Tag Archives: Thoughts and Musings
I have always had a love-hate relationship with campaigners outside coffee shops, grocery stores, and book stores. While I appreciate their passion for the social issues of our day, I almost always find their method of expressing that passion frustrating as it often seeks an audience by interruption.
As I sit at Peet’s Coffee in Long Beach this afternoon and watch the Save the Children campaigners outside (pictured above), I am struck by how often our humanitarian efforts involve interruption rather than invitation. I watch as 90% of those who pass by them, walk on, trying to ignore them.
I know these campaigners mean well, but I can also see how many of those passing them by feel bad about ignoring them, as I think given the right situation they would express a great deal of concern about the children in Congo, Darfur, and Myanmar. My guess is that they care about the cause of Save the Children, but just don’t appreciate the campaigners’ method of interruption for advocacy.
If we work on being an invitation, which takes more thoughtfulness and effort, I believe our humanitarian efforts will go much further. If people are invited into being the change, and into personally owning the responsibility for injustice, we will see a greater change in the issues of current social justice.
I want to be an invitation to people to do something that helps change the world. That is the goal of my photography; it is not to make people feel bad about what is going on in the world, but rather to invite them to take an active role in changing it. I want to invite people to see the world differently and see that they can do something more than just write a check. When we are invited into something we tend to give more generously, advocate more strongly, and learn to be an invitation ourselves.
I read the Special Report in last week’s edition of The Economist and found it to be a highly interesting article. I have been thinking a lot recently on how to make a living with my artistic ventures through photography. My passion is to capture moments of beauty in the most hopeless of places, the world over. Here is a short excerpt of the report that was very encouraging to read and apply to what I want to do and build:
A Multicultural Future
“In the short term the art market will follow the world economy. But what will it look like in the long term? Artists throughout history have created work in response to their environment. Many are known primarily for their travels: think of Paul Gauguin, the Scottish Colourists, the artists who went on the Grand Tour. Travel used to be exotic; now it is commonplace. In a globalised environment it is possible to be a world-class artist anywhere on the planet, and many of the most exciting artists will be working from places that previously were not even on the art map. That will start a fresh wave of contemporary art. Collectors follow artists, and the supply of art shapes taste. But the artists have to be there, working, in the first place. A few decades hence America will still be richer than China, and far, far richer than Africa. But for every collector who continues to buy evolving European and American art, an increasing number will turn to art from other parts of the world.
That shift will take time, but it is on its way. If there is a single sale over the past year that symbolises the new globalisation in the buying and selling of art, it was Sotheby’s contemporary-art auction in London on October 16th. The cover lot, “Afro Apparition” (see above), a painting of a stylised black couple kissing, was created by Chris Ofili, a Briton of Nigerian origin who now lives in Trinidad. It was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2003. Fatima Maleki, a London-based Iranian who has been a regular donor to Britain’s Tate, walked out smiling from the auction, having bid nearly 40% above the top estimate to get the painting. In such a multiple melding of cultures lies the future.”
Excerpt taken from October 28th edition of The Economist Newspaper, A Special Report on the Art Market, p. 16
This picture tells an interesting story, and tells that story very well, giving a unique glimpse into the complexities of the lives of refugees in Congo.
We spent a few days interviewing and listening to stories of refugees while we were in Mugunga. We heard the different horrors and the difficulties that each Refugee faced living in this camp. Each story provided a unique glimpse into what life was like in this Refugee Camp and the factors that brought each person to this camp.
These three children, pictured above, are actually not this woman’s children. They had belonged to her older sister who had died. Her mother was living in this camp taking care of these children. This is quite common, a grandmother living in the refugee camp trying to take care of their grand children. We interviewed a number of “Mama’s” who had taken responsibility for the children. These elderly women often don’t have the means to provide for the children and have also been under fear of Rebel’s attacking.
This woman’s mother had wanted to have a day off, so she asked her younger daughter (this woman pictured above), to take care of the children for a day. We interviewed this woman, who didn’t really care for these children. They were the children of a relative that had died, and she had a husband and children of her own in a neighboring village. It seemed as though these children were an obligation rather than human beings. Here the daughter is playing with a discarded knife blade. There were literally hundreds of children at any given time when we were in the camp that weren’t really cared for. While I understand why children are not cared for, I feel as though it is a grave in justice. After the interview I asked this woman if I could take a photo of her with these children, she agreed. The expression on her face tells this story powerfully. Her apathy and numbness is apparent, and the children’s malnutrition and fear can be seen in there eyes.
War makes you numb…I found the more interviews we listened to, the easier it was not to care or to lose sight of the gravity of the situation. We would hear about people being killed, Rebels attacking, or children starving…the list was never ending.
But it is an injustice for any child to grow up without love and nurturing. It is an injustice for a child to grow up suffering from malnutrition. Justice always involves great cost and great risk. It is so much easier not to care and to grow numb. Jennifer Toledo, one of my pastors and the director of the NGO that went to Congo with, has always says that, “The ultimate expression of justice is love.” I whole heartedly agree with that statement.
I have traveled a lot: through many different continents, under very different circumstances. I have stayed in fairly nice hotels and rented a car in Guatemala but spent 14 hours a day on a bus for three days straight traveling through 4 African countries. I feel like I have seen it all. I am also very hard on my stuff and usually use it until it falls apart or it totally dies.
I am also a huge proponent of using what you already have and not necessarily running after the newest and greatest gadget. On most of my journeys, I took what I already had available to me, and it worked well. But since I am a professional photographer and use technical tools all the time, I thought I would share my thoughts on tools that I treasure and that have proven invaluable to me on my travels.
- Macbook (Unibody 13”, October 2008 2.4 Ghz model)- This is the perfect computer for someone who travels a lot but doesn’t have the money to buy the more expensive Macbook Air or the larger and much more expensive 15” or 17” Macbook Pro laptops. This computer is extremely durable and has survived dusty bus rides, very bumpy motorcycle rides, and long urban excursions. It is now a year old and still feels fairly new. The new Unibody design is far superior and more durable than the old Macbook and Powerbook designs. I took my old Powerbook to the Middle East and Asia but it was not as durable as my current Macbook. My only two criticisms are the battery life, and the LCD glass screen that can be too reflective (and which Apple improved in the current edition of the Macbook pro). I also have a broken pixel on my screen that I am hoping Apple will fix for me in the upcoming week. I also use a 26” Vizio monitor for my design work at home with an external keyboard and mouse. It’s the perfect combination for me.
- Nikon D90 w/ 18-105 lens. My current go-anywhere “reasonably” priced DSLR camera. My main camera is a Nikon D700 with some nice professional lenses but I have been very impressed with the D90, both in durability and size, especially on my last trip to Congo (I also loved my old D40, on some of my previous trips). Traveling in a war-zone such as Congo meant that I took this camera into some pretty “difficult” places, such as refugee camps, slums, and hard-to-reach villages. The camera was caked with dust a number of times on this trip. I loved the D90 because I could put it inside my Crumpler 4 million dollar home bag, which would then fit with my laptop inside my Timbuk2 Medium messenger bag. I could easily carry this camera around with me all day with one lens and nicely fit inside my messenger bag.
- Inconspicuous Camera/Laptop Bags – Tinbuk2 and Crumpler are both great choices. I also have a REI computer backpack that I love and that has been very durable and has literally traveled around the world with me. While working and spending time in slums or refugee camps it is sensible to have a bag that looks normal and that doesn’t say, “I have an expensive camera inside.” It’s common sense, but thought I would share the thought.
- An unlocked iPhone. With all the apps available and the ability to buy pay-as-you-go SIM cards abroad, the iPhone is a very cool communication tool to have as you’re traveling. In Kenya, once I got a SIM card and downloaded the required phone settings, I was able to receive emails, and update Facebook and Twitter. I also used the iPhone Skype app when I was at coffee shops with free wi-fi in Rwanda and Kenya and was able to call the US for $.02 a minute. Not a bad way to stay in contact and communicate what you are doing. I have friends who have found previous versions of the iPhone for a reasonable price on Craigslist.
Permission is important when taking someone’s photo. While I wouldn’t say that you need to ask for it every time you take someone’s picture (I definitely don’t always go by this rule), I have found that when I ask for and am given someone’s permission to take their photo, there tends to be an expressed warmth or vulnerability that could have otherwise been impossible to capture.
The most powerful amongst my photos tend to be “permission photos.” Asking for permission wasn’t the easiest in Congo and it typically entailed first pointing to my camera and then to them (mainly because I can speak neither French nor Swahili). About half of the people I wanted to take photos of in Congo did not grant me the permission to do so.
The photos that I really love from my time in Congo involved some sort of permission. It can be tempting to pull out the telephoto lens, especially when you are traveling, and snap photos of someone when they aren’t looking. While there is an occasional time for this, I find that if you build a relationship with your subject and earn their trust, the results can be much more spectacular. Relationship and trust with a photo subject are priceless…
Now for a few “Permission Photos”…
So I just recently returned from a six week trip through five countries (four of them being in Africa) with all my high-end Nikon gear, and thought I would offer my thoughts about traveling internationally as a photographer.
- Insure your equipment. Honestly it is a lot easier and more cost effective than you think it might be. It takes a big burden of fear off, when you can get all of your gear replaced for a $250 deductible. Don’t get me wrong, it would really suck to get my gear stolen, but it could be replaced without to much of a problem. Believe me, this takes a huge burden off of you when you traveling in difficult places.
- Get a nondescript camera bag. Crumpler is my current camera bag of choice, I own two of them. When I originally heard Crumpler’s mantra, I was a fan instantly: make very functional camera bags that don’t look like typical camera bag. My Crumpler (currently the Whitney and Cox) backpack. It holds my two camera and four lenses doesn’t look very different than your normal backpack. I felt safe walking through slums with my gear, because most people would not guess that I have over $5000 of camera gear in my bag.
- I find that my gear is much more durable than I think it is. I remember the two times my Nikon D40 (Nikon’s cheapest and least durable camera) was dropped, I had always feared the worst, but found that the camera was fine both times. I still shot thousands of pictures, after this experience and it has continued to work fine. My Nikon D700 is a tank compared to that camera and has even been used by storm chasers (click here for a fun article about the D700’s durability.)
- Think through your backup strategy. On this trip I thought through things on a worst case scenario basis. I asked myself: “What would happen if I got both my bags stolen with all my gear, would I have a backup of the images?” On this trip I had a fairly well thought through strategy that looked something like this:
- I kept my two Nikon’s in separate bags. I kept my D700 in my Crumpler backpack. Then I kept my D90 (w/18-105 lens) in a small Crumpler bag (Four-Million Dollar Home) which I could then fit inside my Tinbuk2 Medium Messenger Bag. So if one of my bags got stolen, I would still have one camera that I could use.
- I had two external hard drives and a Macbook Pro. I would keep them all in separate carry on bags. I would keep the Macbook in Tinbuk2 bag, and one external in my Crumpler backpack, and then would give one my traveling companions my second external hard drive to keep in there carry on bag. I could have taken a extra precaution and burned the images to DVD and left them with friends in Africa. I figured if I got both cameras and my laptop stolen (which would be insured) I would still have the second external hard drive with my precious images.
- Use wisdom when you use your gear. While I was willing to take my gear out in almost any situation, I felt that there were times when it was not best to bring out my gear. I would ask myself the question: “Is it worth it right now to have my camera out right now?” While there were some sketchy places I would take my camera out, there were plenty of places where I would leave my camera in my bag.
So there it is, there are my tips for traveling photographers, and some of the things I learned on this last trip to Africa. Hope that helps in your travels.