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

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

birthday

Today is my mom’s birthday. If she were still alive she’d be 84.

I guess I started taking pictures of her when I was around seven or eight. I didn’t take many of her alone then; this one of her standing by the car is of the few I can find. I remember that she didn’t like having her picture taken – she’d pose patiently for a couple of seconds, then dismiss the whole thing with an “Oh, Gloria!” and kind of shoo me away. As I got older, I think I took her picture mostly when she wasn’t looking. When she did gaze at me and give me the gift of a portrait, I recall lingering in the viewfinder just to study her a bit longer. She was really beautiful in my eyes - much more elegant and stylish than I’d ever hoped to be. Later in life, with her snow-white hair, porcelain skin, clear blue eyes and long, tapered fingers, I thought she was striking.

early 1960's

1972

1999

2002

the day before my mom died, 2005

Monday, February 26, 2007

making pictures

My camera and I have been in some pretty sad situations together. I have made pictures at the sites of several former Nazi concentration camps in Central Europe and pictures of my mother dying. I have found myself imposing a frame around faces at AIDS orphanages in Uganda and those tearfully staring at the remains of the twin towers in New York City. The work I’ve been doing at Operation Breakthrough has been heart wrenching as well.

People have asked me from time to time how I can get it together to raise the camera to my eye and concentrate on making an image at a time when I should be crying my eyes out. I’ve thought about that a lot. All I know for sure is that using the camera can do two things for me: remove me from the scene and bring me closer to the scene.

Photographing my mother as she died made it seem less real for me, but also shook me and forced me to really look at what was happening.

One day last week I went with a young woman to the cemetery to make pictures of her at the grave of her brother. He had been killed on the streets of Kansas City, gunned down while walking home one day. This young woman, a teenager, told me that her family had been able to raise enough money to bury her brother, but not to put a head stone at the burial site. Since I was supposed to photograph her where he was buried, she wanted to make sure that was where she was standing. But if there is no head stone or marker of any kind, that’s kind of hard to do. She explained to me that shortly after he died, she had crafted a marker herself, had dug a small hole in the ground and had placed it just where she thought the coffin had gone into the ground. The groundskeeper at the cemetery had removed it, though. So, the only way she can find the right spot these days is to feel around on the ground for the indentation that was left by the home made marker.

Now I must say I was pretty stoic while listening to the story of the murder and the funeral and the hand made marker – after all, I had a job to do and that was to make photographs. Remove myself from the situation…

But as I watched through the viewfinder as this young woman kicked the ground, trying desperately to find where her brother was with the toe of her grubby sneaker, getting angrier and more frustrated by the minute, it finally got to me. Bring me closer to the situation…

There is always that moment when it does eventually get to me. Usually, though, it’s after the fact. I remember finally breaking down in the darkroom, as I was rocking an image of shoes from Auschwitz in my tray of developer.

I guess I had removed myself from them when I was there, concentrating on the correct shutter and film speed I needed to use in order to make the proper exposure.

Then I guess I got closer to them as I stood there in the glow of the darkroom red light noticing for the first time the shapes and sizes and styles of the shoes, the seemingly infinite number of them, the sadness left behind in them.

Fighting back tears that afternoon last week at the cemetery really caught me off guard.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

child of africa

Filmmaker Susan Panelli returned from Uganda last weekend with some great footage she shot at the orphanage. She will provide Change the Truth with whatever we need for our video presentation and for the website that is currently under construction. She's also going to make a short film to give to the orphanage for use in their own fund raising endeavors. It was so wonderful of Susan to make the trip up to St. Mary Kevin's from Kampala. I appreciate her willingness to get involved on this level. Thank you so much, Susan.

This is a beautiful clip of a young girl named Shamim singing "Child of Africa." This song was written by one of the teachers at St. Mary Kevin's and is usually sung by several children. I actually have a nice audio version of this being sung by the group, but the single voice of Shamim is, I believe, powerfully haunting and sad.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

the truth – how quickly it can change

As if from out of nowhere, on Monday, the President of Uganda announced a program of Universal Secondary Education for all qualified students in the country! This is extraordinary news, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to know that the children whose truth we want to change will have this opportunity. In an e-mail I received from Rosemary, the director of St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood, she expressed her gladness on behalf of the children, but also indicated that the implementation of the program has not been without challenges.

“About the Free Secondary Education (USE), it has just been introduced by the government of Uganda. This year some schools were selected to take part in the USE program, majority of the schools are in villages, a few schools in Kampala. The number of students turning up for senior one has overwhelmed the schools, as they cannot accommodate them. We will however carry out further research to see how best the children at the orphanage that are starting their secondary education can best benefit from this program. All the children selected by Change the Truth Fund are in school now. A detailed report about this will be sent to you soon.”

While this is such encouraging news, and could mean that we will no longer need to provide financial support for secondary education for the children at the orphanage, there is so much more that needs to be done and to which we will now turn our attention. The needs of the orphanage are many, from basic necessities like food and clothing, to infrastructure like buildings and technology, to financial support for University education. The Change the Truth Fund will continue to play an important role. As I learn more from Rosemary, I will keep you posted.

starfish



I spent the morning in the sound studio listening to the Operation Breakthrough “success story” interviews. It’s moving to hear about the rescue of this or that particular child and inspiring to think that we each are capable of doing something so good for someone else that it can turn his/her life around. It made me remember a story our rabbi told a few years ago during one of his sermons. You may have already heard a similar tale, but I believe it’s worth considering again and again.

- A kid is walking along a beach that is absolutely covered with starfish. They have been washed ashore by a bad storm, and apparently, starfish can’t survive for very long out of the water. This kid knows it and stoops to pick up one of the starfish. She then tosses it back into the ocean and proceeds to pick up another. A man walks by and asks what in the world she is doing. “I’m throwing them back so they can live,” she explained. “But you can’t possibly really make a difference here!” the man responded as he motioned towards the thousands of starfish that lay at their feet. “Oh, but look,” the girl called out as she threw back another of the little creatures… “I just made a difference in the life of THAT one!”

Monday, February 19, 2007

jinja

This last print puts the finishing touch on the body of work from Uganda, 2006.




I am now trying to figure out when I can return to the Pearl of Africa. (By the way, if you have not yet seen “The Last King of Scotland” I urge you to do so. It is an incredibly well acted, beautifully shot and apparently fairly accurate portrayal of the Idi Amin era and was filmed in and around Kampala).

The snow is finally melting. It’s even supposed to hit 60 degrees in Kansas City today.

I am beginning to feel a twinge of optimism that this forgettable winter will actually come to an end.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

letter from susan

Susan, a filmmaker from Minneapolis, just completed her two-week Maine Photographic Workshop in Uganda. She and I began corresponding via e-mail when I was there in October. We have developed a wonderful friendship during these few months, and she graciously offered to go to the orphanage to shoot some footage for my video presentation. Once she finished her own project on Thursday, she did just that. She made her way to Kajjansi with, not only her video gear, but also baby blankets (that her friends had made) toys and candy! She promised to get some pictures of some of the kids who have become pen pals, as well as those who are benefiting from the Change the Truth school fee grants.

I knew she was trekking to St. Mary Kevin’s on Friday and couldn’t wait to hear from her on Saturday. I don’t think she’ll mind if I share her letter. She had already become such an enthusiastic supporter of Change the Truth, but now I know she is definitely smitten with the children she met at the orphanage! Thank you, Susan, for all your help.

“Saturday, February 17, 2007

I spent the entire day with the children and staff of St. Mary Kevin Orphanage. These are the children who will benefit from Gloria Baker Feinstein's Change the Truth Fund. As much as I don't want to sound like a public service announcement, I must say - each year we consider various organizations to give our money to. This year, we'll be sending to Change the Truth.




The above picture is of the older boys from the orphanage - some of whom are benefiting from Change the Truth. The young man second from left is Edward Male, the young man in the middle is Henry Semanda (my husband Alfredo’s pen pal) and the young man on the far right is Emma Vincent.

These young men and young women - danced and sang for me for an hour - it was unbelievable. In all that joy and excitement - you forget the conditions that many of these kids came from. I was lucky to interview a few of the boys. Emma Vincent stood out to me - he was on the street at a very early age - but was picked up by Rosemary when he was 8 - he's been at the orphanage since - he is now 14. He is soft spoken, very articulate, and an incredible dancer and singer. I was also able to interview Henry - he was sooooo nervous but so excited to read the letter that Alfredo had sent. He wants to grow up and be an electrician - it was so sweet!

I also met with the young children who were recently brought to the orphanage. They come from all different backgrounds and places and they've seen so much in their short lives. I will never know their struggles or understand them. However, I do know that in order for the orphanage to continue to provide beds, food, schooling, and love to these children they need an enormous amount of help.

My experience at the orphanage was an eye opener - how is it that so many have nothing.”

Thursday, February 15, 2007

success. part two


One day seven years ago a mother handed her infant to the folks at Operation Breakthrough and said, “If you don’t keep him for me, something bad is going to happen to him.” She said in a note that she’d be back in three weeks to get him. That mother did not return, and the boy ended up being adopted by a single woman in her 20s who fell in love with him while helping care for him at the center. This exuberant, fun loving and endearing child loves super heroes and usually becomes one each evening as he flies around the house in full Batman, Superman or Spiderman attire. He’s one of the success stories we’re featuring in the video.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

sleep walking


Sometimes it feels like Africa was just a dream. The longer I am back, the further from my reality it seems. Lucky for me that I am still sifting through images and am heavily involved in raising awareness and money for the orphanage.

The more it feels like a dream, the more I am drawn to images like this one, another that was previously overlooked.

Monday, February 12, 2007

a glaring omission at the grammys

If you want to catch a really good singer-songwriter duo, one that should have been front and center at the Grammys last night (come on... I am their mother, after all) and if you’re going to be in or anywhere near New Orleans on Lundi Gras, head over to the Neutral Ground Coffeehouse. At 8 PM the group formerly known as “The Coupons” now doing business as “The Odd Ducks” but mostly just called “Sam and Abbie” will take the stage. They perform a bunch of original stuff and also cover people like Lucinda Williams, Radiohead, Gillian Welch, John Prine, the Be Good Tanyas and Martin Sexton.

Abbie and Sam have been singing together since they met in college. Their voices weave a luxurious harmony. Sam plays a mean guitar; Abbie plays the bass for a couple of numbers. I don’t think you could find a better way to spend the evening next Monday in New Orleans. Tell them "G-Lo" sent you!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

seniors just wanna have fu-un

Max is sitting on top of the world. He’s a senior. I’m not sure he even remembers what color his backpack is, much less what’s inside it. Here’s a kid who never watched much T.V. who now can recite the dialogue of nearly every South Park episode, including some that even make me (pleeeease don’t watch that garbage) laugh. Max has always had lots of friends, but of the opposite sex? This is exciting and slightly nerve-wracking. In my day, compadres of a different sexual makeup were not allowed to step foot in my bedroom – no make that, get within fifty feet of it. These days, it’s where they all, different sexual makeup or not, hang out.

In this charming boy’s back pocket is an acceptance letter and an academic achievement scholarship to Tulane University for next fall. He’s waiting to hear from four or five other schools. USC is still poised as the favorite.

Max is in a band now. A punk band. He’s quick to point out to people that he does not live the punk lifestyle; he’s just in a punk band. I must tell you, though, it’s weird that my son has a friend named Savage. I mean, really, how is a mom supposed to respond when her son announces that Savage is coming over to play?

Max and his posse of best guy friends, a couple of whom used to hang around here in their diapers, now spend a lot of time out in the hot tub. They almost always have something to “celebrate”, and they do this by smoking cigars.

Last night was the WPA (Women Pay All) dance at Max’s school. We used to call it Sadie Hawkins back in the 60’s and 70’s. Anyhow, our son, who doesn’t know or care about the difference between silk and cashmere, Hugo Boss or Armani, was asked by his date to wear a teal tie to match her dress. He even borrowed one of Eddie’s black shirts and man, did he look dashing.



Here’s Max, on top of the world, being silly with his date. He’s having the time of his life.

When you think about it, isn’t this a perfect time to do so?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

leopold gallery exhibition

Many have asked if I am still represented by Dolphin in Kansas City. Yes. I have been with them for nine years now, and I treasure the wonderful relationship I have with John and Emily. They have been steady supporters of my work and have become good friends, as well. (They recently placed five oversized shredded pieces in the offices of a midtown ad agency, which was exciting for all of us!) Dolphin has always been the gathering place for artists and collectors - in fact, they are the centerpiece of the Crossroads art district. I am honored to be part of the Dolphin family.

Last fall, I was asked by the Leopold Gallery to join its stable. Leopold has been in south Kansas City for fourteen years and has established a solid reputation as a promoter of regional artists. Paul, the director, has an unwavering belief in Midwest talent and has done quite an admirable job of placing work in important corporate and individual collections. I was able to work it out so that my photographs can be shown and sold at both galleries. Dolphin will probably place more emphasis on the older work and on the Shredding Project, while Leopold is very interested in the images from Uganda, as well as from Convergence. It feels like a really nice arrangement.

The Uganda exhibit is set to open on April 27th and will be the first show in Leopold's new space. For those of you who know Kansas City, the gallery will be in what is currently Latin American Imports in Brookside. The opening is going to be a lot of fun. I have asked the adorable and dedicated young African drummers and dancers from Operation Breakthrough to perform a couple of sets during the course of the evening. We will be offering for sale beaded jewelry made by the children at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood. We'll be playing the CD of songs the children sang for me when I was at the orphanage. There will be about thirty 13.5" x 19" ink jet prints in the show, as well as three oversized prints - 26" x 39". I just framed one of the latter to 40" x 52" and I have to admit I am blown away by its presence and impact. Twenty percent of all print sales will go directly to the Change the Truth fund. If you are a follower of the blog and are not on my snail mail list, please e-mail me your address so I can make sure you receive an invite to the opening.

What's really exciting for me is not only that I get to show the work and am beginning a relationship with a new gallery, but that I will be bringing together Operation Breakthrough and St. Mary Kevin's on some level... two groups that mean so much to me - that are worlds apart, yet so closely related.

Friday, February 09, 2007

editing process



I made a few images in Africa that are just now starting to have some meaning for me. It’s funny how that happens - I’ll make a picture before I come to fully understand why. It’s as if part of my brain, the working part, says, here consider this, but the thinking part has to wait a while before trying to understand why.

And so, in the process of selecting work for the April exhibition, I have come to discover an image here and there that was overlooked during the first bazillion edits. Perhaps my mood has shifted, or my perspective, or maybe it’s that my comfort level with the work has broadened. At any rate, there is a certain power in this photograph of a female boxer that I am ready to acknowledge (and appreciate) now.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

one more...


Another image for the "expressions" wall. Yesterday I learned that beneath each photo, which will be installed low on the wall so that the kids can see them well, will be the word describing the feeling being expressed, as well as a mirror. This way, the children can "practice" making the expressions and see how they look on their own faces. I thought that was a very cool idea.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

express yourself


There are so many benefits to doing work at Operation Breakthrough. One of them is getting the joyous opportunity to walk around the center and photograph children just being children. The social workers in the play therapy area have asked me to do a series on “expressions”. These photographs will be used to help kids learn to articulate their feelings. This is one of my favorites.

Monday, February 05, 2007

letters from edward and vincent

“My name is Edward and I am aged 15 yrs old; I grew up with both my father and mother in Masaka Town, southern Uganda. I have a young brother and little sister. Our parents died of AIDS when I was 12 yrs old. Father died first and Mother followed a few months later.

We had no one to take care of us and this slowed our education. But we were later taken to Kampala and joined a new home where we found other children. It is called St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood. My brother and sister are still in primary school but I joined secondary school last year and thanks to Uncle Michael, Director, and the people from Change the Truth Fund who are helping with my school fees. I hope to study well and become a doctor. It’s nice that I have friends in such a big country like America and I hope to hear from you.”

*******

“My name is Vincent Emma. I am now 14 yrs old, my parents died of AIDS a few years ago. I went on to live with some relatives but life was difficult and I went to streets. I spent almost one year learning to survive on the streets till I met a kind lady called Madam Angela who took me to a new home. I met other children at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood and the director Rosemary. I joined primary school again and thank God I passed my primary leaving examinations. I am now due to join senior two and Madam Gloria and other friends from Change the Truth Fund are organizing to assist me with the school fees.

I am happy that I have a new friend from USA called Lee.”

*******

These are letters I just received from two more of the children from the orphanage who will now be attending school thanks to the generosity of the supporters of the Change the Truth fund. If you are new to the blog, please know that we are accepting donations on an ongoing basis, as there are more school terms, more children to support and much work to be done. If you click on the Donate Now link, you'll see how easy it is to join others who are making the commitment to help these kids. Also, many pen pals relationships have begun! All the names given to me in the first round have been spoken for, but Michael, director of the orhpanage, has assured me that more names are coming. If you - or your children - would like to begin developing a friendship with one of the children at St. Mary Kevin's please email me: gbfeinstein@aol.com. I have a feeling that these relationships will open eyes on both sides of the world.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

john prine

Few can compare to the great John Prine - brilliant singer, songwriter and even at age 61, still quite the rockabilly rocker. Eddie and I were eating out of the palm of Prine’s hand last night, as we do at everyone of his concerts. He treated the sold out crowd at the Uptown Theatre to over two hours of his signature work: Sam Stone, Hello in There, Grandpa Was a Carpenter, It’s a Big Old Goofy World, Lake Marie, Souvenirs, Angel From Montgomery, Donald and Lydia, Illegal Smile, Taking a Walk, She is My Everything, Dear Abby, Fish and Whistle, well, the list goes on and on. His writing skills never cease to amaze me. These are poignant, sad, humorous and sober songs about the everyday loves, dreams and devastating losses of ordinary people. If you have never heard him in concert, just do it one of these days. If you’re lucky, he’ll bring along one of his fellow singer songwriters, usually one of the female persuasion, who joins him onstage for some of his dreamy duets. Last night, he had Maura O’Connell in tow. You’d be in for a special treat, as we were a couple of years ago, if Iris DeMent stood at his side.

We first saw John Prine back in 1975, when we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. Going to concerts was a way of life for us back then. And everyone who was anyone included Madtown on their tour. I used to shoot for the Univeristy of Wisconsin daily, so I had a press badge. This entitled me to get up close and personal with most of the musicians, meaning either a good spot for shooting during the show and/or a backstage pass. Trust me, it was a pretty wild time. A lot of fun.

Anyhow, I have a stash of negs dating back to 1975 of everyone from Dylan, CSN&Y, Bette Midler, Neil Young, Jethro Tull, Joni Mitchell, The Allman Brothers, Loggins and Messina to John Denver, Jim Croce, Tom Waits, Leon Russell , Taj Mahal and Leo Kotke. I printed up one of Neil Yound recently and actually sold it on e-bay for a hundred bucks to some guy who claimed I was the next Henry Diltz (whoever that is).



I think this shot of John Prine was from the first time we ever attended one his performances - September, 1975. He certainly had a lot more hair and was much skinnier than he is now, but, let me tell you, his unique voice has aged like a good bottle of Scotch.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

anniversary


My parents were married 61 years ago today. If my mom was still alive, she and Dad would have probably gone out to dinner tonight, and we would have sent wine and flowers.

This is a piece from my Shredding Project. It is my parents at the beach in the early 60's.

They knew each other since they were teenagers and set a shining example about love for all of their children and grandchildren.

Happy Anniversary, M & D.

a wonderful morning

I spent the morning with Shawna and her son, Salvation. She is the woman who wrote me just a few days ago about having recently adopted a son from Kajjansi, Uganda, which is, incredibly, the same town where St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood is located.

Salvation is a smart, articulate, engaging, curious and beautiful young man. At thirteen, he has seen more trials and tribulations than I probably ever will. He seems amazingly well adjusted to his new life here in America and so clearly adores his new mom. They met while Shawna was on a mission trip to Uganda last summer. She told me this morning that during the four weeks she stayed at the orphanage where Salvation lived, a place called Mercy Home, the fact the she was meant to be his mother unfolded quickly (and unexpectedly) before her very eyes. Of course, getting him here was another, more complicated story, but she was determined – and she succeeded in October, 2006. Since then, he has picked up English at a fast and furious pace, has made many friends in his seventh grade class and has been accepted with open arms by his three siblings. His favorite subject in school is art, and his mother tells me he is really something when it comes to sculpting with clay. He also loves music, especially the drums. I brought him to our house to meet Max, my mad drummer son, and the two of them had a blast playing around together on the drum set. I think he could have sat on that throne (isn’t it something that drummers have dubbed their seat a throne?) all afternoon! Max said Salvation’s entire face completely lit up when he took the sticks in hand, and the smile never left his face the whole time he was playing.

I showed Salvation my pictures from St. Mary Kevin’s. He lived there for two years before going to Mercy Home. He kept calling out the names of kids and teachers he knew. He recognized the place where he used to help cook dinner, the machines he used to make bricks, and the fields where he laid them out to dry in the sun. He even knew my little friend Sonja, my constant companion while wandering around making pictures.

Needless to say, we have made a couple of new friends. It was a moving experience listening to Salvation tell his story, and watching the way his mom, Shawna, beamed as she looked in his direction.

Friday, February 02, 2007

success






It’s such a relative term.

These days I am working on a project for the largest provider of day care in Missouri catering to those living in poverty. It’s a special place called Operation Breakthrough. Over six hundred kids burst through its doors every morning eager to take advantage of opportunities to develop to their fullest potential in a safe, loving and educational environment. Operation Breakthrough also strives to support and empower the children’s families through advocacy, referral services and emergency aid. Most of these children have only one parent, many are homeless. Countless come from a world filled with addiction, abuse, and violent death. Operation Breakthrough grants them their best shot at survival and success.

Our goal with this photographic project is to highlight some of the success stories.

This includes a four-year girl who is anorexic. She choked as an infant and developed a fear of eating. Now she’s beginning to eat and thrive, just like a four year old is supposed to do.

This includes a little girl who began life living with her mother in an abandoned building. They lived there for the first couple of years of her life. She was kept in an infant seat and was not walking even at the age of eighteen months. Now she’s running all over the place.

This also includes a young woman who has just begun her freshman year in college. She witnessed the murder of her sister by her mother’s boyfriend when she was just six years old. Her brother was gunned down while walking home from school just two years ago. She was given over to foster care at a young age; she was taken in by a few saints along the way. This optimistic and bright young woman knows the hallways of Operation Breakthrough like the back of her hand. She is now attending freshman English class, studying Sociology and Psychology, eating burgers in the cafeteria with friends and aspiring to become a nurse.

Featured also in the project is a little boy who suffers from microcephaly. His teenage mom can’t possibly hold him all day or deal with his constant fretting and crying. He probably shouldn’t have made it this far, but at one year old, this cutie is also considered a success.

As I said, it’s all relative.

For me, it’s a project that is both heart breaking and downright uplifting.