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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

here i am

I am so excited about some of the Africa work I’ve been printing! I was going to schlepp down to hear Barack Obama speak today, but decided to keep on working in the warm cocoon that is my digital darkroom. I will post some of the photographs soon. For now, I want to bring you up to date on my medical condition. Or as I have become rather obnoxiously fond of saying: keep you abreast of the situation. (I know, I know.)

It’s weird, yes, to be discussing this in such a public forum. It may make some of you uncomfortable, and by all means, turn off the set or change channels, if so! I decided to be not so private about this: you have come this far and so have I, so why quit now?

I remember back in my mother’s day, there were “radical mastectomies.” It was horrible to even think about when I was a young girl. If someone did have one, I found out about it by accident (overhearing a hushed conversation.) Then, if I saw that woman at a restaurant or at Temple or at a shopping center, I would nervously and ashamedly glance at her chest to see if I “could tell.” In my young eyes, it seemed that her life had certainly come to an abrupt end. Plus, it really seemed creepy (early incarnation of the “ick factor.”)

All these years later, well, here I am.

The emails I have received of late give me the courage and the confidence to go to this place in my blog. Here is an example, a missive from a gal pal in California:

“I have wanted to write you since learning about your diagnosis, but the cat has got my tongue... and has yet to let go. The image of my mom enduring chemo followed by two back to back surgeries is still fresh in my mind. I too have been poked, prodded, MRI'd, mammogrammed, ultrasounded, biopsied, lumpectomied, and listed as a high-risk patient. I'm developing an aversion to oncologists and the sharp tools with which they've honed their skills.

I love you to pieces and it rips me up that you have to go through this. The thing is, I have no doubt that you are going to conquer this pronto. God has appointed you with lots which only you can tend to — You've only just begun, and in no time, you're going to be galloping forward again.

Sharing the experience with my mom challenged me to grow in ways I never thought possible — I am so thankful for this. I'm thankful you're experiencing the same. I see you taking the bull by the horn and challenging this head on, which is encouraging as I read along. In a very short time, you've taught me that all of this stuff can be ‘routine’ with the right attitude. So, gosh, thank YOU! Thank you for sharing so openly how this experience is strengthening you. Go team!”

So, onward I go. Here is the skinny on my situation (again, leave your computer and go to another room, start the laundry, cover your eyes, slip in your pilates DVD if you don’t want to know this stuff, please!)

The DCIS is apparently very widespread in the one breast. (They call the other breast “unremarkable” which is fine with me. Even though that kind of hurt my feelings at first, I now wish they both were unremarkable.) Since we only have to worry about one, not both, because of the genetic marker deal, we are now only talking about surgery on one side.

Since my surgeon does not see any hope of coming up with clear margins on a second lumpectomy (and anyway, quite frankly, I am not beating down any doors to get into the radiation clinic) she has recommended a mastectomy with reconstruction, as well as a sentinel node biopsy. The latter is to make sure there is no invasive cancer in the lymph nodes.

I have scheduled the surgery and made arrangements for our dog, Sam, to go to the “Happiness Hotel” for a couple of days. I will be in the hospital for one or two nights and should be feeling pretty well a few days after that. Eddie, I'm sure, will not leave my side, unless they make him, and even then, he'll put up a good fight for sure.

Thanks for all your encouraging, supportive, funny and heart-warming emails, cards and letters.

Here’s an example of one of my favorite funny ones.

“Gloria: Since I first heard that they were doing breast reconstruction from tummy fat, I've aspired to be a breast donor. And If I could I'd gladly relinquish all my belly for some double D's for you! Wouldn't that be a perfect world? Since I can't, I'll find some special incantations for you and Eddie and the kids. This, too, will be over soon.”


... OK, you can look now.

Monday, January 28, 2008

nicolas and josh

During this time of decisions about surgery, playing way too much online Scrabble to take my mind off the aforementioned (when I am trying to fall asleep, strange words - which I am just learning about and which don't look or seem real but are - keep parading in front of my tired eyelids; faqir, sug, jo, zoa, qanat, aa and umiaqs, just to name a few) things like the following letter written about a pen pal at St. Mary Kevin's seem so grounding and so wonderful. This was written by Josh, whose friend in Uganda also happens to be the little boy I have grown especially fond of over the past two years.

"Nicolas is a boy from Uganda. In Uganda they have a lot of fighting and war, especially in Lira. His mom and dad were murdered. His mother was a teacher and his father was a shopkeeper. Now Nicolas lives at the St. Mary Kevin Orphanage with his sister Elisabeth. Nicolas loves his grandmother and when it’s school break he goes back to the village near Lira and stays with her, even though it is still dangerous there.

I know Nicolas from writing letters and sending pictures, which we both like to draw. Nicholas always draws me a picture in his letters. His favorite colors are black, yellow and red. The last letter he sent was of him in his school uniform. They wear green shorts and white collared shirts; green is my favorite color. In another letter Nicolas drew a map of the entire school and orphanage ~ even the dormitories where he sleeps and the grass where he likes to play 'football.' His favorite team is Manchester United and he drew a symbol of ManU in one letter. I don't think Nicolas has his own bicycle, but he likes to ride and loves swimming, too.

We want to meet each other and be more than 'best-friend pen pals' some day."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

sparring


This is kind of how I’m feeling today.

I made this picture a little more than ten years ago when I was in Santa Fe. I was taking a workshop from Peter DeLory, who decided a self-portrait would be a great way for us to rev our engines for the week. Having never done a photograph of myself before, I took the assignment quite seriously. I hopped into my car and drove out of town, up the road toward the ski area. I set up my Hasselblad on a tripod, pulled the trigger for the self timer and ran like mad to get across the road and up onto this rock in time for the exposure to be made. (I think I may have had 30 seconds or so.) The contact sheet is pretty funny. There are more frames of me climbing (not so gracefully) onto the rock than of me actually on top of the thing. But for this one exposure, I did make it to the exact location I was hoping for and even had time (a very last minute and unplanned decision) to raise my arms up as if I had just made quick work of an opponent in the boxing ring.

Years later, Max used PhotoShop to put some humongous boxing gloves onto my hands, making it look as if I was Ms. Hulk Hogan and gave the retouched photo to me as a gift. We had all fought madly over those huge boxing gloves at a white elephant gift exchange that year at our annual Chanukah party. None of my family members ended up with the coveted gloves, but at least I have the photo Max made. It is tacked up on the wall of my office just to remind me that I can be strong.

With all the words of encouragement I have been receiving from so many, along with some other important bullet points (as they say in the few board meetings I have been known to attend) I am feeling like I may have won round two in my bout with cancer.

Bullet points:

~ I failed a test! And that is a good thing. It was the blood test to see if I have the genetic marker for breast cancer.

~ I received in the mail a beautiful, handmade magic wand from my friend Laura in Texas. With it came a certificate that grants me all sorts of powers, each one clearly itemized and defined.

~ I saw the movie The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. You may or may not know the story of the Frenchman who wrote the book upon which this Julian Schnabel movie is based. It’s a film of amazing power about the triumph of the human will, adapted from the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of the magazine Elle. At age 43, Bauby had a stroke, leaving him paralyzed, with only the ability to move one eyelid. In a Normandy hospital, he learned to communicate by blinking this one eye, and by this means managed to write his book, published days before his death in 1996. All Bauby had was: one blinking eye (with which he could see, but not well) his memory and his imagination. By learning to explore what he could recall and what he could conjure up, he discovered a kind of freedom and humanity he’d never known before and which helped him to actually cope with each new day.

The movie helped me put my health issues into stunning and immediate perspective.

Round three begins this coming week, as I meet with the surgeon to determine our next course of action, which thanks to my “good genes” may not be as bad as I had thought it would be.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

beauty shop


It’s not always what you see at first glance that is the most interesting.

I was walking down the dirt road in Gulu in northern Uganda, my eyes moving from one broad smile to one tired mother to one ramshackle hut to one row of scrawny sweet potatoes laid out for sale. The sounds of laughter and music and calls of “hey, muzuungu!” were better than any concerto or folk song or even my favorite Bonnie Raitt tune. Believe me when I tell you, my senses were in full tilt, soaking up every bit of my early morning stroll. My camera was slung across my shoulder, my hair was messed up from a restless sleep under a mosquito net that barely covered the tiny bed, my shoes were encrusted with bits of red earth.

I could not have been happier.

One of the most important lessons I have learned as a photographer is, of course, to pay attention. This requires a willingness to stay with something for a while; that could mean framing it and shooting it until you finally get to the core of the matter and see the picture you thought from the start might eventually appear. Or it may simply mean looking past the obvious to see what lies just underneath the surface.

I love it when I get the opportunity to do just that – and when it works. It makes me feel so alive.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

guaranteed to make you smile

Please check out teacher Abbie’s blog.
Your hard day it will soften.
My daughter’s not a cyber hog;
You'll wish she’d post more often.

Monday, January 21, 2008

photo salon

It is very easy to feel like you’re working in a vacuum as an artist. You make new pieces, leave them around the house for family and visiting friends to see, maybe lug them down to your gallery, always (in my case, anyway) post them on the blog. But it can often feel as if no one is responding, and you have no idea what feedback there might be and how that might have an effect on where you’re going with the work.

Now that the digital age is upon us, it’s also really easy to get hung up on computer and Photoshop issues.

That’s why I love the photography salon I am in. We are a group of eight or so. Most of us have known one another since the early 80’s when I started my gallery. We are a grab bag of professions – a surgeon, a lawyer, a baker, an architectural photographer, a photo curator/historian/author, a fine art/portrait photographer, etc. But we all have a passion for photography – whether it is making it, studying it or collecting it.

We gather every couple of months to look at each other’s new work, talk about new photo equipment, books, shows, and trends, eat and drink. We encourage and challenge each other, and we enjoy one another’s company. Often we invite other photographers from the area to share their work and their ideas.


Yesterday we met to look at work, but also to celebrate the 70th birthday of one of our preeminent members, Richard Loftis. Richard and I first met shortly after I opened the Baker Gallery in 1981. He made his way through the front door with a handsome portfolio of Adams/Weston-esque silver prints (landscapes and figure work) that were drop dead gorgeous. I took him on as my first “local” photographer, and we have been very good friends ever since. He has shown his work extensively throughout the region, has been a technical advisor to many struggling printers and has constructed many an incredible darkroom (including mine). His expertise in the ways of traditional silver printing is humbling. Not one to miss a beat, he has even become a trusted and knowledgeable advisor to those of us fumbling our way into the world of digital capture and image making.

We are lucky to have one another in our little group. I hope you have a support group, as well, no matter what you do for your passion or for your living.

Happy birthday, Richard!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

words of wisdom

Many readers have sent along comments regarding my breast cancer issues. I’d like to share some of them:

- The one piece of unsolicited advice I will give is: be very careful where you go looking for information on the Internet. It is a scary process and the information is often inaccurate.

- Reading your comments about breast cancer hit close to home, as I am one of the many who have been told to watch and monitor the calcium dots that appear in my mammos each year. You are giving others an opportunity to pass on info they have gathered. Maybe some of these medical battles wouldn't be quite so frightening if we shared our experiences more readily.

- Surely you have learned from the many survivors you have photographed that breast cancer is not a death sentence for some of us - it’s merely a bump in the road.

- You have too much work ahead of you to let a few little cells get you down. Do what you gotta do, take care of yourself, and know that there are many, many of us standing beside you.

- I think the most important thing is to trust your doctor, and to get a second opinion (if only to confirm the first opinion).

- Be strong, girl! (It's not the disease, it's the medical establishment you'll need strength for!)

- Cancer sucks! The love and friendsips – concern from others – priceless.

- Eleven years ago this month I had a mastectomy - my left breast, and was very fortunate that no lymph nodes (23 removed) were found to have cancer cells. I was also fortunate in having a calm, optimistic attitude throughout the surgery and recovery, and the surgeon was not only amazed but said very positively that this was a very good factor in the success of my treatment.

- Let me know how it goes with the docs, as well as inside your heart and head. All get a voice in this journey, in addition to your body!

- Remarkably, when I look back at my fight against breast cancer, I don’t view it as a negative. As a result, I feel like I’ve become stronger with clearer priorities.

- If you ever had any qualms about privacy of your body, well throw them right out the window. I never guessed how many persons I would be exposing my breasts to when this started. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a prude but any means, but to have several people walk into a room and ask you to disrobe for this test or that test… well, let’s say you get used to it. I tried to find a bright spot I could hang onto. That’s usually when my perverse sense of humor took over. Right after the “wires” go into place and you think “surely they can’t think up another test” your nurse comes to get you and says, “We need to do a mammogram.” How can you possibly have the breasts squeezed into that machine with those wires in there? All I could think of as I walked down the hall was, “I wonder if I could get a radio signal with all of this wire!” So off I go trundling down the hall with the wires hanging out. What a lovely sight that must have been. I guess what I am trying to say is we all have had pain involved in the “process": but most are still here to talk about it. That is the real bottom line and the best hope for any women with the diagnosis.

- There are some situations--divorce, disease among them--where even though the numbers are high, there is no comfort in numbers. Everyone has a story they can share, but still, it is all individual and very deeply personal.

- I've been mulling what to say to you and the deal is, I have no idea what to say. It's a rotten deal, but you will get through it.

(And, finally, the following excerpt from Blue Like Jazz, by a writer named Donald Miller, sent to me by a reader. I was thrilled to receive this. I heard Susan Sontag’s son on NPR’s “Fresh Air” the other day say that his mother absolutely hated the cancer/war metaphors. I had never really thought about it before, but obviously others have.)

- “It is always the simple things that change our lives. And these things never happen when you are looking for them to happen.

My realization came while attending an alumni social for Westmont College. I had never attended Westmont, but my friend Michelle did, and she invited me. Greg Spencer, a communications professor, was to speak, and Michelle thought I might enjoy the lecture. I did. More than I can say. The lecture was about the power of metaphor. Spencer opened by asking us what metaphors we think of when we consider the topic of cancer. We gave him our answers, all pretty much the same, we battle cancer, we fight cancer, we are rebuilding our white blood cells, things like that. Spencer pointed out that the overwhelming majority of metaphors we listed were war metaphors. They dealt with battle. He then proceeded to talk about cancer patients and how, because of war metaphor, many people who suffer with cancer feel more burdened than, in fact, they should. Most of them are frightened beyond their need to be frightened, and this affects their health. Some, feeling that they have been thrust into a deadly war, simply give up. If there were another metaphor, a metaphor more accurate, perhaps cancer would not prove so deadly.

Science has shown that the way people think about cancer affects their ability to deal with the disease, thus affecting their overall health. Professor Spencer said that if he were to sit down with his family and tell them he had cancer they would be shocked, concerned, perhaps even in tears, and yet cancer is nothing near the most deadly of diseases. Because of war metaphor, the professor said, we are more likely to fear cancer when, actually, most people survive the disease.

Mr. Spencer then asked us about another area in which he felt metaphors cause trouble. He asked us to consider relationships. What metaphors do we use when we think of relationships? We value people, I shouted out. Yes, he said, and wrote it on his little white board. We invest in people, another person added. And soon enough we had listed an entire white board of economic metaphor. Relationships could be bankrupt, we said. People are priceless, we said. All economic metaphors. I was taken aback.”

Friday, January 18, 2008

missouri arts council grant


Good news! Yesterday’s mail brought word that Change the Truth has been awarded a Missouri Arts Council grant. MAC, a state agency and division of the Department of Economic Development, provides grants to non-profit organizations to encourage and stimulate the growth, development and appreciation of the arts in Missouri. Recommendations are based on criteria that include artistic excellence, education and outreach, community support and diversity of audience served.


We applied for and will receive money to help underwrite the production cost for the film Lynne will be making of our recent mission to Uganda. The film will debut at our June 12 friendraiser/fundraiser event at the Kansas City Public Library.

We are thrilled to have the support of this very important public arts partner!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

children helping children


I am constantly amazed and humbled by the good work being done by kids. They really want to help, and they just do it rather than merely talk about it.

Just before Christmas, a ninth grader named Ali called to say that she wanted to make a donation to Change the Truth in honor of her mom and give a certificate stating such as her gift.

More recently, I received a letter with cash stuffed in the envelope. The accompanying letter from a young girl named Ashton said:

“For Christmas I was given $25 to donate to any organization. I chose to donate mine to Change the Truth. I was hoping this could be used to help pay the school fees for my pen pal, Clare.”

Last night, the following email from a twelve year old in Chicago danced its way across my laptop:

“My Bat Mitzvah is in April 2009 and for my mitzvah project I would like to try to raise money for Change the Truth Foundation because I have been trying to find an organization that I could do for my mitzvah that would also help make people's life better in any way and now I found one. I will be thinking of ways to raise money. In addition for this foundation being my mitzvah project I would like to be a pen pal to one of these children to see what life is like and hopefully sometime before my Bat Mitzvah I would have the privilige to go to Uganda.
Thanks much,
Sara”

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to say that there is hope for the future!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

open shutter gallery


About a year ago the director of a photography gallery in Durango, Colorado contacted me to see if she could do a show if my work. No brainer. “Yes! And I’ll drive them out myself and stay for the opening. I love Durango!”

Well, I don’t think I can attend the opening, but thirty-four silver gelatin prints from my body of work entitled “Convergence” will be able to, thanks to a huge crate and the nice people at DHL.

The work spans about thirty years.

This is the earliest piece, made when I was a college student. It is part of s series I did on Appalachian bluegrass musicians.


This is the most recent image in the exhibition. It was made while Eddie and I were on vacation in Key West, Florida.


Most of the images are included in my book, Convergence, which is still available from Amazon, Photoeye and my basement.

It’s been great fun to go back through these photographs and assemble them for the show. All of them were made with my good old friends - my Hassleblad camera and FILM! I rarely work with film and silver paper anymore, as I have been crossing over to digital, but let me tell you, these prints are so gorgeous! My printer, Jesse DeMartino, did an incredible job of honoring my original intention with each and every dip into the developer, stop bath and fixer. (I still have my darkroom set up, and it is a wonderful one, but sadly I haven’t used it for some time now.)

Anyhow, if you are in or near Durango, go have a look. The show opens February 1 and runs through March 12.

Monday, January 14, 2008

change the truth team I reunion

If any of you are even remotely considering a “volunteer vacation” (or what my 19-year old refers to as an “alternative vacation”) let me tell you that it could be one of the best gifts you’ll ever give yourself.

Last night I had the immense pleasure of reuniting with the wonderful team that accompanied me on Change the Truth’s first mission trip to Uganda.


These people have become my very good friends. Trust me, when you spend so much time together in such an emotionally charged situation, it’s simply what happens – you get pretty close. After all, we saw each other first thing in the morning, we saw each other exhausted, we saw each other un-showered and without makeup, we saw each other in tears, we saw each other outside of our comfort zones, we saw each other make fools of ourselves dancing or trying to speak another language or trying to get a handle on our often gut wrenching sadness. And we had many hours to talk and get to know things about each other that usually take a long time to discover. For example, one night at dinner, someone posed this question: “What is your greatest fear?” You get the picture.

We got together last night to share pictures, talk about what it’s been like coming back home and watch a video that Lynne lovingly assembled in our honor.

Once you’ve been on a trip like this, you realize that the people with whom you shared the experience fall into a new category of friendship. You share something that no one else can truly understand, so that makes the relationship unique. And in that context grows an opportunity to explore a side of yourself that can, under ordinary circumstances, be hard to access.

There are plenty of books and websites that can be helpful in a search for just the right volunteer vacation for you/ your family. I highly recommend looking into it. And if you are interested in joining CTT on the 2008 trip, let me know.

Based on all the hugs, laughter and tears I saw us sharing last night (not to mention the profound work that was performed while we were at the orphanage!) I guarantee you that the trip was one of the best gifts we have ever given to ourselves.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

so, what exactly is dcis?

Many of you have written me to say, “I’ve never heard of this before. What is it?

I had never heard of DCIS before, either. Believe me, when I got the call, the search engines on my computer were consulted and were then humming for several days. When the doctor phoned to lay the news on me, she spouted Latin: “You have ductal carcinoma in situ.” I reached all the way back to my eighth grade Latin class with Mr. Gilchrist for a response. I could have conjugated the verb “amo” (to love), but that didn’t seem appropriate. And, um, I remembered one statement, oddly, but “agricola sum” (I am a farmer) didn’t seem relevant, and besides, I am not a farmer, so that would have been a lie. I simply jotted down the diagnosis and fired up my laptop for more information.

Micro-calcifications had shown up on my mammogram for the third straight time. Just before I left for Africa, I had gone for a needle biopsy because of the re-appearance of these little buggers, and the diagnosis of DCIS was the stunning result.

What I have learned so far is that all women get micro-calcifications in their breasts. By the time a woman is in her eighties, she’s probably got plenty of them. They cannot be detected by feel because they are too tiny. They can, however, be seen on a mammogram. Since women are going for mammos earlier and more regularly these days, micro-calcifications show up more and more and call attention to the fact that an invasive cancer could be on the horizon. They aren’t really a problem unless they are clustered together. Mine, apparently, like hanging out together in large groups, sort of like teenagers at the mall.

When will they become an invasive cancer and for whom? That’s something that can’t be predicted yet.

So, the doctors tell me that some action should be taken, even though, at this point, the cancer is confined to the ducts and is not life threatening.

The first line of a defense is the needle biopsy. Then, if it is diagnosed as DCIS and not just a grouping of some random atypical cells, you get to graduate to an incisional biopsy, or lumpectomy, with which I had the pleasure of getting acquainted three weeks ago.

If the surgeon is able to get “clear margins” from this biopsy, the treatment then calls for radiation. After that, you’re done, except that you have to go in for mammos every six months, and you are put on the list of “high risk” patients. In my case, clear margins were not part of the picture. That, along with the fact that there is breast cancer in my family history and the fact that I am of Jewish Ashkenazi descent means that I am at even “higher risk” (different category).

So, now I am in the process of figuring out what’s next. I am immersed in a sea of doctor’s appointments, conversations with women who have been through this before, reading and thinking.

Strangely, I want to make pictures during the whole process. (It’s always been my way of trying to fully understand what’s going on around me.)

I have received some really great cards and letters from breast cancer survivors; they are full of encouragement and hope. Ironically, I have photographed survivors for the past four years at a Kansas City hospital's breast center. These women have rallied around me with full support. They have written things like this, my favorite, which came from Ida, a woman well into her seventies: “Do you remember taking the photo of me and my dear friends – four old lushes swizzling wine, that is? I strongly encourage you to celebrate your recovery with good friends enjoying a good wine!”

I still can’t really get my mouth around the words “I have breast cancer.” But I absolutely intend to do what Ida recommended: once on the other side of all this, celebrate with good friends “swizzling” a good wine.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

a good match

Some time ago (11-21-07) I posted a wonderful essay that was written by a reader of this blog. Her name is Marva, and she wrote a great piece entitled "Color My World" which I hope you read. Marva requested a pen pal, someone she also wanted to sponsor in school. I set her up with a young woman named Zaberah, who I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time when we were in Uganda last month. Zaberah sent a letter back with me to deliver to Marva. It seems the two have some things in common, and it appears that a long term relationship is now being built.

Zaberah, December, 2007

Many of you, friends of Change the Truth, have asked for just this - the establishment of a one on one relationship with one of the children at the orphanage. It's easy enough to do! Marva has committed to pay the school fees (through Change the Truth) for Zaberah on a yearly basis ($285.00 for secondary school) and has promised to correspond regularly with her. Zaberah, who is absolutely thrilled to have a sponsor and a new friend, has also promised to write and to keep Marva apprised of her progress in school and about her life in general. It's a wonderful way for each of these two women to get to know about someone a world away. Who knows? Maybe someday, one or both will travel to the other's continent and actually meet. Stranger things have happened.

Marva emailed me and included a copy of the letter Zaberah wrote to her. I thought it just might inspire some of you! Please remember, it is not necessary to pay for the education of your pen pal; these children are happy just to have someone with whom to correspond. But it is a nice touch, don't you think?


"Dear Gloria,

Well, I’m not sure how you and Rose Mary did this, but you found me the PERFECT pen pal…someone who loves books and reads dictionaries, for heaven’s sake! Thanks to whoever carried the letter back to the U.S. and mailed it to me. It tickled me also that Zaberah likes to decorate her lettering with colorful flourishes, as I often do the same.

I’m appending a transcription of Zaberah’s first letter to me. I know sometimes you like to post them on your blog.

Marva


'Dear Marva,

My name is Zaberah. I am writing to you from JEC College Masajja accompanied with St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Kajjansi. I am sixteen years old as per now I live at Kajjansi but when it comes to the holiday I usually go to my grandmother’s place. I do appriciate the good work you are doing for us of paying school fees. As my parents died Madam Director came for me so that I could continue with studies indeed she did a greatful work for my life and I love her so much for that. I love books and I am going in Senior Four next year two thousand eight (a candident) and I wish every thing to go smoothly and well for me and I do like much History and Christian Religious Education (C.R.E.) At St. Mary Kevin I work with the staff to make practises for the school net-ballers of St. Mary Kevin though I am in Secondary. I do not mind but we work together. When I am in my free time I usually read novels and Dictionaries since they are available at school so that I get to know what was in the past and I am sorry I know just two kinds of languages and those are English and Luganda. I stay at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood with my two brothers in primary three aged ten and one in primary one aged seven we live together. When I am grown a woman I would like to be a lawer. I will keep your name where I can see it every day may God bless you I love you so much.

With warm blessing,
Zaberah'"

Monday, January 07, 2008

wall drawings

The photographer Helen Levitt has long been a huge inspiration to me.

During the 1940’s, Levitt made an amazing and wondrous body of work about children at play on the streets of New York. Some of those pictures have to do with chalk and crayon drawings children made on buildings, walls and sidewalks - graffiti, if you will.

Robert Coles, in the introduction to Levitt’s monograph In the Street, wrote of these drawings:

(He begins by quoting Anna Freud.)

“‘Do not fail to see how far ahead children can see, but only some of them, and they only sometimes, and for certain reasons which it is your task to comprehend… A child who seems confined by the world can’t escape, usually – but CAN look around all possible corners; or the child can try to change the world by seeing it differently. Our eyes lend themselves to our wishes and our conflicts. We only truly notice a small amount of what is there, to be noticed – and so children, like the rest of us, pay attention to what, for one reason or another, serves their purposes.’

She would have been the last one to claim originality and sweeping significance for such remarks, and yet any discussion of children’s art – what they draw or paint on paper, on canvases, or on the walls of buildings, or with chalk on sidewalks or streets, or, yes, on the plain dirt and mud of obscure villages in distant nations – has to begin with an acknowledgement such as Anna Freud made: there are in each of us certain private reasons for noticing THIS, for summoning THAT, for wanting to see one aspect of reality given a degree of permanence and for having no such interest that another aspect of that reality should have any visual life whatsoever.”

I can never begin to come close to accomplishing what Levitt did in her body of work about children’s wall drawings, not would I even pretend to. But in a nod to her, I spent some time photographing the drawings I found on walls and chalkboards at the orphanage in Uganda. These, of course, don’t even begin to take into account the artwork the kids made on paper and canvas during art classes. These are simply quiet little expressions that I found scribbled here and there.

I will post a few over the course of the next couple of days. Enjoy… and in the meantime, go out and get yourself a copy of a Helen Levitt book if you don’t already have one. Her work is pure genius.








Saturday, January 05, 2008

moments

Think about all the moments we get in a day, a month, a year, our lives. Moments are all around us. They bombard us. They caress us. They call out to us. They challenge us.

I say: grab ’em.

I had so many amazing moments in Uganda, too many to ever fully explain or even comprehend. But there were also moments (fortunately so few I can count them on one hand) when I felt restless or frustrated or tired. I tried really hard to take these times and turn them into opportunities. One morning we were driving up to the orphanage, making our way slowly along the rutted dirt road. I have to admit on this particular morning I was feeling the weight of being “trip leader.” I decided to hop out of the van before we reached St. Mary Kevin’s and just roam around the neighborhood that butts up against the grounds of the orphanage to grab a few moments for myself, by myself.




It’s hard to explain just how exhilarated I became, literally within minutes of greeting strangers along the road, laughing and playing around with them, and most important, making photographs. There is truly something magical that happens to me when I am turned loose in a new place where there are friendly, generous people who are open to collaborating with me in my picture-making endeavors. I am hardly ever let down in these situations. I can always count on them to lift my spirits and transport me to another place. These times are collections of wondrous moments that invigorate me and make me feel glad to be alive. I know it sounds trite, but it is true... deeply so.

It’s kind of like a dancing. And I love to dance.

One afternoon, I got really exasperated with something that was going on, and I just picked myself up and took a long walk, again in the small village. You have to picture it – everyone is outside. Women are preparing meals or washing clothes, kids are running around, men are gathered together talking or selling things at makeshift stands. There is music in the background. These moments are brimming with life. I happened to walk past a group of children who were throwing and kicking a ball around in their yard and made this picture of a moment, what Henri Cartier-Bresson might call a “decisive” moment.



It is one of my favorite photographs from the entire trip. I wasn't planning on being in this place, with this child, in this situation, but the moment presented itself, and I wasn't about to look or walk the other way.

There are so many possibilities in all these moments we get. It’s a pretty cool deal, isn't it?

an email from rosemary to the friends of change the truth

Happy New Year.

Thanks very much for bringing so many souls of African children back to hope and happiness. For sure I and Joseph had given up on any special meals for the children for Xmas. To my surprise when I came back from up country in search for cheap food, I could not believe the good news of the e-mail from Change the Truth friends. It was amazing and beyond my measure. For real you are doing wonders for the children and all the beneficiaries and God bless you.

We all love you,

Rose Mary

Thursday, January 03, 2008

luck

Eddie and I walked along the beach our last full day on Captiva Island yesterday, even though the wind was howling, the sand was blowing, and it was downright cold.

The sea was green and churning against the darkening sky.

My camera battery ran out. End of the trip, forgot to bring a charger; I was resigned to quit shooting.

But it was so beautiful out.

I removed the battery, shook it around a bit, huffed some warm breath on it and said a few magic words. Popped it back in the camera, and lo and behold, it decided to sputter to life for a few more seconds.


That’s when I was given this gift of a photo.

Here are some elements that excite me about a photograph (made by me or anybody else):

1. movement
2. enigma (“Don’t SHOW me what was going on, make me WONDER what was going on.” ~ Keith Carter)
3. use of the edges of the frame
4. layering
5. atmosphere
6. a square that is not a square (“Break the square, Gloria!” ~ Mary Ellen Mark)
7. compositional shapes that mirror one another

The photo goddesses were in my corner yesterday. woo-hoo!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

dcis


I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about the purpose of this blog. I started it as way to keep my friends and family informed as I headed off to Uganda in the fall of 2006. I kept it going after my return because I was still processing photos, establishing Change the Truth, as well as exploring the magnitude of the trip and how it had affected me. Posts about the orphans in Africa sometimes transitioned into musings about life as a mother of a high school senior and as a photographer making pictures on road trips across Kansas and Missouri, etc. I figured I’d quit blogging when I had nothing else to talk about or no new photos to share, but then those musings turned to focusing on preparations for a second trip to Uganda, the trip itself and well… here I am, posting about my family’s vacation in Florida and wondering if it’s time to close up shop. After all, how long can I expect people to maintain even a modicum of interest in what I am doing or thinking or saying or shooting?

My daughter recently suggested that most people who journal or keep diaries do so with the secret wish that someone will eventually read them.

If this is true, then the explosive popularity of blogging makes a lot of sense. No secret wish is involved, though, and certainly there is no time lapse before readers get a peek; the words and sentiments zoom onto the cyber highway full speed ahead – and everyone can see them immediately with only a couple of clicks.

Someone else, an extremely well read woman who happens to be a terrific writer with a gentle, sensitive soul, wrote me recently in response to a question I asked her about the possibility of getting too personal on the blog. (I know her only through the wonders of blogging and email; I’ve been fortunate to “meet” many amazing people this way – a benefit I hadn’t even imagined when I first started this process.) Her letter was kind and reassuring. She said, “One aspect of your writing that has impressed me is that you have tackled some of the darker issues in a way that casts light upon them. Your writing has never slipped into the morose. You have celebrated life even in the face of death. The writing about your mom's illness and death, pieces about concentration camps and survivors, the pieces about the situation in Uganda, and the entries about cancer survivors. You presented those with (this phrase is overdone but is appropriate here) grace and dignity. You informed and taught while -- casting the light -- while enlightening the reader. You have brought us all into the kinds of real-life, real-death crises that people face. Part of the realization is that, ‘We are not alone.’ A comment stuck with me from C.S. Lewis. He was asked, ‘Why do we read?’ ‘We read to learn that we are not alone.’ You have shown peoples of all colors and religions and, more, shown that what makes us alike is far greater than what makes us different. Our hearts all beat the same. Our hands all join together. What makes us alive is each other.”


At the risk of scaring away (or boring) some readers, I am giving myself permission to delve into something more personal than usual. I don’t want to turn this blog into anything other than it currently is – a collection of thoughts and photographs and a tool for keeping everyone up to date on the children we are helping in Uganda. I will continue to write about photography, my family, next year’s medical mission to Uganda and whatever else pops into my life. But I also now intend to occasionally write about the breast cancer with which I have been recently diagnosed, because it definitely pulsates just beneath the surface of everything I do or think about these days. If I avoid it much longer on the blog, it will feel as if I am being less than honest.

I am not aiming for any sympathy or pity. This is just another experience in my life, and I obviously (for good or bad) enjoy sharing my experiences with people who genuinely seem interested in how things affect me, my way of thinking and the photographs that I subsequently make.

Fortunately, what I have - ductal carcinoma in situ - is considered a very early stage of cancer (some even define DCIS as a “pre-cancer”); it is non-invasive and highly treatable, so the prognosis is a good one. They say (those smart “they” people, whoever they are) that if you are going to get breast cancer, this is the one you want to get.


Making my way to the other side of being “well” is likely, in my particular case, to involve some challenging stuff. I will probably share some of that with you, my kind and loyal readers. You have, in a sense, become a circle of support for me over the past 15 months. Perhaps some of you have gone through a similar health experience; hearing from you would be really nice.

So, maybe that is ultimately why I have kept this blog going: sharing – and the knowledge that… we are not alone.