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

Saturday, May 30, 2015

back in the saddle again

While I enjoyed my left-hand drawing explorations and catching up on episodes of Leave it to Beaver, I must admit I am very happy to be able to sling my camera once again. It's been three months!

Today, while I was hanging out at Loose Park, my "second studio," which is basically across the street from our condo, I saw more weddings and quinceaneras than you can shake a tripod at. As I waited for portrait clients to show up, I didn't sit idle. I made these pictures.

Hallelujah. I made some pictures.

Friday, May 29, 2015

wonderful and terrible news all at once

Last night I received notice from a very excited friend of mine that her first grandson had been born! Baby Jack could not look any cuter in his newborn photos. And grandma is on cloud nine! Mom had gone through 24 hours of labor before being wheeled off for a C-section. She's doing great, though, and will be able to come home with her precious bundle of joy in a couple days.

At about the same time, I received notice from a Ugandan friend about a young woman who had just died during childbirth. She had had a fine pregnancy and had gone into labor, telling her 2-year old daughter she was going "shopping for a baby in Kampala" and would be home soon with a new little brother or sister. Something led the doctor to decide on a C-section and during the procedure, both mom and baby died.

The contrast between life in America and life in Uganda sometimes knocks me out.

More than 100 women die during childbirth each week in Uganda. A whopping 76 of 1,000 newborns do not reach the age of one. Only 52% of births are attended by skilled personnel. In rural areas, this figure drops to 37 percent. Uganda is ranked among the ten bottom countries for highest maternal, newborn and under-5 mortality rates in the world. 

This morning I've been thinking about my American friend's joyous news, and I've been thinking about my Ugandan friend's terrible loss. 

And realizing there is so much work on so many levels to be done in our beloved east African country.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

mary ellen mark

Mary Ellen Mark died on Monday. She has always been one of my favorite photographers, and ever since I met her, one of my favorite people.

Her work is inspiring, breathtaking, provocative, sensitive, honest and full of compassion. She was talented. She was fearless, She was tenacious and bold and spoke her mind. Mary Ellen was kind. She cared deeply about people. She had a generous spirit. She searched tirelessly for soulful and effective ways to portray the human condition.

I took her workshop in Oaxaca in1997. I was intimidated by her at first - she was one of my heroes, after all. After our first one-on-one critique, though, I knew she was also going to be my friend and ally.

She pushed me hard. The work I showed her was good, but she wanted more. She dared me to go places I hadn't thought of going before - or, at least, places I didn't think I could go. She managed to give me a heaping dose of courage and confidence and the willingness to try new things and feel okay about failing at them. She taught me that simplicity is elegance.

She told me, after looking through my first couple days worth of contact sheets in Oaxaca to "break the square." Smash it. Use your Hasselblad, but don't let the square own you.

My work leapt forward during those ten days. So did my trust in myself as a photographer. So did my friendship with my teacher.

We stayed in touch after it ended, and then two years later I took my daughter, a high-school senior and aspiring photographer to the workshop. Mary Ellen fell in love with Abbie and ended up offering her a job at her studio when she graduated high school. (Abbie didn't take it.) I loved watching how maternal and nurturing she was toward Abbie. Mary Ellen never had kids of her own, but she had a wonderful way with young people. She thought Abbie's work was amazing and was so excited to surprise me with it at the end of the workshop during the final review. She kept telling me Abbie was doing some great stuff, but made me promise not to look at it until the last day. Mary Ellen was proud of her youngest student.

I visited her a handful of times at her studio in New York over the years, the most recent time being this past October. She was always gracious and welcoming. She looked at my recent work during this past visit and continued to encourage and support it. She gave me and inscribed a copy of her latest book as a birthday gift as I was getting ready to leave and hugged me goodbye.

She said she'd write my letter of recommendation next year for the Guggenheim Fellowship.

I knew she was ill; we talked about it some. She was battling it, doing what she had to do. But she and husband Martin were moving forward with their project in Seattle. The one about Tiny. Mary Ellen worked hard. She was a perfectionist about her work. She wasn't happy until it was terrific.

Her work hangs around my house. We bought three of her photographs back in the day. I'm glad we have them. The picture of Abbie, Mary Ellen and me (above), taken back in 1999, sits on my desk.

She was too young to die, and, of course, she had much more work to do. Terrific work.

There aren't many photographers anymore who have Mary Ellen's work ethic, strong point of view, compassion, dedication, courage and fierceness. She was absolutely true to herself and to the rest of us about who she was and what she meant to accomplish. She was a role model for women in photography. I know she was just as generous and genuine with her other students and friends as she was with me. We all adored her.

I am grateful for her kindness toward me, for our friendship, for all she taught me about my work and about myself, and for the important pictures she made. Mary Ellen was one of a kind. I'm glad I knew her, and I will miss her.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

looking at appalachia

Roger May's project, "Looking at Appalachia" is getting some well deserved recognition and praise. I'm very proud that I have some work in the exhibition. Roger is the real deal and is extremely earnest and honest and passionate about what he's doing. The show is just beginning its tour, and the Lens blog at the New York Times is featuring it today. Kudos to Roger and to all the photographers involved.

You can read about it here.

(I'm thrilled that one of my photos is included in the article!)

Friday, May 15, 2015

freshly painted dorms coming right up!

Change the Truth's T-Shirt Fundraiser was a big success, and that means the children's dormitories at St. Mary Kevin Children's Home will all be getting a fresh coat of paint.

They really need them. The last time we painted the dorms was in 2008.

Lots of you supported the project by spending $28 for the brand spankin' new CTT tee.

And then board member Fred Grossman and his good friend Rick Mayo stepped up and made generous contributions earmarked for the project. Between the t-shirt sales and these contributions, we met our goal. THANK YOU to all!

The children will get to select the colors. Once the work is done, we'll share some pictures. Kiefa, Sarah, Queen, Erias, Sharon, Trevor, Gabriel, John, Rashid and all the others who deserve to live in as beautiful a space as possible, will be so happy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Our family held the 10th Annual Anita Roos Baker Mother's Day Concert in Lexington, Kentucky this past weekend. The concert has been a wonderful way for us to remember our mom each year - and it's a great free concert and reception for music lovers in Lexington. The talent at the University of Kentucky Music School is impressive, to say the least. They got a standing ovation this year, and they played to a full house! 

My brother, sister and I take turns giving the opening remarks. It was my turn this year. This is what I said:

Thank you for being here tonight.

I am Gloria Baker Feinstein. Along with my brothers, Mike and Ben, my sister, Bobbie and our 94-year old father, Harold, I’d like to welcome you to the 10th Annual Anita Roos Baker Mother’s Day Concert. We’re calling tonight’s program “A Very Special Evening of Music” because there’s really no better way to describe the program that’s been assembled for us.

In fact, each year we have been treated to a very special evening of music. When we first approached Ben Arnold here at the UK School of Music to talk about putting on the concert, shortly after our mother died, we were greeted with nothing but enthusiastic support. We were so grateful to him - for helping us get this concert started and now to Tedrin Lindsey, who has presented us with impressive programs year after year.

Our mother, Anita, a life-long Lexingtonian, instilled in us an appreciation of good music. (She also instilled in us a love of Cincinnati Reds baseball and UK Wildcat basketball, but that’s another story for another night.) As a family, we attended Broadway musicals, and I can testify that I squirmed my way through more than a few operas. Mom had her own beautiful mezzo-soprano voice. She sang in our Temple choir, at funerals and in several small singing groups here in Lexington over the years. Her car radio was always tuned to classical music, and she played the cello for several years. She always looked happy when she was immersed in good music. Mom did this funny thing with her hand when she was listening to something she really enjoyed. She would raise up her right hand ever so gracefully, her pinky slightly higher than her other fingers, and subconsciously conduct the music. With her eyes closed, her hand aloft and a smile on her face, Anita was truly in her happy place when music was playing.

But tonight isn’t just about my mother. It’s about the talented performers who will grace this stage, and it’s about all of us in this room.

The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said: “music is the universal language of mankind.” He made that statement in the mid-1800’s, and all these years later scientific studies are proving him right. Things like tempo and pitch actually do cause people from different cultures, age groups and life experiences to respond to music in very similar ways. Music can take us as a group to places of joy and sorrow, excitement and calm, fear and safety. Music can cross all borders, time zones, languages and traditions. As a shared experience, it goes back to the days when people chanted as they worked together or when they gathered for any sort of ritual. From our first social bonding as babies to the funerals that mark our passing, music plays an important role in all our lives, and it brings us closer together.

I witnessed this first hand when I took my teenage son, Max, a drummer, to Africa. He quickly discovered that he could communicate all day long with the musicians, dancers and singers he met, some of whom spoke no English, through the universal language of beat, rhythm and musical expression. He talked with and got to know many people, because music was their common language.

Now it’s time to introduce our emcee and pianist extraordinaire, Tedrin Lindsay, who will bring onto the stage Everett and Alicia McCorvey, Benjamin and Margaret Karp, Catherine Clarke Nardolillo, Yoonie Choi and Jonathan Green. On behalf of the Baker family, the Temple Adath Israel Music Fund and the Friends of the UK School of Music, I hope you enjoy tonight’s program. I know my mother would have loved it. I hope she’s listening. If so, one thing’s for sure: her conducting hand will be very busy!

Thank you.

Monday, May 11, 2015

a new diptych

I made this over the weekend while visiting my father. He just turned 94.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

bringing uganda to the kansas suburbs

Natalie Boten is another one of CTT's super stars. She, like Eddie, is always coming up with creative ways to spread awareness about our kids in Uganda. 

For some time now, she has been developing a relationship with the students and faculty at Hocker Grove Middle School. She (along with teacher Kimberly Gilman) have been busy creating a bridge between the kids there and the kids at St. Mary Kevin Children's Home. Kids learning about kids. Kids helping kids. That's the best.

Today Natalie created a Ugandan ambience at Hocker Grove for a couple hours. She played Ugandan music, showed pictures, helped the students make small projects about themselves to deliver to the kids at SMK and fed them a taste of Ugandan food! Natalie made and rounded up the following: posho, g-nuts, beans, rice, chapati, mangos and pineapple! Posho, for those of you you may not be familiar with it, is one of the staples of the Ugandan diet. It is made up of finely ground white corn flour that is mixed with boiling water to form a solid. It's easy to make in huge batches, it fills you up, and it takes on the flavor of whatever is served with it - in most cases, beans. The kids at SMK eat it a LOT. The kids in suburban Kansas ate it today, and Natalie reported that they liked it!

Breaking down the walls between us can only bring us closer together in many positive ways. Thank you, Natalie, for taking the time to bring Uganda to Kansas for a few lucky young people today.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

look how far a little love can go

My husband, Eddie, is on the board of CTT and has made a trip to SMK to volunteer. He works tirelessly behind the scenes here at the CTT office (our den) and is one of the greatest advocates the children could ever hope to have.

When his team at work decided to raise funds for a charity, one of his colleagues suggested CTT. Together, they pitched the idea to their supervisor. Different teams chose different groups to support, and, happily, Eddie’s supervisor and entire management team loved the idea and got behind CTT 110%.

Over the course of the next three weeks, all members of the team were encouraged to bring in stuffed animals, art supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, books, pencils and other goodies for the children at SMK. Some people made cash donations. Eddie would come home from work each day and describe the growing number of items, how they were filling up and overflowing various spaces in the office.

I don’t think I really had a clue until he sent me this photo from work yesterday. The drive had ended, and he and some others had arranged the donated items so everyone could admire the good deed their division had accomplished. That’s Eddie on the left. On the right is his enthusiastically supportive boss, Ja Rita, with her boss, Ben.

Can you believe it?

It was easy and made everyone at Eddie’s office feel so good. Now we just have to figure out how to pack all of this in our duffel bags for the next trip to Uganda. The children will have a very special day when these gifts are delivered.

Here’s the beautiful thing: it’s not just the flip-flops and the coloring books. It’s that people here in America, people who don’t even know them, did something very special for our kids. That’s what will ultimately mean the most to Wasswa, Mourie, Ambrose, Elijah, Shine, Mary, Sarah, Petra, Fred, Rashid, Enock, Erias, Queen, Kiefa and all the others.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

grandma goodies

In conjunction with the release of my new book Some Grandmas, these t-shirts and this tote bag are now available and can be yours!! Email me if you'd like to shop.