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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

sally mann + getting ready to return to uganda

A few days ago I finished reading Hold Still, Sally Mann’s memoir. While so much about which she wrote rang true with me, nothing resonated more than her discussion about the true possibilities of the photographic portrait. While discussing her body of work that consists of portraits of African American men, she had this to say:

“The photographer [holds] all the cards. Exploitation lies at the root of every great portrait, and all of us know it. Even the simplest picture of another person is ethically complex, and the ambitious photographer, no matter how sincere, is compromised right from the git-go… Taking the picture is an invasive act, a one-sided exercise of power…  But at a higher level, which portraiture at its best can achieve, the results can also be transformative expressions of love, affirmation and hope. If transgression is at the very heart of photographic portraiture, then the ideal outcome – beauty, communion, honesty and empathy – mitigates the offense. Art can afford the kindest crucible of association, and within its ardent issue lies a grace that both transcends and tenders understanding.”

I’ve wrestled with the challenges of photographing as an outsider and the notion of so-called (and unfortunately named) “poverty porn” for many years. In 2006, when I first traveled to Uganda, the centerpiece of both my photographic and professional work unwittingly became the children who live at an orphanage in the small village of Kajjansi. As you know, I have spent the last nine years documenting them and helping them change their lives for the better. I am forever inspired by the generosity of spirit these children continue to offer me.

In a few short weeks, I’ll travel to Uganda for the 9th time. In preparation for my journey, I have been revisiting pictures made during the last three trips. Some you may have seen before, but many are being printed for the first time. They are portrayals of just a few of the strong, hopeful dignified people – living in one of the poorest countries in the world - who have enriched me as a photographer and as a human being.

I look forward to the privilege of making more pictures along the red dirt roads of Kajjansi. My hope is that the new pictures, like these, will be imbued with beauty, communion, honesty and empathy, qualities which Mann suggests comprise the ideal outcome of photographic portraiture.


Anonymous said...

These portraits are all telling a story by the way you captured each one. Your artistry is unique and beautiful much like I see your spirit to be.
- Mary

Anonymous said...


So beautifully written...your portraits never have a whiff of falseness--they are true to the person and you have the magical ability to capture someone where they still possess their essence and haven't given it away to the photographer--that's a gift. You give them equal power.

Have a safe and fulfilling journey.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate hearing your thoughts and of course your beautiful photographs.

Recently while heading to bed, I tuned into to Charlie Rose on PBS. His guests Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Warren Buffet were speaking about their global health and education initiatives. The phrase "All lives have equal value," kept coming up in the conversation. I thought of you and the work you are doing. - Rebecca

Anonymous said...

The photos are gorgeous--Safe journey, Patti

Unknown said...

Beautiful photos. Praying for your successful trip. Thank you for your inspiration to go beyond ourselves. I have a fondness for Uganda, too. Grace and Peace, Rebecca doherty5575@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

As usual I have enjoyed reading your passage including the Mann quote. I learn so much from you and your poignant thoughts. The photographs really spoke to me. I feel like these special children are right here in the room with me. I can also sense so much of you in the pictures. Lisa