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

Friday, February 27, 2009

a long overdue change the truth update

Last night was the Kansas City reunion of recent travelers to Uganda. It was great fun to get together over a few pizzas (staples for us when we are there!) and reminisce about the trips. Pictured are Gloria, Tom, Fred, Jane, Melissa, Randy and Lynne.

Here is the latest report from the orphanage regarding projects set up by Change the Truth and nudged along by us when we were there:

CTT is now sponsoring twenty-five secondary school age children. Each one is working hard, striving to become well educated and informed and ultimately qualified for University or a job. We continue to sponsor one student, Douglas, as he enthusiastically makes his way through nursing school.

The motorcycle we purchased is being used as a taxi. It brings in an average income of $25 per week. The funds are used for school purchases (notebooks and pens) for the orphans, as well as inexpensive hygiene supplies.

Remember the marching band Sarah and Max help set up? An instructor has been recruited, and according to Rosemary, “The orphans are steadily learning how to handle the instruments.” I can just imagine a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” rising up over the grounds of St. Mary Kevin!

Harvesting of greens has begun in the garden Randy and his crew planted. Cuttings are being used to establish a new garden in another area. As per Randy’s suggestion, flowers and new grass are being purchased and planted and will be in place by April. This will really brighten up the grounds and will hopefully make the children feel happier – and even proud of their home.

On that note, the children are gradually embracing Captain Freddie’s idea of keeping the place clean. According to Rosemary, “rubbish is regularly placed in bins and disposed of regularly and safely.”

All those games, puzzles and balls we took with us? They continue to be used and enjoyed by the children. They are set up on shelves in a "game room." When a teacher is on duty there, the kids can have access to some of their favorites that Melissa taught them, like Uno, Sorry, Scrabble, Go Fish and Chutes and Ladders.

We have helped SMK purchase pigs. The latest on that from Rosemary is: “Two pigs delivered ten piglets, five each. SMK now has forty (40) adult pigs, plus piglets. We plan to sell off about ten pigs around June 2009 to raise funds, and also to keep the total number below 50.” (This is a great source on ongoing income for the orphanage.)

Change the Truth pays for the employment of a part time nurse, Jane, who reports to work twice a week. Tom worked closely with her when we were there in December and was able to get the ball rolling with regular checkups. Again, from Rosemary: “Jane has continued to focus on checkups of the orphans plus first aid treatment of common diseases like coughs, fever, skin ailments, etc She refers difficult cases to nearby clinics & if necessary to hospitals. She has also started research to try and establish a link between diet and complaints about stomch upsets. She plans to take some orphans for late immunisation. She is also investigating the accessibility to ARVs by HIV+ orphans.”

Other than education, the main thrust of CTT’s mission has been to provide much needed assistance for food. Here is Rosemary’s latest assessment of that situation: “We are very grateful to CTT. The orphans are now fed better, with the correct quantities and promptly at the correct time. We have introduced soya sauce in addition to soya porridge, extra proteins in the form of meat & milk over the weekends, plus bread on Sundays.”

Thanks to all of you who continue to help us by becoming friends to these children. We really are making a big difference in the lives of the orphans who call St. Mary Kevin home. In such a short time, we have accomplsihed so much.

Rosemary always says it best:

“Friends make the Challenges of life a lot easier to handle.
And Love is the magic that brightens up the lives of the orphans.
It gives them hope for the future
And soothes their minds – to forgive & forget the past.

Thanks for everything.”

On a very sad note, the largest market in Kampala, Owino Market, burned to the ground on Ash Wednesday this past week. 20,000 vendors (70% of whom are women) lost everything. From what I can gather reading various news reports, it appears that it was probably arson. This market provided everything from CDs, radios, shirts, shoes, chickens and other animals to items for the home and all kinds of produce, fish and grains. This loss deals a huge blow to the people of Kampala and outlying areas. Our hearts go out to everyone affected.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

max at the oscars

"Did you see me on the Oscars? What, you didn't? Well, no surprise there - I don't think anyone did, except an Associated Press photographer behind stage (picture above). While we knew the performance wouldn't stack up to the band's show on the Grammy's a couple weeks ago, we didn't expect the producer to place us behind a stage prop for the song. Nor did we expect instructions to 'play softly, so that the audience hears the recorded track, not you.' Nevertheless, I had the privilege of enjoying the Oscar's from an exclusive on-stage perspective. Although the Academy didn't bother to mention the USC band, it was an honor to be part of the group asked to play on the Oscars. It was an incredible production to witness firsthand. I'm thrilled to have been a part of it, and I hope that I'll be more visible next time I show up on TV :)"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


When I was a graduate student, I had the opportunity to study with Phil Hamilton. Phil was a graphics man who happened to love letterpress printing. His studio classroom was chock full of type cases, pica sticks, inks and Vandercook letterpress printing presses. I can still recall the smells and sounds of that room. There was no better place on campus to hang out.

The coolest part of it all was watching books being born. My classmates and I spent countless hours conceiving and designing books and then setting type, one letter at a time. The sections of type were locked onto the beds of presses, then printed one page at a (very slow and methodical) time.

My love for beautiful books has not died. I love the feel of a nice paper, the sound of a page turning, the way an image “sits” in its place, the creative arrangement of type and the eloquent conversation that takes place between all these elements.

My press name back in the 70’s was “Yellow Bird.” I continued with the moniker when I self-published Convergence in 2001. On the heels of that was Among the Ashes.

Yellow Bird Press is proud to announce that a new book is on the horizon! It is unnamed at this point, but the work to birth it has begun. It will include photographs and essays about the children in Uganda. Its due date is early June. The book is being underwritten by a very generous donor; all proceeds from sales will go to Change the Truth.

Since it will be a small run with several people carefully collaborating, it still feels kind of like a handmade book to me. I certainly will not be setting one letter at a time, but I believe I will be putting it together with the same amount of attention to detail and deep appreciation for the beauty of a well deigned and well printed photography book that I learned back in Phil Hamilton’s classroom.

Monday, February 16, 2009

in the studio

This past weekend, I had fun photographing the two-month-old twins who were born to one of my daughter’s dearest friends. Makes me realize I am at that stage in my life when I could be a grandmother. Pretty wild. Anyway, here is the proud father hoisting the male component of the set of adorable fraternal twins.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

happy valentine's day

This is a photo from my archives. It was shot ten years ago today when I was in Oaxaca, Mexico taking a workshop from Mary Ellen Mark. She and I both agreed the picture would not have worked if the heart shaped ballon hadn't just cleared the thick, black line on the wall as it was floating up out of the boy's grasp. Gotta love and thank those photo goddesses!

Friday, February 13, 2009

artwork by the children at st. mary kevin orphanage to be sold at fundraiser

The date has been set for the second annual Change the Truth fundraiser. It will be June 11 at the Screenland Theatre in Kansas City. If you are on the mailing list, you’ll get a special “save the date” notice soon. If you are not and would like to be, please email me: gbfeinstein@aol.com.

Just as we did last year, we will feature a silent auction to sell the artwork that the children at the orphanage made during our visit to Uganda. Here’s a sampling of what you can expect to see and bid on!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I grew up in a town that had a very interesting photography scene. I was too young to be aware of Van Deren Coke and Eugene Meatyard, but they were here; among other things, they were members of the Lexington Camera Club. (I went to high school with one of Meatyard’s sons, but we did not really know one another. My father knew Coke, however.)

Ever since I began my study of photographic history, Meatyard has been at the top of my list of favorite visionaries. When I was growing up, he was on optician and ran a shop called Eyeglasses of Kentucky. He only photographed in his spare time, usually on the weekends, and he printed in a makeshift darkroom in his home. He was president of the PTA at his kids' school, and he coached baseball there,too. His membership in the camera club (1954) led to an enduring friendship with his photography teacher, Coke. In 1956, summer workshops at Indiana University brought him in contact with such influential photographers as Henry Holmes Smith, Aaron Siskind, and Minor White. These interactions paved the way for Meatyard to launch his own photographic vision.

His earliest work from the mid-1950s includes a documentary project on Georgetown Street, a primarily African American neighborhood in Lexington. By 1960, he was regularly making photographs of his three children in abandoned rural Kentucky mansions and in the forests surrounding them. The photographs evoke a world not normally acknowledged with the human eye. They suggest the complex emotions associated with childhood, intimacy, loss, and destruction. His expressionist style and use of staged scenes foreshadows the work of many contemporary artists, like Francesca Woodman and Sally Mann.

From his thousands of images, he would pick only those he considered his best and made just one or two prints of each negative. His strict attention to technique and consistency in print size achieved the aesthetic effects of photography he was seeking — a world seen through a full tonal range from black to white; intentionally strange, yet familiar and approachable.

The visualization of the passage of time played an important role for Meatyard in all of his photographs —from long exposures to the maturation of his children, from old buildings to the changing light gracing the natural world.

Meatyard died of cancer shortly before his 47th birthday (1972.) His work received critical acclaim when he was alive, has done so even more over the years, and he has influenced countless photographers, including this one.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

old photos

Looking at the photographs of Homer Page from 1949 and getting ready to visit my father inspired me to look through some old family snapshots today.

You’ve probably got the same ones – different faces, different locations, but I bet they’re similar in many ways. Have you ever thought about how incredible some of these pictures are – and how they surely must shape the way we “see” the world around us even now?

I think these particular images from the early 50's are amazing. They were probably taken by my parents and older brothers, none of whom had any particular interest in picture making beyond documenting some of the details of our family’s life: the neighbor kids, the grandparents, gatherings with aunts and uncles, family vacations, birthday parties, etc. I suppose I was drawn to these specific photographs because I would be thrilled to have them in my own portfolio as a fine art photographer today.

Do they succeed on a visual level out of pure luck on the part of the photographer? Or do I simply deem them successful (and am I reaching?) because of my art school educated eye?

Whoever took this picture of the Smoky Mountains from the ski lift (my dad, most likely) was probably unhappy that the woman on the left snuck into the frame. Of course, that’s what I think gives the picture its magical structure and what leads your eye into the rest of the frame. You can’t help but wonder if those are skis attached to her feet, but then you realize she’s in shorts (probably summer), and there is no snow: it’s actually just a cable. The wiring from the lift and the cable below create an insanely perfect juxtaposition, framing the misty, mountainous landscape beyond. The two figures, passing one another give us a sense of intrigue and mystery. It’s odd on some levels and ultimately very beautiful. Any of us would be hard pressed to make such a perfect photograph.

How about the Arbus quality of the picture of my grandfather, father and brother; the strange, haunting and wonderful (again, sort of Arbus-like) snapshot of my brother, who is probably standing on a chair or someone’s shoulders behind the hand-painted body of a gorilla? These are the pictures that fill our family albums; these are the pictures I refer to when I look for visual clues of what my family was like back in the day. These are the pictures that have probably even informed the way I see, since I have looked at these and others like them for many, many years.

The one of the girl bouncing the basketball is probably my favorite of this group. I doubt that the photographer (maybe my older brother) was aware of all the circles in this scene: the ball, the girl’s head. the head of the man walking behind her, the light attached to the garage, its shadow… and then the spherical thing propped up against the garage door. It was surely all so serendipitous but what an incredible picture!

Finally, the photograph of the boy holding the umbrella. It’s a picture of our next-door neighbor, made even before I was even born. (He’s a successful lawyer now.) I love the way his feet are cut off, how the curve of the umbrella mirrors the curve of the nearby tree, how the background to the right recedes gently into the distance toward a row of trees that echo the column of the house, how the light illuminates the fabric of the umbrella, and particularly I love his mad expression which is subtly offset by the graceful tilt of his right hand. It’s a picture I could have made last week – if only I were so lucky.

These inspire me.

I thank the people who took them. And thank my mom for keeping them labeled and dated in a box in our basement.

Friday, February 06, 2009

homer page

One of the members of the “photo salon” which I am in is Keith Davis, longtime friend and illustrious curator of photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. At our last gathering, Keith had just returned from Meridian Press in Rhode Island with hot-off-the-press signatures of a brand new book tucked under his arm. Little did we know what a treat we were in for: we were among the very first people to get a glimpse of Keith’s groundbreaking work on a photographer we’d never even heard of.

What a gorgeous book! Keith has basically made a major historical discovery in the work of Homer Page (he told me in the kitchen as we were loading up our plates with Gates barbeque that if you Google this guy, you are asked, “did you mean HOME PAGE?” That’s because there are no entries on Page…yet.)

Page lived from 1918 to 1985. He was from California and worked in the Bay Area shipyards during WWII. He took up photography in 1944 with the encouragement of his neighbor and friend, Dorothea Lange. He worked fast… three years later he was featured in a major show at MOMA. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1949 and proceeded to produce an amazing body of work in and around NYC during the next twelve months. He achieved much recognition in the fine art world, but ended up turning to a successful career as a magazine photographer. He let only a few of his personal images out of his hands and, as a result, was remembered after his death by a small circle of peers. He has basically been unknown.

Now Keith brings Page’s work to light in a beautiful tri-tone volume and with an impressive exhibition, the latter of which is due to open at the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City on February 14th.

In Keith’s words:

“The importance of Page’s Guggenheim work is a result of both its form and its content. Stylistically, his photographs represent a crucial missing link between the warm, humanistic socially motivated documentary work of the 1930’s and early 1940’s (as seen in the work of Dorothea Lange), and the tougher, moodier, grittier work of the later 1950’s (exemplified by Robert Frank). In Page’s photographs, we find, in essence, a previously unknown bridge between these very different artistic eras.”

If you live in or near Kansas City, don't miss the opportunity to see the exhibition. It should be a knock-out. And I assume the book will be available at places like Photo-Eye and Amazon. Do yourself the favor!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

update: holocaust denier

"The Vatican, bowing to the growing furor over Pope Benedict XVI's decision to accept a return to the church of a prelate who denied the Holocaust, made a dramatic turnaround Wednesday and demanded the bishop recant.

The Vatican sought to distance the pope from the controversy by saying he did not know about British Bishop Richard Williamson's views when he agreed to lift his excommunication last month.

In the surprisingly public spat, some leading cardinals in Germany and at the Vatican blamed unidentified aides for not fully briefing the pope.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said he took Benedict at his word that he didn't know about Williamson's views, but said he couldn't believe Vatican aides didn't do more research to better inform the pope.

‘This was absolutely a matter that was bungled at the highest levels of the Vatican,’ Hier said. ‘If they Googled the name Bishop Williamson, they'd find out he was a Holocaust denier. This did not require advanced research at the Vatican Library or Oxford.’

‘Everybody knows he's an anti-Semite,’ since Williamson has been vocal about his views, making speeches and publishing a blog, Hier said. ‘The other Holocaust deniers are rabid, anti-Semites who can't claim any legitimacy. But when a person calls himself bishop and he was invited back into the Catholic Church by none other than the pope, he brings with him an aura of legitimacy. And that legitimacy stains the pope. So the pope today finally made the right decision, that (Williamson) must recant.’"

- Victor L. Simpson, Associated Press

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

holocaust denier

Over the weekend, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of Richard Williamson, a British bishop who denies that Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers and has resisted the reforms of Vatican II. Click on this link to watch part of a disturbing interview with the bishop.

Jack Mandelbaum is a friend of mine. He's a Holocaust survivor and the co-founder of the MIdwest Center for Holocaust Education. Jack helped me with the arrangements for my trip to Poland in 2003 when I was working on the photographs for Among the Ashes. This morning his "letter to the editor" about Richard Williamson's views appeared in the Kansas City Star:

"Holocaust-Denying Bishop

I must respond to Bishop Richard Williamson’s claim that not one Jew died in gas chambers (1/28, A8, 'The defense doesn’t rest; Vatican stresses pontiff’s record of denouncing the Holocaust'). He also claims there were no gas chambers. Oh, how I wish he was right.

I am the sole survivor of my immediate family. If his statement were correct, my mother, age 42, my sister, age 17, and my brother, age 10, would have died of natural causes in old age. Instead, their lives were smothered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Belzec. After suffering the horror of Stutthof concentration camp, my father was also murdered.

Denying the Holocaust was ruled to be a sin by Pope John Paul II. Bishop Williamson was excommunicated from the church by Pope John Paul II, yet now the Vatican is bringing him back into the fold. This is an outrage!

I’m 82 years old. I have difficulty accepting the fact that educated people would try to rewrite history in my lifetime. Can’t these revisionists at least wait until we survivors are dead to rewrite history?

Jack Mandelbaum"

The above photograph is one I took for Jack when I was photographing at Stutthof. It is a memorial stone he placed in the former gas chamber itself.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

random things

I am one of 150 million active Facebook users.

I joined the ranks 15 months ago and am proud to say I have 120 “friends.” Some people I know staunchly refuse to begin this second job, one that consists of status updating, wall conversing, tagging, posting news and video links, sending private messages, sharing pictures… and the latest craze: making a list of twenty-five random things about yourself.

Other friends have jumped in with both feet. I love reading what they are doing on any given day. I love studying their prized pictures of family, vacations or newly created artwork. I love connecting with people I haven’t seen or heard from in years. I love finding out about not-to-miss events or groups I can join and support.

(No, I am not on the payroll at Facebook.)

What I love most about this phenomenon is that people are THINKING!! WRITING!! And SHARING!! (Facebook is not new. High school and college kids have been using it for years to connect with one another. By the way, I feel certain that now with so many 40, 50, 60, 70 and 80 somethings having contracted the Facebook fever, the younger users will move onto something else… let’s hope so; it’s too easy for parents to stay abreast of their kids’ foolish antics and innermost thoughts heretofore only shared at slumber parties.)

So, back to the twenty-five random things I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post. A few days ago, a good friend asked me to make such a list. I did. Next thing I knew, many of my Facebook friends were doing the same. These have made for entertaining and enlightening reads. I would like to share some of my favorites from various lists made by various people. These revealing snippets point to the fact that we all have it in us to think about what matters in our lives, to actually craft those thoughts into words and then to boldly share them with others.

Here are some of the greatest hits from the lists I have seen so far:

I pray even though I am agnostic.

I look in the mirror each morning and pull my face into the position it was 30 years ago, knowing full well that with the economy as it is, and with as much as I hate medical procedures I won’t do a damn thing about it.

I believe that if more people embraced foreign travel the world would be a different place.

I don’t know that I believe in religion but I do believe in a state of grace.

I think it's the civic duty of every single literate person to read at least one newspaper every single day.

I think a proclivity for exaggeration is generally underrated and is a worthy attribute in a person.

If you leave me someplace I will be there when you return.

I stuck Red Hots up my little brother's nose when he was sleeping.

I go to movies to cry.

I think libraries save multiple lives every day, and are the single most important thing that society must support.

My mother once used masking tape to fix my little sister’s hemline. I have learned lots of great tricks from my parents.

I was in the fourth grade and playing outside on the school playground when I found out that Kennedy had been assassinated.

If my brother jumps off a 45-foot rock quarry cliff, then I will too.

I like to stay up late and write because I feel there are fewer people using the airwaves and more room for me to think.

I talk to my father, even though he died many years ago.

(And here are some from my own list)

I am getting age spots on my hands. This I do not like one bit, especially when my husband reminds me that they are also referred to as liver spots.

When I was little, I pretended I had a horse. I rode him everywhere. When I went somewhere in the car with my family, I tied the horse to the back bumper and frequently glanced out the window to make sure he was still with us.

I don’t know if I really believe in God, but when I bite into a perfectly ripe avocado, I think there is no way that I cannot.

I would like to be buried in my cowboy boots.