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

Monday, March 31, 2008

swimming pool

One of the ways I have been regaining my strength and improving my range of motion has been swimming. Today I schlepped my camera to the pool.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Lynne Melcher is a textile and dinnerware designer, whose collections have been carried by, among others, Crate and Barrel and Williams Sonoma. About a year ago she decided to delve into the world of filmmaking, a medium that has always fascinated her. After taking a few workshops and classes, she packed up her video gear and accompanied us to Uganda this past December to make a documentary about Change the Truth.

She shot twenty-five hours worth of footage. She worked tirelessly, capturing in a very artistic fashion the lives of the kids at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage and the work that was done on our mission trip. I made this picture of her when we were in Gulu.

Since we returned home three months ago, Lynne has surpassed “working tirelessly” whatever that might be called, and has poured her heart and soul into the film. Today I was privileged to see what she has put together so far, and I was very impressed. Next week she wants me to add my voice to it as part of the narration. Having never done anything like that before, I must admit I feel a bit intimidated!

The finished film will be shown at the CTT fundraiser/friendraiser in June. Please make every effort to attend so that you can see it for yourself. You’ll be witnessing the first of much more to come from this emerging filmmaker.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

construction site

That would be me.

Several of you have written to ask how breast reconstruction works. Since I’m in the middle of it, I can certainly tell you. So… if you are not one of those have asked or you have no desire to know, now is your chance to change channels or turn off the set.

…………. (Those of you who wish to stay can hum a little tune now while the others go elsewhere.)

Okay. Here’s the skinny. There are a couple of options for reconstruction after mastectomy. I chose the tissue expander method. In this case, an empty sack was placed under my chest muscle by a plastic surgeon just after the breast surgeon had completed her job. It has a little tube and a valve in it, and a few weeks after the initial surgery, the plastic surgeon starting injecting saline into it, a little bit at a time, every couple of weeks or so. Basically, this stretches the skin. Once it gets to the desired size (a couple of months from now), I go in for another surgery. Then the sack will be removed and replaced with a permanent saline or silicone implant.

But, wait! That’s not all. Then comes the reconstruction of the nipple (or nibble, as one of our kids used to say.) But that’s another chapter, another time.

It’s a pretty amazing and sometimes uncomfortable process. But I really can't complain too much about the latter.

I know I am lucky to be doing this instead of needing chemo or radiation. While this is no walk in the park, in the scheme of things I am very fortunate.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

we cannot stop the truth, but we can change the truth

These are the words that begin the chorus of the song written and performed by the choir at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage Motherhood. (If you want to hear the song, please visit the CTT website/ pictures page.)

Because of the continuous support of friends of Change the Truth, I am happy to report that we have recently offered secondary school sponsorships to three more deserving children. They are: Martin Ojok, Daniel Okello and Paula Namugenyi. Needless to say, these young people are ecstatic to be presented with the opportunity to attend school. They know, as well as anyone, that this is the way to avoid the grim future that so many orphans in Africa face.

That brings the total number of kids sponsored by Change the Truth to twenty. Thanks to each of you who has stepped up to make a donation to this project. It is a good thing you are doing. We hope to see these kids all the way through secondary school, then on to vocational school or University. And there are more kids waiting to begin their studies.

Here are more pictures of some of the sponsored students.





Emanuel Vincent

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

the rape of europa

An important documentary is opening in theatres around the country. Here is an article about “The Rape of Europa” that appeared in the Fall issue of the Jerusalem Post:

“The Nazi regime was not only the world's greatest murderer, but the biggest thief as well.

High on the list of loot were Europe's master paintings and sculptures, with failed artist Adolf Hitler and his avaricious henchman Hermann Goering personally spearheading the plunder.

More than 60 years after the fall of the Third Reich, the fallout from the great Nazi robbery is continuing, with thousands of art works still missing or sought by their original, largely Jewish, owners.

The story, as meticulously tracked in the two-hour documentary, The Rape of Europa, is complex, but even those unenthused by visits to galleries or museums will find the plotline riveting.

Numbers alone don't tell the story, but they are staggering. In total, the Nazis seized some 600,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures and Judaica artifacts during their 12-year reign, according to historian Jonathan Petropoulos of Claremont McKenna College, one the top experts on the subject.

As one small example, a detachment of the US Army's ‘Monuments Men’ found 6,500 paintings and sculptures in one Bavarian salt mine alone, and sent them to a collection point, which held 27 Rembrandt paintings.

Petropoulos said in an interview that up to 100,000 looted art works might still be missing, some destroyed, but others that may not be rediscovered for generations.

Hitler's obsession with art was as monumental, and as fervently anti-Semitic as his other manias. As a struggling young artist, Hitler was twice rejected for admission to Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts. The film's narrator ponders how the course of history might have been changed if Hitler had not been turned down by the academy's heavily Jewish faculty.

Hitler's revenge fantasy included the construction of a grandiose Fuehrer Museum in his hometown of Linz to house the greatest of his looted art works. Up until his last hours in his Berlin bunker, Hitler reworked his delusional plans for the museum.

Rape Of Europa opens and closes with shots of Maria Altmann, the 91-year old Los Angeles resident, who battled the Austrian and American governments for seven years to recover five paintings by Gustav Klimt, taken from her Viennese family and valued at $300 million.

In one of the landmark cases in the history of looted art, E. Randol Schoenberg, Altmann's lawyer, took the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.

The film is the work of three San Francisco-based veterans of PBS documentaries, Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham. Cohen is also the founder of Actual Films, which produced Rape of Europa, and she and her colleagues worked eight years on the documentary, basing it on Lynn H. Nicholas' book of the same title.

The filmmakers have crammed a remarkable amount of information and historical context into their work, enlivened by vintage footage of Hitler and other Nazi art connoisseurs and the work of Allied recovery teams.

Among the most vivid images is a ghost-like Louvre in Paris in 1939, emptied of its 35,000 works of art in advance of the German onslaught. Another is the picture of cheering Florentines, lining the streets to welcome the return, on U.S. Army trucks, of the city's looted paintings.

The saga is not over yet. Many paintings will likely never be recovered and the tedious work of returning others to their original owners is still continuing.”

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I used to be quite the purist when it came to using the full frame of the pictures I made. I believe strongly that the ability to compose an image in the viewfinder is an important and necessary skill, one that forces the photographer to be careful, observant, thoughtful and precise. In most of the work I print(ed) in the wet darkroom, I include the black edge of the negative, both as an aesthetic piece and a declaration that what you see in the final image was what the camera captured when I released the shutter.

Working with digital capture has loosened (freed) me up a bit. I do crop now (not always), mainly because I still prefer the square format to the rectangle, and there is no such thing as an affordable square format digital camera. I am in the process of training my eye to impose an imaginary square in the viewfinder. (Yes, I suppose I could use tape or something, but this is actually working for me.)

So, usually the cropping is minimal: a chunk off either side. But there is one picture I made in Uganda that I really did a number on, and it has (surprisingly) become an important piece in this new body of work. You can see the first simple square crop in a post from December 10, 2007. Once home from the trip, I worked on it some more. The final result, a much more severe crop, injected the piece with the emotion that was/is truly there for me. I guess sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find what is there. I’m glad I have given myself permission now to do just that.

On a final note, I saw a portrait exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum yesterday. Keith Davis, curator to beat all curators, suggested that a portrait can and usually does reveal “an external truth” AND an “internal truth.” I could not agree more, and in fact, I believe this picture sums that up better than anything I’ve made in a long time.

Friday, March 21, 2008

lensbaby 101

To celebrate the arrival of spring and my feeling better, I bought myself a "lensbaby." It kind of turns your SLR camera into a Holga or Diana (cheap, plastic "toy" camera). Kind of...

Anyway, here's my first foray into the lensbaby world - an abstraction of the beautiful orchid sent to me by a good friend while I was in the hospital.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The critic from Durango mentioned in his review of my show at Open Shutter Gallery that my work has been influenced by Andre Kertesz. I’ve not heard that before, and I consider it a compliment. I certainly love his work and have looked at it over and over again throughout the years. I couldn’t help but think back to the time I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him. He was in Kansas City in the early 80’s for a major exhibition at the University. I hung a smattering a pieces in my gallery in honor of and in conjunction with that show. He came to the gallery for a small reception; he enjoyed the small exhibit and met some collectors.

I couldn’t resist sharing this snapshot made in front of my gallery. That’s baby Abbie in my arms! It looks like Kertesz and I are making a nice connection, but all I recall is that I was just so honored to be in his presence. It was a very special day, to be sure.

“André Kertész is recognized as one of the world's leading photographers. During a career spanning more than 70 years, he created images of ordinary life, in a style without pretension, using small-format cameras almost exclusively. As his instinctive formal sense became more assured, he retained the vital curiosity which first prompted him at age 18, to make a visual record of his daily life.

Working in a variety of modes, from portraits to still-lifes to nude distortions to photo-reportage, Kertész consistently captured the telling moment and the overlooked but expressive details of his subjects. He had an enduring influence upon world photography, particularly in France where he was a mentor to photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and Brassai. Cartier-Bresson has acknowledged this achievement: ‘Whatever we have done, Kertész did first.’

Acclaimed a master by his peers, critics, and curators by the late 1930s, Kertész's reputation suffered during the 1940s and 1950s as his commercial work in America distracted viewers from his European achievements. Since 1963, however, the full range of his mastery - fragile, intimate and gently ironic - has been undeniable. Exhibitions and a stream of books and monographs during the past 20 years of his creative life have re-established Kertész in his rightful place in the photographic pantheon.”
- MastersofPhotography.com

Here are some examples of Kertesz’s work.

Monday, March 17, 2008

kevin carter

“Witness the shot of a stick-thin, malnourished toddler who stopped to rest on her way to a feeding station in war-torn Sudan. The picture, taken by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter, shows the girl on her knees, bent at the waist with her forehead resting on the dry, dusty dirt.

She is alone except for a vulture behind her, waiting for her to die.

This picture captivated the world in 1993 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994. A few months later, Carter taped a garden hose to the exhaust of his pick-up truck and fed the other end into the passenger side window.

Broke and depressed over the loss of a friend, his suicide note read, in part, ‘I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain . . . of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners.'"
- I.U. South Bend Preface, 4/07

“Mr. Carter started as a sports photographer in 1983 but soon moved to the front lines of South African political strife, recording images of repression, anti-apartheid protest and fratricidal violence. A few days after winning his Pulitzer Prize in April, Mr. Carter was nearby when one of his closest friends and professional companions, Ken Oosterbroek, was shot dead photographing a gun battle in Tokoza township.

His picture of an emaciated girl collapsing on the way to a feeding centre, as a plump vulture lurked in the background, was published first in The New York Times and The Mail & Guardian, a Johannesburg weekly. The reaction to the picture was so strong that The New York Times published an unusual editor's note on the fate of the girl. Mr. Carter said she resumed her trek to the feeding centre. He chased away the vulture.

Afterwards, he told an interviewer, he sat under a tree for a long time, ‘smoking cigarettes and crying’. His father, Mr. Jimmy Carter said last night: ‘Kevin always carried around the horror of the work he did.’”
- The New York Times, 1994, from Carter’s obituary

A recent discussion among those of us who traveled together to Uganda this past December about the moral dilemmas with which image- makers are sometimes confronted, as well as the emotional hardships endured by witnessing and recording trauma, led to a conversation about Kevin Carter and this well known photograph.

The photograph won Carter a Pulitzer Prize and catapulted him to photo fame; it also evoked much criticism. Many felt it was wrong of him to simply stand by and make a picture of the starving girl rather than putting down his camera and helping her to the nearby feeding center. Others took the stance that had he not made the picture, Sudan would have remained an unknown tragedy.

It is a thought provoking dialogue, one that often comes up among image-makers in devastating situations. If you would like to learn more about Carter check out this video.

Friday, March 14, 2008

auschwitz through the lens of the ss

Earlier this week, I attended an incredible program presented by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education. It featured Becky Erbelding, an archivist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, who came to KC with an impressive depth of scholarly information and a powerful group of photographs. (She is only twenty-six years old, by the way - a comforting realization that the story will continued to be told.)

In late 2006, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel notified USHMM and said that he would like to donate a photo album that he had found in an abandoned apartment in Germany in 1946. This man (now elderly and who asked to remain anonymous) had been a member of the Counter Intelligence Corps and had conducted investigations of Nazi perpetrators for U.S. prosecutors after WW II.

The inscription on the front of the album read, “Auschwitz 21.6.1944.”

There are very few known wartime photographs of the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, which included Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi killing center. By November 1944, the SS had killed more than a million Jews and tens of thousands of Roma, Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war in Auschwitz-Birkenau. At least 865,000 Jews were killed immediately upon arrival. Most were killed in the gas chambers.

The album has been attributed to Karl Hocker, basically the “chief of staff” at Auschwitz. He was stationed there from May 1944 until the evacuation of the camp in January 1945. The appearance of the album was an astonishing event at USHMM.

The presentation of photographs kept me spellbound. After all, I’ve grown quite accustomed to seeing photos of prisoners at various camps. Never had I seen what was going on with the SS; as the gas chambers were operating at maximum efficiency during the last months before the camp was evacuated, the officers were relaxing at their retreat center, singing, partying and socializing with the female employees. Even in the final months of the war, after Soviet troops had liberated some camps to the east, SS officers at Auschwitz continued enjoying life to its fullest.

Here’s what got to me the most as I sat there looking at these pictures: several of my Holocaust survivor friends were in the audience. How in the world did they feel seeing these images for the first time? What was the possibility that their mother, sister or grandfather had been ordered to the gas chamber by one of these officers just before a pictured sing-along or round of drinks?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Change the Truth update/sponsored students

Lots of great things are happening with Change the Truth! Twelve amazing women have volunteered to work on the friendraiser/fundraiser that is scheduled for June 12th. We had our first meeting on Sunday. Good ideas were bouncing all around the table, and the enthusiasm was contagious. If the kids at St. Mary Kevin's could have seen these creative and energetic people figuring out ways to help, they would have been dancing around the room! And speaking of the kids, I thought it might be nice to post pictures of some of the secondary school students who are being sponsored by Change the Truth - kids who are bright, kind, beautiful, hopeful and deserving... kids who would not have an opportunity to go this far with their education were it not for the generous people who have stepped forward to provide assistance.

And on that note, I would like to let you know that some very compassionate friends of CTT have offered to pay the nursing school fees for Douglas. How cool is that?







Tuesday, March 11, 2008

boy with push toy

As I continue to edit and print images from the trip to Uganda, I am spending time with pictures I didn’t choose the first time around. This one, actually, has become one of my favorites. This boy lived down the road from St. Mary Kevin’s.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

breast cancer survivors

The women (and men) I have photographed over the last four years for the exhibition/calendar at a local hospital’s Breast Center continue to show their support for me by sending constant good wishes and words of encouragement. I have been asked to be a participant next year on BOTH sides of the camera; I will do a self-portrait for “Faces of Breast Cancer, 2009.” Who could have predicted that? Anyway, here are more portraits and words from past exhibitions:

I am a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, girlfriend, medical technologist and eternal optimist. I am a breast cancer survivor. The initial shock of diagnosis was bone chilling, but there were so many options available for treatment and support that my fears were replaced with knowledge and, more importantly, a chance to fight back. One of the most difficult things during my treatment was not being able to be with my grandchildren at times when my immunity was low. But I had the bonus of anticipating the birth of a new grandson due the week of my last chemo treatment! Not only was he a joyful addition to our family, but his arrival signified a healthy new life for me.


After many years of being deliberate about getting my mammograms, December 1999 changed everything. I was shocked to learn I had cancer because we have no family history. I learned that this disease spares no one. Early detection is so important.

Karen (daughter)

Our lives are too short. We must live each day to its fullest and treasure our lives, family and friends. My experience with breast cancer was stressful but my doctors, nurses and caregivers gave me confidence. I have learned to enjoy the beauty of my family and friends and to never lose faith.

Nellie (mother)

I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and business manager. Even though I never thought it would happen to me, I am a breast cancer survivor. Despite my initial fear, I have learned how resilient survivors can be. I have learned that relationships with people are the most important part of my life. I’m blessed with wonderful family, friends, co-workers and physicians. My advice for other women is not to wait or hesitate. Early diagnosis gives you more options.


I thought breast cancer only happened to older people, but when a volunteer handed me instructions on how to do a breast self-exam, I took one anyway. I went ahead and did the check and found a little lump. I only went to the doctor after much urging from my mother. One appointment led to another until a biopsy confirmed that I had cancer. I used to be an introvert but I’ve found myself reaching out and getting more involved with more and more people since I’ve had breast cancer. Now since I’m here, I want to make a difference.


Being diagnosed the first time at age thirty-two was a frightening experience. The second time was a challenge that also brought positive changes into my life. I embrace my family and friends and try to build loving, lasting memories. Exercise is a routine part of my life, and I feel it is an important tool for surviving this disease. A breast cancer diagnosis is not the end. It could be the beginning of a new life experience.

Mary Lou

Friday, March 07, 2008

speaking of voices

A reader from Maine has brought to my attention a wonderful program he’s established for kids with cancer. It’s all about helping the children find a way to express their thoughts and feelings with a Holga, a plastic camera. Please check out his website. What he’s done is inspiring, and what the kids have to say with their pictures is doubly so.

You know, this is what makes this blogging thing so cool. How else would he have heard of my work, and how else could I have passed his work along to you?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

finding one’s own voice

It’s a tricky and difficult business, whether you’re a painter, musician, teacher, chef, writer, photographer. But it’s what we all set out to do. Simply mouthing someone else’s words gets old, and besides, it’s not very stimulating or fulfilling.

Recently a reader wrote to tell me that my work has helped inspire him as he tries to discover his own personal vision. What an honor. I was really moved by this. It called to mind the long list of photographers whose work has challenged, motivated and encouraged me as I (continue to) build and fine-tune my voice as an image-maker.

I thought about a quote of Mary Ellen Mark’s in response to the question, “How did you develop your own way of seeing?” She said (and by the way, Mary Ellen has hugely impacted me over the years, both on a personal and visual level):

“I don’t think you can develop or learn a way if seeing or a ‘point of view.’ A ‘way of seeing’ is who you are, how you think and how you create images. It’s how you look at the world. For example, look at the work of some of the great photographers like Robert Frank, Irving Penn, Andre Kertesz, Helen Levitt and Henri Cartier-Bresson. It’s easy to recognize their pictures because their photographs reflect their distinct vision.” She advises budding photographers to “be true to yourself and follow your hopes and dreams. Look at the work of great photographers and try to understand what makes their images great. Be inspired, but don’t copy their work. You must have your own point of view, your own way of looking at the world. The worst thing someone can say to you is that your work reminds them of somebody else’s work.” (from Image Makers/Image Takers by Anne-Celine Jaeger)

I agree with everything MEM says, with the exception of that last statement.

I am not so sure it is possible to speak in a way that is totally void of any and all other influences. We move through life with a constant barrage of other people’s ideas and expressions. Unless you put on a blindfold, a mouth guard, a nose-clip, earplugs and thick rubber gloves each morning, you are bound to take in the sights, sounds and feel of the people, the music, the flavors, the pictures and the movement of each and every day. This is a good thing! It’s called “living.” How can we not be influenced by what we see and hear and smell and touch and taste each day?

How can the images we ultimately make NOT refer back to all those we have previously seen?

It doesn’t bother me if someone sees a nod to Levitt or Mann or Arbus or Cartier-Bresson in my work. What an honor. In fact, I feel like I am carrying the torch they lit, which was surely lit by people before them and which will hopefully be carried forward by others to come. No, I don’t want my work to look just like theirs, but I can’t help it if the seeds of my inspiration were planted by them. Their work (and the work of many others) informs mine. The challenge, of course, to take what they have given me and cultivate those thought processes in such a way that the new “plants” become my own.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


So much for global warming, at least in Durango, Colorado this year. Seems they had more snow in February than they knew what to do with. There was talk about shoveling snow off rooftops and hanging “gone skiing” signs on the doors of businesses. On the night of my opening, there was a blizzard. At least one person has trudged through the snow to see my show, though, and that was the art critic for the weekly paper. You can read the review here.