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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Following up on the wonderful young people who are lending a hand to help Change the Truth, I’d like to tell you about Danielle.

This energetic and enthusiastic young woman is a freshman at Elon University. She contacted me during the summer to say that she wanted to start a CTT club at her new school once she got settled in. Well, it didn’t take her long to learn her way around her new digs and get involved. She has already joined a club called Students for Peace & Justice, and the club has decided to form a branch that solely focuses on CTT!

Her first missive from school reported that the group is “brainstorming fundraising ideas and still deciding if we want to work towards a specific fundraising goal or if we would rather be in contact with certain children and work towards providing secondary education for them. Another option we are exploring is selling some of the handmade jewelry, shirts, bags, and note cards that the children make. Lastly, the one event we have decided upon is to have a film viewing, basically a movie night where we will play the 30 minute documentary. We are going to advertise this event around campus and hope for a large turnout- prior to the movie we will discuss the future projects we are working towards regarding CTT. I think this will be a great way to raise awareness.”

It’s inspiring to hear these ideas springing forth from teenagers, isn’t it? Between Danielle, Max, high school girls from a local Catholic high and Lee (who I told you about a couple of posts ago), we’ve got interest in CTT bubbling in colleges and a high schools from coast to coast!

What you don’t know yet is that two of the members of Team 3 are teenagers, one is early twenty-something, and one is only ten years old! Much more about them to follow, but in the meantime, join me in taking great pleasure and pride in the young people in the world who want so much to do the right thing.

On the blog of a college student, a classmate of Max’s, I found a quote that I thought was definitely worth sharing:

“Do not give to the poor expecting to get their gratitude so that you can feel good about yourself. If you do, your giving will be thin and short-lived, and that is not what the poor need; it will only impoverish them further. Give only if you have something to give; give only if you are someone for whom giving is its own reward.” - Dorothy Day

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

andrea modica

Here is another photographer whose work I greatly admire and who is included in the “Picturing Childhood” exhibition.

Ten years ago, I took a workshop taught by Andrea in Santa Fe. Even though the class was only a week long, I consider that to have been a pivotal time in the shaping of my work. There were only six students in the class so I got a lot of personal attention from her. (We actually became rather good friends and ended up returning to Santa Fe a year later to take a lighting workshop together.) She was generous with her critiques and challenged me to clarify what I was trying to do and say with my pictures.

Andrea got her MFA from Yale in 1985 and has embarked on various personal projects ever since. She currently teaches at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

The work that I love so much is from the portfolio (and monograph) entitled “Treadwell.”

Andrea began the series in 1986, when she was driving by her subject’s home in upstate New York and noticed Barbara (her primary subject) sitting outside. She stopped to speak with her, and eventually the two forged a strong and trusting relationship. Barbara was seven years old at the time she and Andrea began collaborating. Andrea photographed her for fifteen years, until Barbara’s death in 2002.

Using an 8 x 10 inch view camera and natural light, Andrea’s presence in the spaces she photographed must surely have been intrusive; the exposures necessary to make the negatives are many seconds long, and the close perspective of the images means her bulky camera and tripod were virtually on top of the subjects. The authenticity of the images comes not from the so-called reality of the scenes, but from the Andrea’s keen perceptions and subsequent creative decisions made in the darkroom.

In the series we see Barbara grow from a young cherub to a seriously overweight teenager, her growing discomfort painfully evident. Other scenes portray children playing outside in the mud or carcasses of animals decaying at the edge of the woods. The images are brooding and dark. The rich and subtle tones of her laboriously made platinum-palladium prints bring forth the mood even more. For all the unsettling subject matter, these pictures are at once lovely, sympathetic and reverent.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

judith joy ross

"When I look at somebody, I think about their past and what their future could be, as well as what I'm seeing right now.

A good story in a picture is much better than being alive. Being alive is complicated and hard, but a good picture — I can get lost in it." – JJR

One of the photographers in the "Picturing Childhood" exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins who is not terrifically well known is Judith Joy Ross. I thought it might be nice to feature her here so that you can learn a bit more about her.

Ross [now 63], is known in photography circles for her tenderly attentive, black-and-white portraits of people, often children, who seem to radiate a soulful vulnerability. She generally works in series, motivated by a sense of civic inquiry and a keen curiosity about individual emotional lives.

Since the early 1980's, she has photographed children at a swimming hole in Pennsylvania, visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, members of Congress and their aides, and soldiers waiting to be shipped off to fight in the Persian Gulf war.

The Hazleton schools series [which is represented in the Nelson-Atkins exhibition] arose out of her concerns about children's welfare, and by extension, the welfare of the adults they become.

"It's so silly, but I basically thought people would be willing to pay more taxes if they could just remember what it was like to be a kid," she said. "And I thought if they could remember that, they'd also treat each other better."

She decided to return to Hazleton to photograph in the public schools that she had attended in the late 1950's and 60's and where her mother had studied in the 20's.

"That's how it became personal," she said. "I feel like these pictures are my childhood. This isn't me, but it is me."

"I started in the junior high school, and I was terrified," she recalled. "I thought, these kids are going to eat me alive." Back then Ross had a disorder similar to Tourette's syndrome that caused her to make involuntary sounds and movements. But on her first day at the school, all of her tics disappeared; instead, she developed double vision and could barely speak above a whisper.

"I had to drive home with a tissue stuffed over one eye," she said, "but I was just so grateful that they had morphed into something socially acceptable."

Ross, a forthright woman with a reedy voice and intensely observant blue eyes, spent three years haunting the classrooms of her youth, accompanied by a bulky 8-by-10 view camera mounted on a tripod and a powerful strobe light on a separate stand.

For the most part, the students ignored her. "Not once was there anyone saying, 'Hey lady, take my picture!' " she said. But when she asked them to pose, they willingly obliged.

"I basically think people want to be recognized and appreciated," she said, "and when you put a big camera in front of them, they think, 'I must be interesting.' Meanwhile, I'm struggling, tripping over the tripod and putting a goofy black cloth on my head. Because we're both vulnerable, that person gives me more of themselves."

Ross has said that she never got to know the students personally and hasn't kept in touch with them; most have never seen the portraits she made.

"This is the way I work," she has said. "I'm in love with you intensely, and I don't ever have to see you again. I'm not big on intimacy, except in a visual way."

That visual intimacy extends to the prints themselves, which are small and have a level of detail fine enough to render the transparent fuzz on a teenage boy's chin. Using an arcane process, she makes the prints by sandwiching the negative with "printing-out paper," and exposing it to sunlight for a few minutes to a few hours. Later, she tones the prints with varying amounts of gold to produce shades of chocolate-y brown and soft, purplish grays.

Ross agrees that her photographs require careful looking, in part because each image contains within it a small, irreducible human story.

- From a NYT article by Mia Fineman, April, 2006

Friday, September 25, 2009

hide & seek: picturing childhood

A new exhibition opens today at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, and I am honored and happy to say that one of my photographs is included! If you live in the area, please visit the museum and check out the show. It was curated by April Watson and Jane Aspinwall. It includes lots of iconic images, as well as some recent acquisitions by lesser know photographers (like me.) It's a dream come true for me to have one of my pictures hanging on the walls of such a hallowed space.

You may recall my post about the studio visit Jane, April and Keith Davis made some months back. This is when they made the decision to purchase the piece. "Boy with Ball, Kajjansi, Uganda." They eventually made the acquisition when the photograph was later shown at the Leopold Gallery.

I am in amazing company in the exhibition. It is humbling to have a piece hanging alongside works by Keith Carter, Sally Mann, Emmet Gowin, Helen Levitt, Andrea Modica, Wendy Ewald, Judith Joy Ross and Ralph Eugene Meatyard. I have studied with both Carter and Modica, and of course, have long admired the work of Levitt. Meatyard is a photographer from my home town, whose work has always inspired me. There are lots of connections here, all of which only add to my feeling incredibly flattered (and kind of stunned) to be included.

In conjunction with the exhibition, I will be speaking about my work at the museum in January. More on that to follow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Exactly three years ago I started this blog. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined where it would have taken me, especially considering it was supposed to simply be a way to let my friends and family read about my first trip to Uganda.

One of the nicest things that has happened thanks to the blog has been the connections I have made. People I would not have otherwise met have found me and have thus found out about Change the Truth. Cyberspace has definitely contributed to the expansion and growth of CTT in this way.

One of my favorite things to do on the blog is introduce the children from the orphanage, as well as the people who are now lending them a hand…. especially the young people who are doing so.

One of my earliest young supporters was Lee. Read a past post about him here. Now Lee is a junior at the Pembroke Hill School and is the president of the art club there. (He is a very talented artist.) I recently received an email from him asking if the art club could do an “art supply drive” for the kids at the orphanage. His idea is to encourage art students to donate new and gently used supplies like sketchpads, brushes, paints, pencils and pastels. Pretty great, no? I just love it when young people come up with ways to help other young people. In this case it is a way of connecting art-loving kids from Kansas City with art-loving kids from Kajjansi!

Lee has grown up around altruism. His kind parents have set the right example for him. His mom works at Operation Breakthrough; from a very young age Lee always tagged along and did whatever he could to help out. Now that he is old enough to establish his own set of beliefs and commitments, he is taking a stand to help less fortunate children who happen to share his passion for art. Bravo, Lee!

In my dreams, I see Lee sitting across the table from Nicky at the orphanage in Uganda. They are trading ideas about shadowing and shading, color and design. Lee is very tall, his hair is usually an unusual color, his clothes are cool, his skin is pale, he has a dog, he has his parents. Nicky is slight with closely cropped hair, dark skin, torn clothing and a very sad past. Nevertheless, the boys’ legs bump against each other under the table. They laugh and joke around. They look up from their work occasionally and nod encouragement to each other. When they fasten their eyes on each other, they are each filled up with a sense of wholeness and goodness and fellowship. And everything suddenly just feels kind of right.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

reporting from l.a.

The Siren Society’s Filmanthropy Film Festival was the place to be yesterday in LA! Of the 144 films submitted, six shorts and three features had been accepted and were shown throughout the day. This was the first festival Lynne has entered; for her film to have been one of the six shorts chosen was quite an accomplishment!

We arrived early to set up the CTT table and to catch the first film, which was shown at 10:00 a.m. Cinespace Theatre is on Hollywood Boulevard; we had to put on our star faces as soon as we got out of the cab.

The films included, among others, ones about street children in Rwanda, a garden in South Central LA, America’s addiction to oil, skin cancer in America and an organization that provides safe water to children in Cambodia. The latter, “A Drop in the Bucket”, was directed by photographer Lauren Shaw.

Tom and Randy, members of Team 2, came up from San Diego for the day. It was great seeing them! My friend and amazing photographer/teacher/blogger/curator Aline Smithson even dropped by with her husband and nephew.

“Changing the Truth” got rave reviews from the audience and from the jurors. It was well liked because of the way it was filmed, its emotional aspects and the fact that it felt hopeful. The film did not win first prize. (We were told it was very close, though.) After the red carpet and cocktails and dinner, it was announced that Lauren Shaw’s film won in the both the shorts category and the overall audience pick. Congratulations to her!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

los angeles or bust

Read all about the film festival Lynne, Tom, Randy and I will be attending at Cinespace Theatre in Los Angeles this weekend! "Changing the Truth" by Lynne Melcher will be one of the short films featured. We will have a CTT table where we'll distribute information and sell some goodies. If you live in LA please stop by, see the film, buy a beaded bracelet and say hello!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

rosemary and vincent: part 4

If you don't know the back story on the children named Rosemary and Vincent, please read it here, then come back to this post to see how everything has unfolded.

The children were safely delivered to Mama Rosemary at St. Mary Kevin's just yesterday! Francis made the several hour trek to transport them, and they were received with open arms by the staff and new friends in Kajjansi.

No words are really necessary, These photos snapped by Joseph pretty much say it all.

shortly after arriving

in their new school uniforms

in their grounds uniforms

having some lunch

visibly relieved and apparently happy to be there!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

no stores paid me to advertise for them

I am not a shopper. Just ask my friends who see me in the same clothes and the same shoes and the same earrings time after time after time, well more like year after year after year.

But old dogs can learn new tricks.

Right after I issued the call for orphanage Christmas gift donations, I was pleasantly slammed with not only envelopes containing checks but also phone calls about great deals at certain stores in town. I was amazed at the level of generosity. A dentist emailed immediately to say that he would provide 180 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste for the kids. A Hallmark associate offered to underwrite a shopping spree at the employee Hallmark Double Discount Store. A friend showed up on my doorstep with bars of soap.

But my ole pal Sandy is the one who really got my shopping juices simmering. She called one morning so excited that I thought maybe she’d just found a vintage Edward Weston print for five bucks at a garage sale. What had gotten her heart pumping were boxes of crayons - one penny each at Office Max. The catch was that each customer was limited to three boxes, so could Eddie and I come down and get all our friends to come down so that we could deplete the store’s stock of crayolas.

Which we did.

Later that same day, not having had much of a chance to recover from her earlier find, Sandy called to say that Walgreens was selling flip-flops for a buck apiece. She was walking and could only manage one big shopping bag, so Eddie and I had better get in the car and head on over there to clear the racks.

Which we did. And then we even went to two other locations to clear their racks, too.

Yesterday, ON MY OWN, I discovered the joy of Target. Seventy-five striped and polka dotted girl’s shirts soon filled the back seat of my car. I kind of even got that shopper’s high I’ve heard people talk about. I know this because I threw a box of Junior Mints on the conveyer belt just as the check out girl was ringing up the last shirt, and I usually reserve those for road trips or special occasions.

There was enough Christmas gift money donated for me to spend $7 per child. My calculator has been working overtime, and I have discovered that I can put together quite the nice package with that amount. This will require much more shopping, and I’m actually looking forward to it.

Walmart, look out!

Monday, September 14, 2009

profile: nelson

Three months from tomorrow, I will be heading to Uganda for my fourth time. In anticipation of the trip, my head is once again filled with the people, smells, sounds, colors, warmth and energy that is the “Pearl of Africa.”

My posts on this blog will begin to turn more and more to the upcoming trip: who the members of Team 3 are, what our plans are once we get to the orphanage, etc. (The label for this post will be the first of Uganda and Change the Truth Chapter 4.)

I am also going to introduce you to a few of the children there. Melissa (on her visit in May) was kind enough to interview the young adults being sponsored in secondary school by Change the Truth. What I’ll be sharing is information she gleaned from those conversations. (Thank you, Melissa!)

One of the most interesting, enthusiastic and smartest young men I’ve ever met in Uganda is Nelson. Here is his story:

Nelson just turned 19. He has been at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage since 1999. He comes from the Muganda tribe.

Nelson with Team 2 member, Tom - 2008

Nelson was named after his father, who was a successful businessman in the Entebbe area. One day after arriving home from school, Nelson was told that his father had died suddenly. His mother was too upset to talk about the circumstances of the death, and even now, his mother still gets emotional when she talks about it. Nelson still does not know specifically how his father died. He was brought to SMK by his mother shortly after the death of his father. Nelson's mother and four other siblings moved with his grandmother to the small village of Mityana (one of his sister's - Sarah - is his twin). His mother is a farmer there. Nelson says he rarely sees her.

He is most proud of his studies, at which he excels. He states his talents as: thinking, writing, reading, chess, football, computer/technology. His future goals include: engineering, business (like his father) and or industrial arts or architecture.

His inspirations include determination, courage, belief in self, Change the Truth, perseverance and hope.

Nelson's other interests include games, music and making friends.

Nelson is what is known in Uganda as a "half orphan." Many of the children at SMK have one parent who is still alive. This parent, however, cannot afford to pay for the raising and education of his/her children or have no interest in doing so. Nelson has come to consider Rosemary, the director, his mother.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

new t-shirt/new drawings

It's time for a new Change the Truth t-shirt! I requested some line drawings from the kids at the orphanage to use as this year's design. Here are some of the drawings I received. The "winning" entry will appear on the new t-shirt, which will be available in a few weeks. It's going to be something you will definitely want to add to your fall wardrobe!

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Things don't look so pretty in Kampala these days. Read the news here.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

rosemary and vincent: part 3

Some time ago I told you about my Uganda photography workshop friend, Anna, who, during her recent return to the country met two orphans names Rosemary and Vincent. The children (siblings) are from a small village in the Rakai district, an area in which Anna spent a couple of months photographing.

Anna wrote me a few months ago to find out if I thought there might be a chance that the children could go to St. Mary Kevin Orphanage to live and attend school. Once I told her I could try to make it happen, she then had to convince the elders in the village that this might be the best thing for the children. Once the eventual approval from the elders came down, I began working on the logistics of making this come together. The village where Rosemary and Vincent live is several hours from SMK's town, Kajjansi. A young man (whom Anna also befriended) by the name of Francis, who lives in their village, offered to transport the children to Kajjansi.

Anna searched for and found sponsors from L.A. who would pay for the transport. Eventually, Francis succeeded in digging up detailed information about the children -info about their deceased parents, their past, their schooling, their health, etc. I forwarded this on to Rosemary, director of SMK and asked her to consider accepting them into her program.

Rosemary agreed to take them in. Francis then had to figure out how to get the children to Kajjansi, and I had to figure out how to get the sponsor's funds to him.

Just this past week, I was able to finally send directions to SMK to Francis, and well, it appears that after all this manuevering, little Rosemary and Vincent will soon have a new place to call home.

If this all comes together, it will be pretty amazing. A real group effort to help these children. I hope I can post soon about their arrival at the orphanage, and I look forward to meeting them when I get back to Kajjansi this December!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

new 'awlins

New Orleans has a spring in its step, it seems. Much more so than the last time we were here, that’s for sure.

We came down to visit Sam and Abbie and see the cute new first home they just purchased.

This part of N’awlins appears to have breathed a huge, collective, neighborhood-wide sigh of relief.

Around seventy five percent of the pre-Katrina population has re-established residency in the city. Tulane received 40,000 applications for this year’s freshman class. The streetcars are up and running. There are more restaurants here now than before the storm.

I walked/ran along the streetcar route early this morning (early to avoid the oppressive heat and humidity and did not achieve any sort of avoidance at all.) The streetcars are clankier and way more authentic than the streamlined Czech-designed 21st century ones I love to photograph in Portland. New Orleans has the world’s oldest continuously operating streetcar line, dating back to 1835 when it was horse-drawn. The cars that run today were built in the mid to early 1920’s. Joggers run in between the tracks in the area that I would call the median but that people from around here call the “neutral ground.” When the streetcar begins to approach, the driver clangs a bell, and the joggers move out of the way to let it pass.

There are purple, gold and green beads strewn all along the way, as this is the Mardi Gras parade route. They hang from the trees and utility lines like Hawaiian leis. Glistening in the sun this morning, they seemed to serve as a reminder that the party never ended (ends.)

I love the way residents in this neighborhood decorate their windows and front porches. Signs like this appear every few blocks. This one, courtesy of the adorable nieces, is on Abbie and Sam’s front door.

I love the warm and politely southern nature of the folks who call New Orleans home. On my walk/run, everyone said hello as we passed. People from the streetcar waved from their windows. People on porches did, too. A car full of young men drove a little too close to me at a cross street and then called out the window, “Sorry ‘bout that, MA’AM.”

In spite of the fact that Ray Nagin has hopped aboard the wagon-gone-corrupt (following in the footsteps of so many New Orleans politicians); in spite of the fact that the 9th Ward and so many other parts of the city are still in ruins; despite the fact that the next big hurricane could bring The Big Easy to its knees once again, things are looking up around these parts. Thousands of recent college graduates are flocking here to teach, to volunteer, to intern, to contribute to the economy. A lot of musicians have returned.

In spite of the sweat that is cascading down the back of my neck this morning, I’m really happy to be here.

Friday, September 04, 2009

double nickels

My birthday! The first person to wish me a happy day was one of Change the Truth's sponsored students. Nelson called at 4 a.m. Kansas City time and had about 45 seconds to send greetings before the time on his cell phone ran out. So great to start the day that way, but of course I can't fall back asleep. Thinking about my mom and what kind of day she had 55 years ago. And her mom, too.

So here's a picture of the three generations, not long after I came along.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

john trotter

A few posts back, I mentioned a photo a young man had taken of Annie Leibovitz when she was at my gallery for her exhibition and book signing back in 1985. That guy was John Trotter from nearby Springfield, Missouri. I didn't know him; he simply mailed the signed photo of Annie to me a few weeks after the event. He introduced himself to me years later at a portfolio review in Santa Fe, and I was impressed with the work he was making. John told me a little bit about what had happened to him since we had last seen one another, but I honestly had no idea that he had been through such a horrific ordeal. Read about it here. It's a miraculous and inspiring story.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

operation breakthrough

Soon I will begin another collaboration with my friend and talented filmmaker, Lynne Melcher as we create a video for Operation Breakthrough’s annual fundraiser. I think this will be the fourth year I’ve worked on the project. It’s always a rewarding experience, one that allows me to shoot a lot of pictures of some very special kids and families.

Just to get warmed up and to provide the Center with a new batch of photographs for use in promotional materials, stationery, brochures, newsletters, etc. I spent a morning last week wandering around the halls, playgrounds and classrooms with my trusty new Canon 5DII.

Here are some sobering facts about children living in poverty in America. Most of this data comes from the Children's Defense Fund. We will use information like this to punctuate the film we make:

Children in professional families hear approximately 11 million words per year; children in working class families hear approximately six million words; children in welfare families hear approximately three million words annually.

Poor inner-city youths are seven times more likely to be victims of child abuse or neglect than are children of high social and economic status.

A mother with children can work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year and still be living in poverty.

African American juveniles are about four times as likely as their White peers to be incarcerated. Missouri spends 2.4 times as much per prisoner as per public school student.

Young poor children are three times as likely not to have a parent read to them as non-poor children and are considerably less likely to recognize all letters, count to 20 or higher or be able to write their first name.

Low income youth and young adults drop out of school at more than four times the rate of their high-income peers.

A child dies from abuse or neglect every six hours.