around the scene (noticing the baby who suddenly appeared in her father's arms next to me), anticipating what might happen next (the baby pointing to the bird) and thinking hard about how I wanted to frame the moment in my viewfinder. Now I know this sounds kind of archaic in this day and age, but, for me it still seems about right. If I had been quickly firing off shots, paying attention to my camera (making adjustments, looking at the pictures I'd just taken) and not much else, I might have missed that "decisive moment" when the baby's finger lined up so beautifully with the bird's beak. On the other hand, since my Hasselblad actually goes "black" at the moment I squeeze the shutter, did I really have any idea that I had captured that perfect moment? Was I just lucky?

I don't know - maybe luck comes into play with both shooting methods. I do know this, though: being a very patient observer can and usually does lead to a fuller understanding of the world, not to mention a pretty good photograph of the event you are watching. I am afraid that the new generation of digital shooters are going to abandon the need to be patient and methodical and thoughtful when making pictures, because the camera will allow them to frantically capture every slight change in the scene and will basically do that thinking for them. It almost seems to me that these days the key to finding the right image is post production - that it is in the sifting through of hundred of images that the "perfect" one is found.

I like the idea of finding that perfect image just as I am making it. And then hoping I got it! That's the other thing. With digital, shooters look immediately at the screen on the back of the camera to see if they "got it". There is something very poetic and slow and magical about waiting a few days to process your film. It gives you time to think about what you shot, what you hope it might look like photographed, what it might mean to you or to others who view it. There is something to be said for letting the image process in your brain as well as in the developer.

I don't know. If I had shot 20 images of the bird, would I have made a better picture than the one I got? How would the other shots have been different? What if I had been so busy shooting that I missed the one I got? And more important, would I have missed out on the whole "feeling" of the scene - would I have not taken time to look at the father holding the baby, the man who was tending the bird, the baby herself, the other people standing around admiring the bird? What did those connections and discoveries bring to the picture, if anything?

The photograph above was the only one I made of the cow wandering around on the grounds of the orphanage The cow just kind of stuck her head into the frame, it was so neatly symmetrical with the child on the other end of the frame, the moment seemed right, and voila, I made a picture. I didn't "work the scene" by trying lots of other variations. It just felt right at that moment and seemed worthy of my attention. Maybe I could have gotten a better shot if I had made more exposures, but then I might have missed what was happening on the other end of the building, which led to another moment worthy of my attention.

I just hope we digital shooters don't forget that we still have to do the thinking, yes, even though cameras these days claim to do it all themselves. Patience, thoughtfulness, a keen sense of observation, and oh, yes, heart... I don't think even the most mega-pixeled camera on the market today can offer any of these features.