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

Friday, February 28, 2014


I have a friend called Sonia. She goes to work every day at her alterations shop, John's Tailoring (named for her husband). The shop is located in a mall that has all but died. There's still a Topsy's Popcorn, a movie theatre, a Sears and a Macy's (which recently announced it will close) and a steady stream of jogging-suited mall walkers. Other than that, there's Sonia.

But she's a big presence, in a gentle, warm, dignified kind of way.

Sonia's 89. Her workday is longer and fuller than most of my 50 and 60-something peers. She listens to NPR all day, and she'll engage you in any and all kinds of conversation. She's always impeccably dressed. She drives a big Oldsmobile. (And I happen to know she's famous - at least in the eyes of family and friends -  for her homemade gefilte fish.)

I hadn't seen her for a while, but last week I took one of my photo students to her shop. Kat wanted to make some pictures of Sonia in her shop.

A Holocaust survivor, Sonia is one of the last in the KC area to still make public presentations about her experiences during the war. She and her family were rounded up in 1939 and transported to a concentration camp. Only she and her sister would survive. She endured brutal beatings. From the Auschwitz concentration camp, she survived a death march to the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen where finally, allied troops liberated the prisoners on April 15, 1945. As she celebrated, a German soldier shot her in the chest.

Sonia was featured on the local news yesterday. You can watch it here.

I photographed her back in 2000 when I was working on a project for the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education. In the shop, of course.

And I made a quick portrait last week before my student got started.

In the photo Sonia's holding, she's in her 20's.

Sonia's a lovely, fascinating woman. I have always been inspired by her. And I feel really lucky to know her.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

buy art + need a place to set your beer?

If you are a collector/lover of art and are unable to attend the Change the Truth Annual Friendraiser/Fundraiser on March 14th in Kansas City, fear not! You can still view the kids' paintings and even bid on them. Just go to this website and please, knock yourself out! Bid high, bid often.

Here are the two most popular pieces so far:

photograph by Opio Nicholas

Acrylic painting by Okecha Oscar

But don't overlook these gems:

Acrylic painting by Okecha Oscar

Acrylic painting by Okecha Oscar

Acrylic painting by Okecha Brian

Pastel drawing by Kiden Isabella

Acrylic by Okecha Willy

And now, drum roll, please….

Debuting here on the  blog right now at this very moment are the brand spankin' new, first ever Botticino marble coasters/tiles featuring work by SMK artists. These little lovelies are now available (and will be for sale at the event on March 14th). They are 4" x 4" with a cork backing. Optional heavy duty adhesive hangers make them easy to hang on the wall…. or you can use them in a functional way by setting drinks on them. They are $15.00 each.

Feast your eyes!

PS - It is not too late yo get your ticket(s) for the March 14th evening 'o fun at Boulevard Brewing Co. Please go here to buy tickets. We've got pizza, beer, African drumming and dancing, the new CTT film and loads of cool auction items you'll want to take home. Also lots of good company!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

congratulations are in order

Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni has approved a law that will see people convicted of homosexuality in Uganda jailed for life. In these extracts from director Roger Ross Williams' documentary God Loves Uganda, undercover filming by a Boston-based Anglican priest, Kapya Kaoma, shows how anti-gay evangelical campaigners from the United States have been influential in the debate, pushing Uganda to pass measures that would be unthinkable in the US.

The news from St. Mary Kevin Orphanage yesterday had nothing to do with any of this. There were only celebratory emails having to do with the fact that our beloved Senior 4 students performed incredibly well on their national exams - even Willy, Nicky and Sam, boys who had lost their CTT scholarships a year ago because of poor academic performance and questionable behavior. St. Mary Kevin administration had stepped forward last year and assumed responsibility for the boys' schooling (a sacrifice for the Kavulus), switching them from boarders to day students (to save on cost) just to get them through Senior 4, an important benchmark in Ugandan education. All that said, the boys put their noses to the grindstone this past year, determined to make the Kavulus and Change the Truth proud… and determined to get their acts together so they can move ahead with their education and really make something of themselves.

Tonight a chicken will be cooked, a cake will be baked, good food and some bottled sodas will be shared. Melissa and SMK are throwing a party for these boys, Scovia and Yawe Joseph (CTT sponsored students), all of whom buckled down and did their very best (which ended up being absolutely stellar). I wish I could be in Kajjansi to raise a bottle of Orange Fanta and make a toast to these students.

Unfortunately, I'll be on my couch watching Rachel Maddow continue her discussion about Museveni's signing of the anti-gay bill.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

we love our selfies

"There’s been a lot of talk about selfies recently. The Oxford Dictionaries named 'selfie' the word of the year for 2013, and 'Museum Selfie Day,' last month, encouraged museumgoers to take creative selfies in front of art. But what distinguishes a selfie from an artist’s self-portrait? A smartphone and a Tinder account is the easy answer, but, in general, we ask more from a self-portrait than we do from a selfie: more consideration, more composition, more psychological insight and aesthetic care. From family photographs to annual staged series and quirky snaps captured in a street windows, here is a selection of my favorite self-portraits."

- Jessie Wender, The New Yorker

Deana Lawson, “Self-Portrait” (2012)

LAWSON: At least once a year, I make a self-portrait. It’s an occasion for the artist to construct her representation through her own medium, be it a camera or a paintbrush or what have you. It’s an opportunity to declare who you are visually and who you aspire to be. A selfie is a smaller branch of self-portraiture—quick and less considered. A self-portrait considers the interiority of the artist; it’s a moment for self-reflection, to pause and to look at yourself.

Vivian Maier, “Self-Portrait (1956), Courtesy Maloof Collection and Howard Greenberg Gallery

FRANCES VIGNOLA (of the Howard Greenberg Gallery): Vivian Maier made more than a hundred and fifty thousand exposures in her lifetime, yet her photographs remained unseen until John Maloof, a Chicago historian, discovered her work, in 2007. She was intensely private—very few people even knew that she was a photographer, including some of the families she worked for as a nanny. Self-portraits, made primarily between the nineteen-fifties and seventies, are a continuous thread throughout Maier’s work. They form a visual diary, recording her presence in time and place, as well as illustrating her progression as an artist. In Maier’s practice, there was no concern for audience—rather, only an extraordinary drive to be lost in the act of photographing and the personal compulsion for the images to be made.

Sally Mann, “Self-Portrait” (1973), courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Zürich

MANN: I took this in 1973 or so, when Larry and I were house-sitting for someone rich enough to have a J. C. Penney catalogue and a big mirror. They also had insulation and central heat in their house, which encouraged me to drop my sweater to reveal my long johns. I look a bit fraught, but that’s because I hadn’t been out of that sweater—which was wool; fleece hadn’t been invented—in weeks.

Lee Friedlander, “Haverstraw, New York” (1966), courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

RICHARD BENSON (from the afterword to “Lee Friedlander: In the Picture: Self-Portraits 1958-2011”: I believe this string of self-portraits turned into a lifelong exploration because Lee saw very soon that his pictures were records of change—in himself, in the landscapes he was photographing, and in the friends and family he pulled into the frame.

Erwin Blumenfeld, “Self-Portrait” (circa 1932), © estate of Erwin Blumenfeld, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Zürich

NADIA BLUMENFLED (Erwin’s granddaughter): Blumenfeld was an avid experimenter in photography, and one of his areas of experimentation was self-portraits. In mirrors, in reflections, even, once, as giving birth to a woman. This is a rare instance of a self-portrait with his family. There is his wife, Lena, his daughter Lisette, and in the foreground, his son Heinz, my father. It was taken at their home, in Holland, at a time when he still had a leather-goods shop in Amsterdam but was starting to do photography professionally.

Ilse Bing, “Self-Portrait with Leica” (1931), © estate of Ilse Bing, courtesy ofEdwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Zürich

MICHAEL MATTIS, (a collector and copyright holder for Ilse Bing, text adapted from wall text for “Paris Night & Day: Photography between the Wars,” at Boston College’s McMullen Museum, on view through June 8th): Born into a prosperous Jewish family in Frankfurt, Ilse Bing studied mathematics and art history before picking up a camera and launching a photographic career that would last for three decades. “Self-Portrait with Leica” is Bing’s best-known photograph. With its perfectly positioned mirror capturing a photographer at the moment of artistic conception, it is both a personal manifesto and a touchstone of this artistically fertile era—an icon of modernist French photography.

Danny Lyon, “Self-Portrait, New York City” (1969), © Magnum Photos, courtesy of the Whitney Museum, New York and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York and Zürich

LYON: It is not actually possible for me to photograph myself, as empathy, the quality that drives my work, can only be felt with another human, not with myself. This is a true document and an accident, to boot, as no one is looking through the viewfinder. The only real thing in it is my shoulder and the back of my face, which, again, is by accident, caught directly in front of the lens, creating a foreground, and the strange bathroom, decorated with children’s decals. A work of narcissism, a record of the person I was pretending to be forty-three years ago, and here taken out of context, as it was originally published, against a portrait of someone making love in a mirror.

Jun Ahn, “Self-Portrait” (2008)/Courtesy Christophe Guye Galerie, Zürich

AUN: This image was taken at the apartment where I lived for about six years, while I was in graduate school for photography, in New York. I consider the elimination of context the most fascinating aspect of a photographic image. For me, photography is the reality and the fantasy, the truth and the fiction, all at the same time. What I wish to discover through photography is the invisible moment, the invisible structure, and hidden beauty of a world that only can be seen with the camera.

Monday, February 24, 2014

new sponsored student: oscar

Oscar drawing on the shore of Lake Victoria,  2011

Oscar is 15 years old. A smart, dedicated and hard working student, he was ranked 1st in his class in Primary 7. He has now begun secondary school with a Change the Truth scholarship courtesy of a generous supporter from Chicago. Oscar came to SMK in 2008 when he was in Primary 2. He arrived with his father and four brothers. His father was a security guard at SMK for short time before getting a job elsewhere (once his father left, he never returned). Oscar’s mother died of cancer. This super sweet and talented young man is a well-rounded artist who enjoys painting, drawing and sculpting. In addition, he likes playing cards and playing the trumpet and saxophone in SMK’s Marching Band. He is a proud member of the "Five Stars" saxophone group. Oscar says he wants to be an artist when he grows up. He's already a truly incredible one. Check out his recent work on the CTT Annual Fundraiser website.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

lego man

For years, I navigated my way around Legos. Lego ships, Lego cars, Lego robots, Lego railroads. Legos everywhere. Lego cities sprouted up and sprawled throughout the house when our son Max was young.

No wonder, then, that I was attracted to  fell in love with Andrew Whyte's series of photographs aptly called "The Legographer."

Apparently the adorable little guy has spent the last year traveling around Britian shooting photos.

Who knew?

Friday, February 21, 2014

feel good?

This was a perfect day for me to see this video. It lifted me up pretty darn high! I bet it will do the same for you.

Monique, an accomplished musician and fabulous teacher from the Netherlands, was a member of Change the Truth Team 5 and has returned to St. Mary Kevin several times since then. (She has even established her own foundation that provides music education to our kids in Uganda and kids at an orphanage in India.) Monique has taken what we started with the marching band and raised it up to a whole new level. Over the years, she has replaced some of the original instruments we purchased (destroyed by wear and tear) and added many instruments to the cache, the most recent of which was a drum kit.

A friend of Monique's, Simon, went to SMK last month to teach jazz to the young musicians, something Monique had begun during an earlier trip. The musicians have taken it and run with it. You can certainly understand that playing marching band tunes gets old after a while, and if you are getting into your mid to late teenage years, "I Feel Good" is a lot more appealing than "When The Saints Go Marching In."

So, take a look at this awesome video (shot by Melissa) that features many of our sponsored students and friends. At the mic are Rachael and Rose (the latter usually plays the sax… she's multi talented). On drums is Melissa's son, Antwain. Nicky plays guitar. Rockin' out on trombone is Tonny. Brian is playing the trumpet. The swingin' sax players are Claire, Emison and Oscar.

Kudos to Monique and Simon! And to our young musicians and singers, I say: BRAVO!!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

an insider

My daughter makes pictures of her children. She is an "insider" in every sense of the word. Abbie is profoundly connected (as most mothers are) to every breathe her children take, every sound they make, every gesture, every pain, every smile, every word -  even the ones no one else can understand. She's a 24/7 hands-on mom who shares with them the beauty, magic and wonder of the world around them. Abbie and her hubbie Sam answer every question (including those they have to look up), read endless piles of books to them, encourage them to fully explore their environments on their own terms, sing songs, draw pictures and tell stories. These parents never resort to TV (except for a vintage episode of Mister Rogers every now and then on the computer - they don't have a TV set) and work hard to empower both kids, Henry and Clara, with the knowledge that they can do and be whatever they want (real or made-up). Abbie and Sam are the most patient, encouraging, creative, nurturing and positive parents I've ever known. They make everything interesting and fun.

As a result, my grandchildren Henry (3 1/2) and Clara (1) are free spirits who are curious about every thing, every animal and every person they encounter. Their days are filled with imaginative play. Often Henry is not Henry at all, but a fire ant or an airplane or a carpenter. Cushions are dragged down from sofas for the construction of space ships. Cardboard boxes become airport hangars or train station roundhouses. Paint is dripped onto the floor while masterpieces are created. Chalk drawings decorate the planks on the wooden fence in the backyard. Flour is splayed across the kitchen floor when the kids want to help with the baking. Their little bodies are caked with dirt and mud after they've helped in the garden.

I love these children, and I love the photographs their mom makes of them. Abbie sweetly shares her photos with Zayde (Eddie) and me on a regular basis; we're very lucky!

These landed in our inbox this past week. Now that Clara is upright most of the time, Henry has discovered he has quite an adoring little playmate. And how cool it is for my photographer-daughter to have these scenes unfold in her own "backyard" day after day after day.