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

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Four years ago when my mother was diagnosed with leukemia, I set about making photographs of the house I grew up in, the house where my parents still lived. I had just turned six when we moved into this house; I still return there to this day to be with my dad.

I was inspired to post images after seeing a series photographs by Phillip Toledano entitled “Days With My Father" a moving and wonderful body of work that my friend Aline Smithson recently featured on her blog.

These pictures, while they aren’t about my folks specifically, are about the details of the home they created and shared with my siblings and me. They are about the quiet, still moments that existed/exist in a space that is as familiar to me as my own breathing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I am thinking about creating a new website. If you know of someone with great website design skills who would be interested in getting paid with prints, please have him/her email me: gbfeinstein@aol.com

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Today I had the privilege of photographing a woman who will soon celebrate her 100th birthday. She was born three weeks before Henry Ford produced his first Model T automobile. Grand Canyon National Monument was created that year, and a long-distance radio message was sent from the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Helen's family is hoping Willard Scott will acknowledge the big day!

Here are a few other interesting tid bits about that year:

1st U.S. postage stamps in rolls were issued.

1st time the ball signifying the New Year dropped at Times Square.

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Breith stood before the city council and announced that, "Women are not physically fit to operate automobiles."

1st Mother's Day was observed.

1st passenger flight in an airplane took place.

Star #46 was added to the U.S. flag for Oklahoma.

New York City passed a regulation making it illegal for a woman to smoke in public.

Monday, July 28, 2008

operation breakthrough

Operation Breakthrough is a nationally accredited, not-for-profit corporation that began in 1971 as a response to requests from parents in the central city for quality childcare for children of the working poor. Current funding comes from a federal Head Start grant, the State of Missouri, the city of Kansas City, private donations and various foundations.

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.

The center also strives to support and empower the children’s families through advocacy, referral services and emergency aid.

To qualify for state-subsidized childcare, the parents must be working or attending school. Operation Breakthrough enrolls children whose parents are not working when there is concern that the children will not have food or might be unsupervised if they are at home. The state does not pay for those children's care.

The center cares each weekday for more than 600 children, ages 6 weeks to 18 years. All but 2% of the enrolled families live below federal poverty guidelines, most far below them. About 25% of the children are homeless at any given time, living in homeless or battered women’s shelters or transitional living programs, sleeping on the sofas of friends or relatives, sometimes even living in cars, rundown hotels or abandoned buildings. About 25% come from foster homes. The rest live primarily with single mothers who struggle to support them on annual earnings that are often not more than $14,000. Currently, enrollment is full, and there is a waiting list of more than 500 children.

I was turned onto this special place a few years ago by my good friend Linda. I walked through the doors for a tour and happened to mention that I was a photographer. Before I knew what had hit me, I was taking pictures of the children for letterheads, event invitations, publications, calendars, annual fundraising videos and the front lobby, just to name a few of my very fun “assignments.” Last week I was there to work side by side with Lynne Melcher on an upcoming video about some of the center’s sponsors. (It's going to be shown on the jumbo-tron at an upcoming Chief's pre-season game!) The children, the staff and the armies of volunteers at Operation Breakthrough never fail to inspire me.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Lynn has had a mastectomy, radiation, chemo and now reconstruction. She told me her family was very instrumental in helping her get through it all. I could relate to that, as can so many other survivors. But when she told me about her dog, I knew that’s whom she ought to include in her portrait. Lynn doesn’t have human children; her dogs are her kids.

“My dog Cinnamon was very important to me. For two months before my diagnosis, she would curl up with me and lay her head on my left breast. Then she'd just look up at me, like she was trying to tell me something. Later, she was very ill, and I asked her to just hang on to help me through treatment. She died the day after my last chemo. She hung on just to get me that far.”

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Who knew I’d be one of the “calendar girls” this year? I was supposed to be the one simply taking the pictures. Didn’t plan on being in one of them.

Here I am on the “wrong” side of the camera, not a place I generally like to be.

I decided to recreate the self-portrait I made twelve years ago in Santa Fe. No impressive boulder to climb this time, no gorgeous forest for a backdrop. Simple and straightforward. (Thanks to Eddie for standing in as my tripod.)

These are the words that will accompany my self-portrait:

“I am a photographer, a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister and the founder of a non-profit organization that helps AIDS and war orphans in Uganda. I am a little girl and an assertive woman. Two years ago I went to Africa for the first time and had my life turned all around. This year I had breast cancer, and my life got all turned around again. Both experiences have opened my eyes to what is good and what is bad about life. Both have helped me understand what love and compassion really mean, what is important and what is not. I did not expect to be on the ‘other’ side of the camera for this year’s calendar. But here I am, hopefully a stronger, wiser and better person than I was last year.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


The Faces of Breast Cancer project this year will be especially powerful and meaningful for me. In years past, I have been inspired by the subjects I’ve met and photographed; this year, suddenly, I am one of them. I joined a club I didn’t plan on joining, one that just kind of takes you in whether or not you plan on going to any of the meetings… whether or not you intend to carry the membership card secretly in your back pocket or have started adorning your car with magnetic pink ribbons.

There are twelve of us this year, just like every year… one for each month on a calendar that will be printed and handed out to the next group of newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. It will serve as a source of inspiration to those shocked/numb men and women who will have just gotten the bad news from their doctor. Then, the following year, I will photograph some of them, and their picture and story will help the next group (a continually staggering and sky rocketing number) of breast cancer patients, and so on.

(That is, if they do indeed survive.)

The breast cancer survivors I have photographed over the years were the first ones to rally round me when I got my diagnosis. They clogged my email inbox and the mailbox that hangs outside my front door with notes of encouragement: You can do this. You can beat this. You will be stronger after this is all over. You will learn so much about yourself. You will finally understand what is important in life. Hold your family close. Let your loved ones care for you. Be kind to yourself. Welcome to our club. We are here for you.

So, the 2009 calendar is now under construction. My first subject was Ann. Turns out she had no problem following my “assignment.” She is a seamstress who happens to love words. She decided to use the time between her mammogram and the time she actually got her diagnosis to sew inspirational banners for women with breast cancer. She told me she had a very strong feeling that she had breast cancer, but before hearing the words drop out of her doctor’s mouth, she wanted to get used to the idea, “wrap her head around it” as she said. So she set to work stitching words into fabric, words that would help “others” get through their ordeal. Of course, Ann was right about her own diagnosis, and she continued making the banners right up through her chemotherapy, which she just recently completed. The word she chose to hold for the picture, “faith,” is what has helped pulled her through it all.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

new piece

The streetcar pictures have taken shape and have evolved into this current state. This piece is 16" x 20". If you look closely, you’ll see that I have repeated some of the images, and in some cases I have even flipped them, enhancing the notion of coming and going.

If I look at this from a distance, it looks a bit like people in a high-rise office building.

I like it when images become something other than what they actually represent.

Friday, July 18, 2008

change the truth update (and shop til you drop)

Folks who are interested in going to Uganda with me in December are gathering at my home this coming Sunday night. It’s time to start the process all over again, and I am very excited about that! Please contact me if you would like to attend this information-gathering meeting.

If you missed the opportunity to see Lynne’s film at the CTT Friendraiser/Fundraiser in June, you’ll be happy to hear that it is being shown again at events on August 8th in Kansas City and September 8th in New York City! Again, please contact me if you are interested in getting more information about either presentation.

Now for the shopping part of this post:

Many of you weren’t able to attend the June 12th event and therefore were not able to see our new t-shirts, caps, posters, tote bags and note cards, and unless you are a frequent visitor to the CTT website store, you don’t know of the existence of these snappy new items! Let me know if you’d like to order anything; CTT takes checks and credit cards now, so you can just email me if you’d like to purchase something.


10 note cards/$20


tote bag $10

poster #1/$15

poster #2/$15

There are still a few of the children's drawings and paintings available for purchase:

unframed drawing/$25

unframed drawing/$25

framed drawing/$50

framed drawing/$50

framed painting/$100

framed painting/$100

Please email me, your new personal shopper! gbfeinstein@aol.com

Thursday, July 17, 2008

jews in uganda

More than 250 Africans converted to Judaism in Uganda last week.

The conversions were supervised by Gershom Sizomu, Africa's first native-born black rabbi, and other Conservative rabbis from the United States.
 A ceremony in the Abayudaya village of Nabogoye included converts from Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. Some 800 Abayudayans formally converted to Judaism in 2002. ‘The relationship between God and the Jews in the Torah resonates for many spiritual seekers,’ Sizomu said. ‘It is important that Africans and others know that they can choose Judaism as a spiritual path and that we are open to them.’

- www.jta.org

In the 1880s, British missionaries converted the powerful Bagandan warrior Semei Kakungulu to Christianity. Because Kakungulu was a Protestant, British colonists commissioned him to bring the fertile African lands near the Nile’s source at Lake Victoria under their influence. Kakungulu won the lands, but became disenchanted with the British when they limited his domain to a 20 mile square plot near today’s small city of Mbale, 160 miles from the Ugandan capital of Kampala. He broke with them in 1913 when he joined the Malachites, a movement that the British called a cult because it combined Christianity with Judaism and Christian Science, and began to rewrite the Christian bible as a Malachite tome. Kakungulu became more and more a follower of Jewish tradition and less a familiar Protestant. In 1919 he circumcised his sons and himself and declared his community Jewish.

Soon the British could communicate with him no longer and forced him from Mbale. Kakungulu fled to the foothills of Mount Elgon to a village called Gangama where he started a separatist sect known as Kibina Kya Bayudaya Absesiga Katonda (the Community of Jews who Trust in the Lord). After the warrior’s death, his followers split into two groups – one that retained a belief in Jesus and another, the Abayudaya, that became devout Jews. These Abayudaya isolated themselves from the Christians for fear of reprisal, passing Jewish traditions from generation to generation, maintaining their community through a succession of anti-Semitic regimes such as that of Idi Amin, whose soldiers outlawed the Jews’ rituals and destroyed their synagogues. With poor communications equipment and very little personal mobility, the Abayudaya did not establish connections with any outside Jewish communities; they maintained their traditions in total isolation. In the ‘60s and ‘70s the initial members of the Abayadaya community began to grow elderly and implored the rising generation to extend themselves to Jews outside of Uganda. The community reached out to Israel in the ‘60s and ‘70s and even had the first secretary of the Israeli embassy in Uganda visit them.

In 1992, Matthew Meyer, a Brown University student studying in Kenya, heard of the Abayudaya and traveled to Mbale to spend the Sabbath with them. He returned to the United States with photographs, cassettes of the community choir singing Hebrew prayers to African melodies and letters from Abayudaya community members in both English and Hebrew. Since then, other English-speaking travelers have visited the Abayudaya, bearing gifts such as a new Torah and money from the Brown University Hillel to build a synagogue.

- www.mindspring.com

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"faces of breast cancer" project

It’s time for me to start working on the 2009 exhibition/calendar for the Shawnee Mission Hospital Breast Center. I have done this project for the past several years. Each summer I receive a list of names: twelve breast cancer survivors. My job is to photograph and feature these men and women in an ongoing project about courage and inspiration.

My name was at the top of the list this time around. Sort of startled me. Then I remembered - oh yeah, I’m a survivor now.

In years past, I’ve tried to come up with some sort of theme, if you will. This time, I am giving the following “assignment” to each of the twelve, well… eleven other subjects.

It goes like this:

“Please consider a gesture, an object (which will be used in the portrait) or a single word (which will be incorporated into the portrait) that either helped get you through your ordeal or that symbolizes how you feel having gotten through it.

I will leave it up to your imagination to interpret these guidelines.”

My first shoot is Thursday. I’m looking forward to seeing what the subjects come up with and how our collaborations go. And I need to figure out how I will interpret my own guidelines.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

alexandre orion

Yesterday I attended a lecture by New York gallerist Michael Foley at the Nelson-Atkin Museum. He talked about, among other things, some of the contemporary photographers he represents. By making references to photographers from the past, he adeptly wove together old and new visions. He began his introduction of the young artist Alexandre Orion by discussing and showing the work of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. Levitt came to mind for me, as well.

Orion began making art as a teenage graffiti artist on the streets of Sao Paolo. He is a self-taught photographer and has been exploring the theory and practice of the medium since 2001. Now in his late twenties, he has recently been experimenting with a combination of his street art and his fascination with photography. He calls this series “Metabiotica.” Orion stencils his drawings onto walls in Sao Paolo, then waits for passersby to approach, walk past and “interact” with them. He creates photographic images of the unstaged dialogues, most of which evoke, at least for me, not only humor and spontaneity, but also intrigue, mystery and impending doom. I was really taken with Orion's work and want to share a few of the pictures here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

to tattoo or not to tattoo

I had dinner last night with two women friends - dear friends who have been in my corner every step of the way since I was diagnosed with DCIS.

Somewhere between the fresh organic pear/strawberry/goat cheese/spinach salad and the vegetable/saffron risotto, the conversation turned to my breasts. Now, this really isn’t too unusual, given that I have surgeries and scars and seeming asymmetry always on the tip of my tongue these days. After we discussed the current state of my health, we veered into a dialogue about women who have chosen to complete their reconstruction with the application of a nipple and women who have chosen to do nothing about getting a nipple and women who have chosen to get a bright, bold tattoo instead of the standard circular, tan fare that would (if the plastic surgeon had his/her way) become the areola.

They told me they knew of women who had gone for roses, even stars in lieu of the status quo.

My son had actually mentioned this possibility to me when I first told him how reconstruction works. I included the gory details about nipple building, and he jokingly (?) suggested I act like the rebel I really am and get an anchor (with the words “I love Ed”) in place of the more normal, spherical option. I have had a few good laughs relaying this to various people over the last few months. But, according to my two dinner pals, it seems some women really do it!

Would my plastic surgeon drive me to the tattoo parlor on Main Street and oversee the procedure? Or would he agree to let the young, well pierced and well decorated tattoo artist join him and let her put on scrubs to do the deed under the bright lights of the chilly, operating room? Or, maybe, to my surprise, he’ll pull out a book of tattoo samples from the top drawer of his desk and act like it’s no big deal.

Do you think he’d recommend a dragon or a phoenix? Perhaps he’d settle for a more simple but elegant Chinese symbol.

Ooh, maybe I should opt for something in Hebrew.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

portrait time

Summer, in my little corner of the world, means commissioned portraits. I am not taking any new clients, but am still happily working with families I’ve photographed over these oh so many years.

I am lucky. I get to work past the cheesy smiles and get right down to the business of portraying something that is, dare I say, more real? My clients don’t mind scraped knees, scowls, contemplation or missing teeth showing in their pictures.

I am also lucky because I have known most of these kiddos since they were barely able to sit up. Some since just a few days after they made themselves known in the world.

It’s a tough job, as they say, but someone’s gotta do it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

learning about the holocaust

Bronia and me

Last night we took our friend Bronia to a presentation at a local school. It was given by a high school senior and her English teacher, both of whom had been part of an intense group tour of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic to study the Holocaust. We watched a video about the trip, heard remarks from both the student and teacher and then sat through a Q & A. It is always inspiring to witness the enlightenment of a new generation when it comes to something like this horrific part of our history. It was obvious that this young woman, along with the other twelve students on the trip, had been changed by what she learned. It was obvious that she and her new friends will work hard to teach others about the importance of tolerance, compassion and respect.

When the presentation ended and people were starting to get out of their seats, Bronia rose - and in her low, strong, Polish accented voice, said, “I was there.” Everyone turned to her, and she thrust her arm out so all could see the tattooed number. The room grew quiet, and then she started to tell a little bit of her story. It was the perfect way for the young girl who had just talked about her trip, as well as those who had come to hear her, to (literally) see history in the flesh.

Going anywhere with Bronia is an adventure, a surprise and always turns into a lesson of some sort.

We went for ice cream afterwards. She said she hadn’t done that in a long time.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

walker evans subway portraits

My inspiration for making the street car pictures? Walker Evans, in Depression-era New York.

“With the subway portraits Evans turned away from the lucid, carefully composed images of architectural details, commercial signs and poor farmers that had characterized his work. On and off over the next three years (1939- 1942), he returned to the New York subways to photograph, using a miniature camera hidden inside his coat to record the people seated opposite him.

Evans makes no particular political argument through his subway pictures. Instead he presents a cross section of people, unposed and anonymous, forming what he called a lineup of faces. To achieve this, he gave up most of the creative controls that photography offers, limiting himself to deciding the precise moment at which to squeeze the shutter release hidden in his sleeve.

The resulting images have a naked directness, a quality accentuated by their casual framing. People appear off center, pushed to the edge of the photographs; many pictures are tilted slightly. The furtive nature of the photographs adds to their sense of authenticity, as does the fact that the people in them are so obviously and absolutely unposed. Evans catches his subjects in typical subway behavior, deep in daydreams, or asleep or gazing off into space. A few stare back at him, suggesting that even without a visible camera he was intently, even aggressively, observing his subjects. Most of the passengers are white and represent a range of social classes.

In choosing which riders to photograph, Evans was attracted not only to people with striking facial expressions but also to those dressed in unusual clothing. One image shows a young woman in a hat and collar made out of fake leopard skin sitting next to a friend wearing a hat trimmed with a less flashy fur. In another picture, a sad-faced man with a pencil-thin mustache and wire-rimmed glasses wears his bowler at a rakish tilt. Elsewhere, the newspapers people are reading and the advertising signs in the background add layers of commentary to the images.

The subway portraits express Evans's deep faith in the power of vision to reveal both the physical appearance and emotional texture of the world. In a text he wrote to accompany these photographs, Evans articulated this faith in looking.

‘Stare,’ he commanded. ‘It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.’”

New York Times article, 1991
Charles Hagen