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

Monday, April 30, 2007

present magazine

Check out the current issue of Present, an online mag published in Kansas City. They are featuring coverage of the Uganda work in the arts section.

pix from the opening

My good friends Michael Spillers and Sandy McGuire took these pictures at the opening Friday night. They were kind enough to do this as a gift to Change the Truth. I'll be sending some copies to the staff and kids at St. Mary Kevin's. I just wish they could have been there!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

kc star editorial, sunday morning

by Rhonda Chriss Lokeman
The Kansas City Star

When you look at the people in photographer Gloria Baker Feinstein’s latest exhibition, you aren’t sure whether you are seeing someone living or a ghost.

Not only are some images haunting, but her opening this weekend at Kansas City’s Leopold Gallery sheds light on Ugandan AIDS orphans. Some of the children in the black-and-white stills lost their parents to AIDS or their relatives to war, or they have AIDS themselves.

So when you look at “Girl in Front of Chalkboard,” simply dressed with her head shorn, you don’t know whether she still exists.

You certainly hope that she does, because the picture was just taken in 2006 at the St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood in Kajjansi, Uganda. But because of the controversy surrounding AIDS treatment in Africa — and the politics of AIDS in general — you aren’t completely sure.

Still you hope, because just as there are people in Kansas City who have died with AIDS, there are still many who are living with AIDS.

Therefore, the girl at the chalkboard becomes just another student posing for her class picture.

The shot of boys huddled at St. Miria School in Magada village — the one with the boy pushing a flower toward the camera — makes you want to smile, not weep.

If there is any underlying sadness surrounding this exhibition, it comes from knowing the children with AIDS in these images may not live to adulthood. It is in knowing that orphanages like that visited by Baker Feinstein exist mostly through private donations and not enough international aid.

Public awareness is key. Many African children enter the world with a preventable disease, AIDS.

“This is a reality, the harshness of which few of us can imagine,” said gallery owner Paul Dorrell.

In the artist statement for this show, Baker Feinstein articulated the duality of emotions.

“In Uganda, something sorrowful and achingly sad is in the air and in the eyes of the children,” she wrote.

Indeed, you see it in the eyes of small boys in “Children in Front of Chalkboard,” taken in Magada. Their piercing eyes pose no menace, only a need for understanding and support.

“There is also something completely beautiful and uplifting,” Baker Feinstein said. “That combination, that contradiction, that fact of life is what I have tried to address with these pictures.”

She has succeeded on a grand scale in the gallery that recently moved from the Crestwood area to neighboring Brookside.

You see strength in the arched backs of Ugandan girls, their faces not shown. You see the zest to learn in the scattered books and bare feet of “Feet Under Desk.”

The bowed heads and clasped hands seen at St. Paul’s Primary School in Jinja confirm that God would not, could not, abandon these children.

The spiritual symbolism in “Hands in Sky” will be noticed right away. Less so is the sentiment in the more abstract image of a girl walking away. The photograph has an ethereal feel, a pastel quality and, in my opinion, is best of show.

Partial proceeds from the art sale are to benefit “Change the Truth,” a fund supporting children at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood. Certainly, the children featured here deserve more than to be part of a private art collection. They deserve our help.

“Watering Hole” is the title of the photograph of a child’s hand pressed on the surface of well water in Kyotera. It stirs the soul, causes the subconscious to hear a gospel choir singing “Wade in the Water,” and opens the mind’s eye to see Ailey dancers glide across the stage.

At first glance, this exhibition appears simple, but something more complex is going on here.

This exhibition is less about children dying from AIDS and more about children living with AIDS.

More columns:
Rhonda Chriss Lokeman is a nationally syndicated columnist for Creators Syndicate. You can view her Creators column on national affairs Sundays on The Star’s Web site, KansasCity.com. Today she writes about war-funding bills.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

the morning after

The sun came out just in time for the opening last night. The sky had been black, and rain had been coming down in buckets just beforehand. It was a wonderful opening. Thanks to all of you from Kansas City who attended and who made it such a great event. Bird Fleming, drummer extraordinaire, and the kids from Operation Breakthrough stole the show, but the faces in the photographs from St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood were definitely a close second. Thank you to Lee, Cheyenne, Maria and Jennifer for selling the t-shirts, CDs and jewelry. And thanks to Paul for donating a portion of the print sales to Change the Truth.

We woke up to this article in the morning paper.

Bringing home a tragedy
Kansas City photographer is seeking aid for her subjects in Uganda.

The Kansas City Star

“Muzungu. Photo me! Photo me!”
Children pranced around Gloria Baker Feinstein, eyes filled with wonder at the device the Kansas City photographer held in her hand. It was only a digital camera, but to the knot of Ugandan orphans, it might as well have been a magic wand.

They had never seen themselves before. Not in a photo, not even in a mirror. For that matter most had never seen a muzungu, the Swahili word for white person.

When they met Feinstein some stared, while others wanted to touch her skin. One began to scream. But soon they were running around taking pictures of each other with the pile of disposable cameras she gave them.

Feinstein, 52, went on her “photographic mission” to Uganda late last year out of “a need to do something helpful by photographing something important.” A one-woman exhibit of black-and-white images from her trip opened Friday at the Leopold Gallery in Brookside.

She went with Maine Photographic Workshops, a photo and film school in Rockport that offers advanced training to serious photographers. Much of her time was spent at rural orphanages. She also spent four days with a family who lived in a mud hut in a remote village, with no electricity or running water. The conditions were poor, the needs overwhelming. Somehow, it didn’t define them.

“In Uganda,” she wrote on her Web site (gloriabakerfeinstein.com) “there is something sorrowful and achingly sad in the air, in the eyes of the orphaned children, in the dirty water they drink, in the torn clothing they wear, in the doomed futures many of them face.

“There is also something completely beautiful and uplifting in the air, in the way the sun rises and gently lays back down, in the elegant and graceful stance of the women, in the impromptu games of the children, in the throbbing of the drums, in the gladness of a tender greeting from a perfect stranger.

“Most of the people I met have nothing. And yet their hearts are so full; they’re so kind and warm.”

She stayed in Uganda for three weeks, photographing three orphanages, recording stark images of the children.

“There are so many children,” she said. “There is a kind of a middle generation that’s just been erased. In all, 2.2 million orphans in Uganda have lost either one or both parents to AIDS or the war. And so there are all these children who have to find their way. They’re sometimes taken in by a grandmother. Others end up on the street. I just wanted to tell their stories through pictures.”

You can find some of Feinstein’s Uganda pictures on her Web site. One of her favorites is of a boy standing by a chalkboard with a powerful gaze.

“He sums up what I saw in the eyes of most children there, which was part resignation and part hope,” Feinstein said. “Those eyes. They just won’t let go of you.”

When it was time to go home, she couldn’t just walk away. There had to be something she could do to help. She started a foundation called Change the Truth to benefit a Ugandan orphanage. In the months she has been home she has raised enough money to send six kids to school and buy equipment to help them start a brick-making business. She plans to keep helping them and even to return this summer with her husband.

Since she was a toddler, Feinstein has used cameras to make sense of her world. One of her earliest memories is as a 3-year-old propping up her toy bunny against a cardboard box and taking a picture with her Brownie camera. She built a darkroom in her house as a teenager and grew up to become a professional photographer. She sold fine-art photos at her own gallery until 1992, when she opened a portrait business.

Then something happened that energized her passion for documentary photography. She took on a project for the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education that resulted in a book with fellow photographer David Sosland called From the Heart.

The book, published in 2001 by Kansas City Star Books, featured portraits of, and interviews with, 50 Holocaust survivors from the Kansas City area. Shortly thereafter she went to Europe to photograph eight concentration camps.

That led to another book, Among the Ashes, published in 2004. She knew then that she could use her camera to educate, enlighten and make a difference. Now, after her experience in Africa, she doesn’t know if she’ll ever go back to portrait work.

“You get requests from people to make their teeth whiter, to make their arms look thinner or to get rid of their double chin,” she said. “That seems pretty insignificant compared to taking pictures of kids who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from or where they were going to put their heads down that night. It just put things in perspective for me.”

Feinstein is now dedicated to raising awareness — and money — to help send more orphans to school.

“These children know the only way they are going to get out of the rut they are in is by education. These kids don’t want new sneakers; they don’t want a new Ipod. They just want a school uniform, books and a classroom.”

•Pictures from Gloria Baker Feinstein’s photographic mission to Uganda can be seen at an exhibit at the Leopold Gallery, 324 W. 63rd St. in Brookside. The exhibit runs through May 24.
•For more information, or to make a donation, you can log on to Feinstein’s blog, gloriainafrica.blogspot.com.

Twenty percent of sales will be donated to Change the Truth, which supports children at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood, an AIDS orphanage in Kajjansi, Uganda.

•The Leopold Gallery is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Feinstein’s Uganda pictures also can be seen on her Web site: gloriabakerfeinstein.com.

Friday, April 27, 2007

opening is tonight!

English Lesson, Buyingi, 2006

What a wild couple of days it’s been! On Wednesday I reluctantly plopped myself down in front of a mic, donning headphones no less, to do an interview with Steve Kraske on KC’s local NPR show called “Up to Date.” I was very nervous about the whole thing, but I must admit that Steve made it pretty easy, and I was ultimately pleased to be able to get the word out about the exhibition and Change the Truth to a lot of people who otherwise would not have heard about them. Just as I had recovered from that, I found myself standing in front of the partially installed exhibit discussing my trip to Uganda with Loren Halifax from the local Fox channel! Paul, the owner of Leopold Gallery, has been terrific with the PR about the show. There will also be articles in the KC Star, the Pitch (a KC weekly) and a couple of other local publications. Hopefully, we’ll raise lots of money to send to St. Mary Kevin’s.

Hope to see many of you at the opening tonight!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


The website is not completey finished, but it's up and running. This work in progress can now be viewed at www.changethetruth.org

Thanks and kudos to Brian Reisinger for creating both this and the printed brochure. What a great guy he is.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


The video presentation of the “success stories” at Operation Breakthrough at the dinner Friday night did what it needed to do: raise awareness and raise money. Just after the video ended, a very energetic auctioneer hopped up on the stage and, in the course of the next five minutes, raised $94,000.00 in cash pledges by asking the auction-number wielding attendees to raise their hands and make commitments. Not only that, but the executive of a major engineering firm here in Kansas City was so moved by the stories that he offered an internship to one of the young men we featured in the video.

Speaking of Operation Breakthrough, their African drummers and dancers will be performing at my opening this Friday night at the Leopold Gallery in Brookside. I was speaking to Sister Berta (co-founder and co-director) about this, and she asked me to make sure that the kids knew they were going to be helping SOMEONE ELSE for a change. She told me that these children are so accustomed to receiving assistance that it is easy for them to forget that THEY can actually help others. They may not have money to give, but the donation of their time and talent on Friday night will almost certainly inspire some of the people at the opening to make donations to Change the Truth. I hadn’t really thought about what an important message that will be for them.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


One of my favorite photographers is Wendy Ewald, and one of my favorite photo books is Portraits and Dreams: Photographs and Stories by Children of the of Appalachians. In the afterword Ben Lifson writes about the dreamy, beautiful photographs the young, inexperienced photographers made:

“They had time to notice things simply for the sake of it… Out of this kind of pleasure come photographs that are to the ambitious photographer what good common letters and journals are to the ambitious writer: easy natural productions that make one long to work without self-consciousness… they photographed as children look at things, as though for the first time, with a gaze neither dispassionate nor moved, neither rude nor ceremonious, neither magisterial nor naïve but simply curious and engaged. They seemed to have walked up to their subjects and to have stopped when they saw them clearly and whole.”

I made this photograph at the Cincinnati Zoo when I was six.

Friday, April 20, 2007

operation breakthrough dinner

Tonight is the Operation Breakthrough annual fundraising dinner. This is the event that will showcase the video Sandy McGuire and I worked on all winter. We documented the success stories of several children and young adults whose lives have been changed dramatically for the better due to the services offered by this not-for-profit center. The mission of Operation Breakthrough is to help children who are living in poverty develop to their fullest potential by providing them 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.

About nine hundred people will attend the auction/dinner at a hotel in downtown Kansas City. Lots of children from the center will be there running around greeting guests, singing and dancing, and showing off their very cute faces. There will be prominent speakers, a live auction, the presentation of the twenty-minute video we made and oh yes, that big semi with my photos on it will be parked somewhere in front of the hotel!

Donating my photography to this organization balances the work I do for the orphanage in Uganda. Doing something positive with my work is becoming the driving force behind my image making. Being able to do this on both a local and global level is really rewarding.

Here are some of the several hundred photographs that will make up the video.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Yesterday I watched Wolf Blizter interview the father of one of the young women who was killed at Virginia Tech. This man spoke eloquently and unflinchingly about his beautiful Reema, a nineteen year old who loved to dance and who had a beguiling smile.

It’s times like this when I am reminded how lucky I am to have my two wonderful children, with whom I feel very close and of whom I am very proud. I’ve talked about Max on this blog; now it’s Abbie’s turn.

Abbie, just after her second birthay

When Abbie was a little squirt, she began drawing and coloring and molding and markering and mixing and making – just like most kids. Abbie did this a lot, though, and she did it pretty well. Once she started school, teachers began to comment on her artistic talent. She simply has always found joy in expressing herself artistically. Abbie grew into a conscientious student, a damn good photographer, writer and singer, and a kind, loving person. She went on to major in art at Yale and now has the pleasure each day of sharing her joy of learning and her love of art with a gaggle of Catholic schoolgirls in plaid skirts. Abbie is the kindergarten through 4th grade art teacher at Sacred Heart Academy in New Orleans.

Now, instead of plastering my kitchen cabinets and refrigerator with her childhood drawings and watercolors, I have the pleasure of going to her website and seeing what goodies her charges are making. Abbie is getting some really wonderful work out of these young girls. But most important, she makes each girl feel as if she is responsible for the most expressive and innovative of creations. She encourages - and does not tolerate negativity. She lets the girls explore their feelings and helps them learn the importance of discovering their own personal voices. She gives them lots of time and space and freedom. She pushes them to explore new ideas and possibilities. She shows a great deal of respect for each student’s ability. Abbie exposes these young children to the works of well known painters and ceramicists, but, in the end, I am pretty sure they each come away from art class feeling pretty darn great about their own skills. I’m certain that Abbie, in her gentle, wise, kind, supportive and quiet way, is having a powerful impact on these girls – one that spills over into everything they do.

She makes the girls feel special and makes sure they know that what they create is special, as well. Not only are their “masterpieces” showcased around school on various bulletin boards, they are also featured on a cool website Abbie created. This gives the girls a chance to show off their work to far flung family and friends (and there are a lot of those in the lives of these girls whose families returned to New Orleans after Katrina) and to celebrate their artistic successes.

Honestly, I wish I had had a teacher like Abs when I was young. What confidence I would have had in myself early on as an artist and as a person!

Take a look at some of the wonderful work her students are doing.

And give your own children big ole hugs tonight, because we all know that each and every one of them is truly special in his or her own way.

Most important, make sure they know how grateful you are to have them in your life.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

liviu librescu

-JERUSALEM — The e-mails from grateful students arrived soon after Liviu Librescu was shot to death, telling how the Holocaust survivor barricaded the doorway of his Virginia Tech classroom and saved their lives at the cost of his own.

Librescu, an Israeli engineering and math lecturer who survived the Nazi killings and later escaped from Communist Romania, was one of several foreign victims of Monday's shootings, which coincided with Israel's Holocaust remembrance day.

"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Librescu's son, Joe Librescu, said Tuesday in a telephone interview from his home outside Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."

When Romania joined forces with Nazi Germany in World War II, the young Librescu was interned in a labor camp, and then sent along with his family and thousands of other Jews to a central ghetto in the city of Focsani, his son said. Hundreds of thousands of Romanian Jews were killed by the collaborationist regime during the war.

Librescu later found work at a government aerospace company. But his career was stymied in the 1970s because he refused to swear allegiance to the Communist regime, his son said, and he was later fired when he requested permission to move to Israel.

In 1977, according to his son, Israel's then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin personally intervened to get the family an emigration permit, and they left for Israel in 1978.

Librescu left Israel for Virginia in 1985 for a sabbatical year, but eventually made the move permanent, said Joe Librescu: "His work was his life in a sense."

The academic community in Romania also was mourning Librescu's death. "It is a great loss," said Ecaterina Andronescu, rector of the Polytechnic University in Bucharest, where Librescu graduated with a degree in mechanics and aviation construction in 1953. "We have immense consideration for the way he reacted and defended his students with his life."

At the university, people placed flowers on a table holding his picture and a lit candle. "We remember him as a great specialist in aeronautics. He left behind hundreds of prestigious papers," said professor Nicolae Serban Tomescu.

Librescu, who specialized in composite structures and aeroelasticity, published extensively and received numerous awards for his work. He received a doctorate from the Bucharest-based Academy of Sciences in 1969, and an honorary degree from the Bucharest Polytechnic University in 2000.

He also received several NASA grants and taught courses at the University "La Sapienza" in Rome and at the Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Associated Press writers Gavin Rabinowitz and Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi, Alexandru Alexe in Bucharest, Romania, and Leslie Josephs in Lima, Peru, contributed to this article.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

little league

Tonight I finished this new shredded piece. It’s one I’ve played around with before, but I’ve never been quite satisfied with the results until now. There are so many elements to arrange, and that’s what makes these images such fun to produce. The decisions I get to make deal with cropping, tearing, shredding, color adjustment and assemblage. These choices are so different from those that I make with my other work, as I normally shoot full frame (no cropping), work in black and white and obviously don’t rip and rearrange.

This is my brother’s little league team from the 1950’s. Ben, if you know what became of some of these guys, post a comment and let us know!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

what's new with change the truth?

Change the Truth is going strong. Exciting things are just around the corner.

First up: the show at Leopold. The exhibition announcements have been mailed; I will deliver the framed work on Monday. Paul has been quite busy in the public relations department! He has lined up a gig for me on the local NPR show “Up to Date” with Steve Kraske, as well as an in depth article about my work by Jim Fussell scheduled to run in the FYI section of the Kansas City Star. There also seems to be some interest on the part of one of the local television stations to do a piece on the Uganda work and the formation of the Change the Truth foundation. The children in the African dance corps and African drumming group at Operation Breakthrough are busy practicing for their performance at the opening, April 27th. It’s going to be an exciting week leading up to the opening, and I am really looking forward to it all.

Next: on April 29th, “J-Serve” will occur. This is a program organized by local Jewish youth to celebrate and emphasize the importance of community service. The high school kids who are organizing the daylong event have selected Invisible Children and Change the Truth as the non-for-profit groups they want to champion. I will speak at the rally, show photos and video and explain to the 200 young attendees how they can easily get involved in doing volunteer work and how fulfilling it can be. I feel truly honored to have been chosen by this group, and I am happy that they feel it is important to spread the word about what we, specifically, are doing to help others. The proceeds that are raised during the festival will be split between Invisible Children and Change the Truth. There will be all sorts of booths, including one staffed by yours truly, at which I will show photos, sell the beaded jewelry made by the children at the orphanage, sell CDs of the children singing, pass out our beautiful new brochures and talk further with those who are interested in learning more about how I got started doing this kind of work.

And finally, I wanted to share a lovely email I received from a woman named Gisa in Los Angeles. She runs the Butterfly Garden Preschool and spent a couple of months helping the children there learn all about animals that live in Africa. This led to a study of chimps, specifically orphaned chimps, which led to Anna from my Ugandan workshop being invited to teach the children about the chimps at the Jane Goodall Foundation which then led to Anna talking about my work with orphaned children which led to an enthusiastic response from the kids who immediately wanted to do something helpful to a yard sale to raise money!

“the children looked through their toys, books, clothes to find items to sell at the yard sale. parents and friends did the same. each family signed up for a time slot to come help out. the children were in charge of the cash register and putting items into the bags for customers. parents helped organize items and helped customers with any questions.

my preschool has a total of 17 children ranging from ages 2.5-5. they are a diverse group of children and families. it really took their enthusiasm as well as the support from parents to pull this off. we made a whole lot more than we had expected. we sent $150 to the chimps, $150 to a special ed school in kampala and $150 to change the truth.

i currently have two children enrolled who have been adopted from guatemala. i think what you are doing for saint mary kevin orphanage is wonderful. i am so thankful that the garage sale was a success and the we were able to give to three amazing organizations.”

All of this still just takes my breath away. I am amazed and so appreciative.

Friday, April 13, 2007


When you walk in the door of this kosher market, you are enveloped by a chorus of voices heavy with accents: Polish, German, Romanian, Brooklyn, you name it. Oh, and snippets of Yiddish, too. Milling about the aisles are shoppers old and young - mostly old - gathering all things Jewish and all things kosher into their carts. It's a place where customers yell at the guys behind the meat counter and sales clerks snap at the customers. It's a place where people greet each other after a holiday and call out best wishes for the next one coming up.

It's run by the third generation of Glicks to sell kosher goods. The current owner does what he learned best from his grandfather and great uncle, who started the business in Brooklyn in 1917.

I love going there. I love watching the old couples help each other down the aisles, carefully and slowly inspecting each label and comparing the price of this brand to that one. I love knowing that this could be the highlight of their day, coming to the market to shop a few things for dinner, to greet a few friends, to complain about the heat or the high price of gas or the service they got at a restaurant last night or Bush or Imus or whatever is on their mind just then to whoever cares to listen.

Eddie's folks used to shop here. I like going there and thinking of them as one of the old couples putting the Manischewitz, Streit's, Bartons or S'UG products into their basket.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

what a prince

I got to meet Herbie yesterday. This guy has a heart as big as Texas, charm galore, and he’s funny, too. Like stand up comedy funny. I absolutely fell in love with Herbie, the driver.

All that talk about him being ninety-six? Urban legend. Turns out he’s only ninety-two.

He regaled us with stories about Bubbie and talked about his own life. During WWII, he was severely wounded by shrapnel. Two of his buddies were killed during the same attack. After spending six months in the hospital, he vowed to devote his life to doing good things for other people. After listening to his various tales, I think one could safely say he’s accomplished his goal.

Herbie was still telling me jokes and stories as I walked him out to his car. We stood for awhile in the quiet of the thick Florida twilight, and then he turned and blew me a kiss, folded himself slowly into the driver’s seat and then very carefully guided his car down the street.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

delray beach

And now we are in Florida. We were greeted last night with a huge thunderstorm, the kind where the sky turns black, then a sickly green, then the rain comes down in sheets. Coming into Bubbie’s house and finding everything just the way it was when she fell and went to the hospital left us both kind of shaken. Her bed was turned down, her laundry heaped on the washing machine, her pill box on the table with Tuesday’s dosage waiting to be taken. Most poignant of all was the old, faded recipe card for matzo meal bagels, which rested on the kitchen table. We know her famous bagels were the last things she cooked. They hadn’t turn out too well, she had told Eddie, and she had decided not to take them to the Seder Monday night. The pot was still in the sink… the bagels in the refrigerator.

This is now a house of mourning. We have covered the mirrors, removed the cushions from the sofa and lit the Shiva candle. I cut Eddie’s shirt just over his heart so that he could tear the fabric. Today people (and food) will begin to arrive.

Bubbie lived on her own in this house for ten years, since the death of Eddie’s dad. In the most recent years, her family rose up around her to care for her, to check in on her, to call frequently, to visit, to take her places, to always be available. She insisted on being as independent as a ninety-three year old woman could possibly be (well, she did have the assistance now and then of her driver, Herbie, who is a sprightly ninety-six) and even though she hated rain, thunder and lightening, she amazed those of us who lived outside of Florida by riding out many storms. During one of the recent hurricanes, we called from Kansas City to see how she was holding up. She answered the phone and calmly explained that she was sitting in the closet with the cordless phone and a flashlight, perched on one of her plastic white folding chairs, patiently waiting for the winds to die down.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

observance of bubbie's death

Eddie and His Mom, 2005

The funeral was this morning. Tears, cold. Detroit seemed like a tundra. Gray and snowy. Mist hanging in the air. Scarves and gloves and hats again.

Four shovels at the gravesite. As with many Jewish practices, it is the responsibility of the community to bury the dead. Each of us took a turn tossing dirt on Bubbie’s casket. The thud sends a chill down your spine. Continues to echo in your head throughout the day. First you place a tiny bit of soil on the back of the shovel to symbolize your reluctance to do the job. With the second and then third shovel-full, you turn it the right way and scoop up a heavy load fully acknowledging the death at hand. It’s hard to watch your children help bury their grandparent. The finality of that thud as they turn over their shovels and release the heavy soil breaks your heart because you know theirs is breaking, too.

At the conclusion of Passover on Tuesday, Eddie will begin the observance of Shiva. Shiva is customarily observed in the home of the deceased, so we will be at his mother’s house along with his brother. According to Jewish tradition and observance, for seven days Eddie will not go out of the house except to attend synagogue. He will not wear leather shoes (to keep him from feeling comfort), and he will sit on a low stool or a chair with the cushion removed (to match the low feeling of his heart and to remind him of the departure from normalcy). Family and friends will come by to console him and bring him meals. He will wear a garment torn over the heart to symbolize the tear in his heart and the separation from his parent. He will not work. All the mirrors in the house will be covered so that he will not be concerned with his personal appearance and to avoid seeing himself so sad. On the morning of the seventh day, he and his brother will “get up” from Shiva and walk around the block, symbolically representing their reentry into the community.

For thirty days Eddie will not shave or cut his hair. He will also avoid music and any sort of joyous celebration. He will not attend movies or the theatre. He will eat meals by himself or with close friends and family.

For eleven months he will go to services every day to recite the Kaddish prayer and to be with others from the Jewish community. He will not wear new clothes. He is supposed to concentrate on charitable and educational endeavors.

Now, this is a very traditional way of observing a death. Eddie was raised as a Conservative Jew. I come from a Reform background, so this is a learning experience for me. I don’t know a lot about these customs – just what I have read and what Eddie and his family shares with me. What I do know is that all of this is designed to protect, provide comfort in community, grant room for exploration and reflection, enable a profound connection with tradition and ensure that there is time for healing.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


In 1938, in the small village of Bera, Romania, the Jews were told they were going to be killed if they did not leave. The King granted a reprieve. Several of the townspeople threatened my father-in-law, then twenty-seven years old, that “they were not done with them yet.” So Avrum left and later sent for his wife, Clara, and their three-year-old daughter, Sophie (who passed away in 2002). They ended up in British Honduras, where they lived until 1946. It was then that Avrum and Clara made application to the come to the US. They moved to Detroit, where Avrum’s two brothers had already established themselves.

Clara went on to have two more kids. Avrum set up shop as a furniture dealer, joining his brother Max in the business. They thrived as new Americans, but held tradition, Judaism, the past, and family very dear.

One of the children Clara had was Eddie, the man I married thirty-two years ago.

Last night Clara, affectionately known as “Bubbie” passed away. She was ninety-three years old, having lived on her own in her house in Florida since Avrum died ten years ago. She only had a fifth grade education (all that was available in Bera, and she had to fight for that, since she was a girl) but she was smart about all the things that really mattered in life. She never got her driver’s license, but she was as independent and spirited as they come. Bubbie’s sense of humor was infectious, but she would have been the last to admit that she was funny. She loved her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren fiercely, in spite of the fact that in recent years she may not have been able to recall their names from time to time.

So now we begin a year of traditional Jewish mourning. Eddie will observe his mother’s death in various ways, which I shall share as we go. The traditional method of mourning makes an incredible amount of sense, even in this day and age.

For now we recall the wonderful times we spent with Bubbie over all these years together. Here are a few pictures I made of her a couple of years ago during a visit to Florida.

Rummy Cube

A Kiss From Max

Bubbie Waving Goodbye

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


One time when I was about ten or eleven, I don’t know, maybe nine, I followed the McCool boys (that really was their last name) into my grandparents’ back yard, way back into the corner in an area that was fenced off. They had a pack of Kools, menthols as I recall. The boys, who lived next door to my grandparents, were way too worldly and tough to be hanging out with someone like me, but they must have figured that if they could get me to smoke, it might make for good entertainment on a Saturday afternoon.

One of them passed me a cigarette and lit it for me, as any southern gentleman would do. After a spell of coughing and gagging and spitting, I managed to inhale a few puffs. I felt pretty good about myself, especially when I realized the McCools were paying attention to me. My knees were usually scuffed and my hair was hardly ever well coiffed. They hadn't much noticed me before.

I think about that day every spring. My grandparents had this amazing cherry tree smack in the middle of that backyard, and the blossoms on it damn near knocked me out me each April. I thought they were so beautiful. I think about them this time of year.

I also think about what happened to me after I smoked with the McCools. By late afternoon, I was back in my grandparents’ tiny house, and of course I reeked. Dearie (my grandmother) asked me what I’d been up to, well, rather, had I been smoking. I confessed, as it would have been pretty hard not too considering I smelled like the inside of a smoldering tobacco barn. What she did surprised me. She said it was up to me to tell my mom about it when she came to pick me up.

So when my mom arrived, the three of us sat in the living room, each of us sort of eyeing the other while I drank a Coke and finally summoned up the courage to spit out the words concerning the Kools and the McCools. Mom was angry, but she took it all in stride. She and Dearie cast each other some sidelong glances and must have silently agreed to let me off the hook this time. It was my first offense, after all.

I think back to this every April. I remember the way the cool grass felt on my bare feet and how the cherry tree was so pink and lovely and how the smoke burned my throat and how much I wanted those boys to think highly of me and how that cold Coke bottle felt good against my sweaty palms and how the looks on the faces of Mom and Dearie were seared into my head for a long time after that.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


"Every other spring an international set of photographers and reviewers gather in Portland Oregon for a week-long celebration of photography. Our mission: an increased understanding of the world through photography.

By promoting in-depth, informed, and supportive dialog between photographers, gallery owners, publishers and pundits of various sorts, Photolucida promotes the culture of photography.

An intensive four-day portfolio review lies at the heart of the festival. Reviewers are selected for their experience, involvement, and commitment to advancing the work of emerging and mid-career artists. The majority represent small, mid-sized, and major venues or publishers devoted to photography as an artistic medium. Over the years many participants have made contacts that led directly to exhibitions, publications, and the sale of their work, in addition to receiving useful critiques leading to professional refinement."

I will be on my way to Portland in a week to participate in Photolucida, whose mission statement is above. This will only be my second time there, though I have attended similar events in Houston and Santa Fe over the years. The list of reviewers (60 in all) is impressive, as is the group of accomplished photographers who are planning to attend and show their work.

What I like about these things is, obviously, the opportunity to show my work to many important people in the industry - the experience of showing and talking about my own photographs always leads me to a greater understanding of what I'm doing and why, and the feedback I get is extremely helpful. (In the past, I have been pretty lucky. I've sold work, gotten on a couple of short lists for shows, placed some work in museum collections and sold an image to Random House for a book cover).

The other really good thing that comes out of these portfolio reviews is the chance to meet lots of other photographers, look at their work, share experiences, establish new friendships and contacts. Often I feel like I am working in a vacuum. It's helpful to have other photographers with whom to commiserate, celebrate, question, etc. I have several long distance photo pals (I've met them at conferences like this and at photography workshops I've attended) with whom I share ideas, resources, publishing and exhibition info, etc. When I go to Portland, I'll look forward to seeing some of them there - and to making some new friends, too.

I am taking two bodies of work with me: Uganda and The Shredding Project. It will be an exhausting four days. Showing one's work over and over again leads to exhilaration, humiliation and everything in between. It is not for the weak at heart! Depending on whom you talk to, you can leave the review feeling like the finest photographer in the land or wishing you were never born. It's a roller coaster of emotions.

I'll keep you updated while I'm on the ride!

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Here is the logo Brian designed for Change the Truth. This will appear on the letterhead, t-shirts, brochure, website, etc. It's actually from a photograph HE made, but it picks up so nicely on all the hands that appear in the images I made in Uganda. I think Brian also tuned into the feeling I had when I was at the orphanage that I had nothing to offer the children then but a hand to hold. Of course, Brian was in Uganda at the same time I was and was experiencing feelings similar to mine. So, it's really no surprise that he "got" what this is all about. The photographs he made during the workshop were definitely among my favorites.

If you have print or web design needs, Brian's company is called Swan Dive Digital. He's a well-respected, sensitive, talented and good-humored artist with whom to work.