Posted 6:18PM on Tuesday, June 09, 2009 Pacific Time
Mexico City is being added to the list of exhibition venues for 2009. I recently received confirmation that the Enkidu Annual Humanities Summer Conference will display the project's images during conference proceedings. The theme of this year's conference, according to its organizers, is to "interrogate storytelling, memories and identity constructions from a wide range of perspectives, and in their manifold cultural and social manifestations." The nature of the conference is global, with presenters hailing from around the world. In addition to accompanying the House is Small exhibit, I am presenting on two topics, including a paper entitled, "Re-visioning the myths of poverty and oppression through first-person practices of participant produced photojournalism." The proceedings take place in the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico.
Posted 9:57AM on Friday, May 09, 2008 Pacific Time
Neal Baer, co-creator of The House is Small but the Welcome is Big, recently spoke at the University of Southern California on the topic of using storytelling as a tool for social advocacy. Drawing on his experience as physician, television producer, filmmmaker, and co-creator of the project's work in Africa, Baer shared his perspective on what makes storytelling such an important part of his work in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.
"Stories are our life force -- our continuity with each other," Baer said. "The way you tell your story isn’t important -- it’s that you tell it. Tell it and your story will change someone’s life. Someone will hear it and not get infected. Tell your story and you will change the world."
Baer noted that while infection rates differ across various regions of the world, HIV/AIDS presents global consequences. Storytelling helps give shape to the global nature of the disease, and works to shift public attitudes. Influencing the public will helps organize responses to disease-spreading behavior and develop more effective treatments in fighting the disease.
Baer challenged his audience to embrace storytelling as a way to influence public opinion and be an effective social activist.
"You don’t have to be a doctor to tell stories about HIV and AIDS -- or about any social issue that stirs you, moves you," he said. "Each of you can reflect on why you came today -- what private, personal story compelled you to come here? Whatever the reason, it’s a good one. And each of you can draw on whatever personal story that made you come here and turn it into a public story, to be shared with others, to motivate others to learn and to take action."
Baer's comments and presentation visuals are archived online at the Institute for Photographic Empowerment website.
Posted 2:23PM on Wednesday, August 29, 2007 Pacific Time
Happy to report all the photographs made by the kids in Maputo have survived the journey from Africa to the United States. Before departure, the team made four or five full-set copies of the project's complete photo collection, which consists of several thousand JPEG images. (The images displayed here on the website represent a small slice from the full collection.) The archive copies -- saved to various portable hard drives and DVDs -- were sent back with different members of the project team on different international flights. After all the experiences with lost luggage, we weren't going to take any chances. My understanding is that photo editing work for the physical exhibition is already under way.
Posted 12:55AM on Friday, August 17, 2007 Pacific Time
This has been a great trip! I met lots of new people, all very
interesting and kind. I was surprised to see how quickly the kids
picked up photography, they were like instant photographers!
I was also surprised how happy the kids were with their situations. It
makes me appreciate what I have even more. And now I have many
stories to tell when I get back to school.
Posted 2:30PM on Thursday, August 16, 2007 Pacific Time
We have been working with these kids in Mozambique for 2 weeks now! The kids' images speak for themselves. I have been impressed with how quickly some of the students have picked up on the nuances, in spite of the obvious language and technology issues. Though being on their own (some for most of their lives) these kids are well-mannered, enthusiastic and have a good capacity to learn. By and large, most of the subjects we run into are very friendly, and don't mind having their photos taken, especially by a kid with a camera.
Max (my son who turned 13 on this trip) has been a great asset to my small group, taking notes, keeping his eyes open, operating the cell phone, helping to make lunches, doing small errands, and running interference with curious neighborhood kids so the Reencontro kids can work. He also has the stealth asset of being a disarming way to connect to these kids that are about his age.
Most of the homes I have been to have no electricity and the water is brought from outside. They typically cook outside too. It is a way of life that is largely roughing it, with bits of contemporary life that I am still processing. It probably makes for some long nights in the winter.
It has been a pleasure working with the team assembled by Lynn and Jim of Venice Arts, with each member filling niches as needed. Kudos to all!
The photographers who are here to teach were invited to not take photos for the first week and concentrate on the kids. So this week I took a few pics of my own ...
Posted 2:03PM on Thursday, August 16, 2007 Pacific Time
Jim showed up at the hotel yesterday very excited. During the day, he had discovered a place that does bagels and coffee. A place that he said was worth going back to.
Bagels and coffee in Maputo. I don't drink coffee, but the idea had an immediate allure.
Jim couldn't recall the name of the place. But he knew it's being run by two Americans and is located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in town, near the Irish Embassy.
Enough information to go on. The bagel hunt was on.
So this Thursday morning, we piled into a run-down taxi parked in front of the hotel. The driver held together two wires sticking out of the steering column to start the car, and we rode the taxi's sad, rattling frame into what could only be described as the Mozambician dream: Paved roads with speedbumps. Multi-story mansion-sized homes on generous lots. Eight-foot-tall perimeter walls. Uniformed guards.
And lots of construction. It appears there's a building boom going on in Maputo. A RE/MAX realty office is slated to open up a branch in the neighborhood's small but impressive office block that also contains a beautician, a cash machine with armed guards, and our bagel pad, Cafe Sol.
We spent a leisurely morning on the sun patio enjoying a most unlikely breakfast.
It seems only right to see first-hand how, or at least where, the wealthy in this town live. And how they live. It's not much different from how the wealthy live anywhere in the world. Usually the rich and the poor don't live together. The whole point of being rich is so that you don't have to be poor.
But not far from this spot of bageled bliss is a sight that graphically illustrates the intricate link between economic classes, how the rich and the poor are not separate, but instead, more like twins separated at birth while still performing in roles that enable and sustain the character and identity of the other.
Jim led us to a spot where posh homes that would be considered mansions by most standards are lined up on one side of the road. On the other side of this same road, clusters of the most primitive shacks imaginable provide a surreal counterpoint to the city's divide between the rich and the poor.
We've spent a lot of time over the past two weeks in Maputo suburbs where the homes are held up more by necessity and love than by economic wealth or the sound construction that such wealth can buy. These meager habitations, as depicted in so many of the photographs being made by the kids, lack the most basic amenities such as electricity, running water, windows, and sometimes roofing. Truly, in these cases, the house is small.
It's amazing, then, to see mansion after mansion sporting perimeter walls topped with electrical security wire. Some homes in the slums don't even have electricity. But it seems most of the mansions have so much access to modern infrastructure that they can liberally utilize electricity in punitive land security measures.
It's amazing, further, to see shacks and the mansions sharing the same road. Odds and evens of the same street address will determine whether you're a have or a have not. Whether you can walk down the street for your hot bagel sandwich, or whether you grow corn at the base of a hill covered in your neighborhood's trash that will never get picked up and hauled away.
Posted 8:45AM on Thursday, August 16, 2007 Pacific Time
You know, it was a unique opportunity to work on a project like this. I remember when Thierry from UNICEF contacted us. I didn't understand the full dimension of the project at that time. When Tomas contacted Jim to find out more, he told Tomas to check the project website for information. I looked it up and when I saw it, I said whoa this is a huge project. At that moment, I forgot about everything and wanted to be involved in the project. I have been working in so many projects like this, but this one is different because it is involving special kids, orphans. Also it was important to me because I had the opportunity to work with people from a different culture, with different knowledge and different skills. So I've learned a lot. I would be happy to see the kids getting involved in photography much deeper like I saw here. What was amazing was they cope so very well with the digital format.
Posted 2:09PM on Wednesday, August 15, 2007 Pacific Time
The project is coming to a close and the team has been working in small groups trying to fill in gaps in the photo stories and making sure that every child has had plenty of opportunity to shoot. We are also furiously working on capturing bios and video interviews to further amplify the children's photos.
Today, Irenio and Saquina, their 4-year-old brother Miró, and their neighbor, Jeremias, went to meet the world-renowned Mozambican artist Malangatana at his Maputo home: a deep red, four-story studio and gallery of literally hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and etchings. We were already on the third floor when we heard a booming voice enquire, "Who made me walk up all these stairs to greet you?" An effusive man, Malangatana sat with the kids and talked about his art, as well as about AIDS and its devastating impact on Mozambique. The kids filled their cameras with images of the art and the man and left overjoyed to have been in his presence.
Later that afternoon, Irenio identified four photos as favorites out of nearly 200: Blade and Michael Jackson, which exemplifies his deep friendship with Blade, who he has know since he was a young teen. Forced out of the neighborhood when his house was demolished and his family relocated, Blade still regularly visits Irenio and, since his Irenio's mother died, brings him bread. Family is a portrait of the family that Jeremias has been living with since losing both of his parents. The woman he calls "grandmother" is dressed in black, as she lost her husband one month ago. Irenio said that he wasn't able to come to see Jeremias after his "grandfather" died, so was happy to come and see his family and, through his photo, pay his respects. Irenio laughs when speaking about Experienced Hands, a picture of a man who lives near Reencontro and carves wood. He was interested in shooting his hands because he thought they also looked like sculpture. View from the Back of the House shows the beauty that one can find in a smoky sky, even if it is above a garbage dump where children play. He said that the garbage dump was created after the houses in his neighborhood were leveled because the government neglected to fill in the resulting holes.
Tomorrow we do our last shoot and, on Friday, we host a party to say goodbye. Our work once we return to Los Angeles is already clear: in addition to printing and preparing the exhibit and the book, continue to solicit financial support for traveling the exhibit in Mozambique, the United States, and elsewhere, as well as to support the development of a small photo program at Reencontro for the most talented and dedicated children.
Posted 2:17AM on Wednesday, August 15, 2007 Pacific Time
Here's how to set up the high-quality sound recording equipment. Use this if you are recording audio for podcast, or a high-quality audio track in support of video.
Rode NT1-A microphone connects via long XLR to Samson S Phantom preamp which connects via short XLR to M-Audio Fast Track (bench settings -- mic input: 75%; mix: 25%; input monitor: mono; output: 75%) which connects via USB A-B to Apple MacBook and a pair of Sony studio headphones.
Remember to use a critically important power transformer and adapter when powering the Samson preamp, or else the gear might fry. The MacBook doesn't need a transformer.
GarageBand works well because it's easy. Sync software settings to the hardware narrative described above by configuring a recording track as Real Instrument > Vocals > No Effects; Input: Channel 1 (Mono); Monitor: Off. Metronome: Off.
Posted 2:24PM on Tuesday, August 14, 2007 Pacific Time
Congratulations to Zegó, who was recognized tonight as one of the Mozambique's emerging artists. This morning, before meeting up with Alcides and Chris for a day of filming the BYkids documentary, Zegó got a telephone call and was advised to be ready to accept his award at a private dinner ceremony at the Restaurante 1908 in downtown Maputo. During the day's filming, he bumped into a colleague and traded pants with him on the street so that he would be more presentable for the formal evening affair.
Honored for his 2005 documentary exploring the generation gap among Mozambique's established and emerging generations of artists, Zegó was given a cash prize, and more significantly, recognition for work that looks closely at the country's social and political issues.
"Something like this does not happen every day," Zegó kept saying after the ceremony, with his characteristic cool enthusiasm. I ran into him at the restaurant by chance. My group, from the photography side of the project, ended up there in search of a dinner experience. He had been summoned to be honored. Zegó hadn't had the time to organize a family member to accompany him, so he brought someone else he's spent a lot of time with this past week -- project film mentor Christopher Zalla.
I see Zegó as part of a generation of Mozambician artists and activists who see art and activism as equally important parts of citizenship and community-building. Next month, he performs in a one-man show about the country's political situation. The play was written by the friend he met on the street, who loaned him pants for tonight's ceremony. In November, Zegó travels to Brazil to screen and lecture on the film that earned him his honor. Next year, he travels to Russia to work on a film about a road trip from St. Petersburg to Siberia.
Posted 2:18AM on Tuesday, August 14, 2007 Pacific Time
Today is Day 7 and the groups are splitting up today to spent time both in the field and in lab. Jim, Russell, and Steve are working with kids from Reencontro, who are continuing their photography work in Maputo neighborhoods. The UNICEF activistas are meeting with Joanne and me at the Maputo Holiday Inn for a computer workshop session. We plan to give the young activists a survey of the technology tools and we are using every day in support of the project. By giving them hands-on exposure to our photo, video, audio, and web workflows, we want to inspire them to think about the different ways they might choose to communicate their message. Don't be surprised if you start seeing them blogging and posting video interactives on the website in the next day or two.
Posted 3:11AM on Monday, August 13, 2007 Pacific Time
After having worked for several days in small groups developing deeper, more focused stories, we reunited the entire group on Day 5 to do a work review. As we have had significant post-production to do at the end of each day of shooting -- downloading, editing, web updating, equipment maintenance -- we have simply been left too exhausted, each evening, to also make prints for the kids. Our solution, while imperfect, was to load our Macintosh laptops with an image edit and to have Joanne walk around the group sharing images, while Russell discussed them with the kids, reinforcing basic concepts in photography and visual storytelling. Better to hold pictures in your hand (which they will be able to do at the end of next week). Better yet, to have the time and resources for the kids to participate in the edit. But how extraordinary, nonetheless, to be able to use technology to share work in this way. We were also able to show the kids the website and to read the comments posted by people from around the world about their work. The pride reflected in their faces was indescribable. Thanks to each of you who took the time to look at their photos and share your thoughts.
When we did the work share we talked with the children a bit about the emerging visual story. Do your photos, taken together, tell a story that reads true to you? What is missing? What would you enlarge upon? This stimulated an interesting dialogue, which I am paraphrasing here. One of the teens talked about the fact that these images are not, in any form, a fair representation of teen life in Maputo, as they represent only the lives of children living on their own in the "suburbs" (generally more impovrished areas of the city). She talked about the importance of also showing children in stable families with economic resources, education, and access to opportunities. As a counter–point, one of her peers noted that, while it is true that these photos do not represent the whole, they are a reflection of an important part -- children orphaned because of AIDS -- and that this part is the intention of this particular project. Yet another said that she thought the photos were "60 percent there" but that she wanted to show more joy.
I am really struck by how collaborative a process this work is. It is not honest to say that these are the children's stories, alone, as they work so closely with their mentors, whose job as professional photographers is to help them focus their shooting, point out extraordinary light, or suggest picture opportunities. To those of us who are American, everything we see is new. What is extraordinary to us is absolutely ordinary to the children. Perhaps it is this collaboration that makes the work so powerful: the children with their intimate knowledge of their own lives; the photographers —- whether those of us from the United States or our Mozambican partners —- looking in as outsiders with well-trained eyes, seeing things that the children may not notice, making inquires about what we see that may allow the kids to reflect on their lives in new ways. While some might think that the eyes and involvement of "outsiders" intrude upon the children's stories, I think that it is this very interaction that makes the images and story unique.
Our work this week has left me thinking quite a bit about the importance of perspective in a story and brings to mind the parable about the blind men and the elephant: multiple perspectives make the whole; no one point of view is the truth.
Posted 4:27AM on Thursday, August 09, 2007 Pacific Time
Today is Day 4 and the kids continue photography in their neighborhoods and at their homes. Yesterday, the groups spent time in the Ferroviario suburb. Today, the groups shift attention to the Hulene suburb. Both areas represent some of Maputo's poorest neighborhoods, where homes often lack plumbing, electricity, heat, windows, and even roofing. For kids like the ones participating in our project, daily life also lacks the support of parents, as many children have lost their mothers and fathers to AIDS. These kids continue life on their own, as the country does not have the infrastructure to respond to their situations with comprehensive social welfare or foster care.
Like yesterday, the team has split into several groups to help maximize the ability to visit as many places as possible. Everyone is eager to work on their stories. Not surprisingly, the kids' enthusiasm for storytelling is translating into striking, memorable, and meaningful imagery.
Two of our groups moving around the neighborhoods are made up of Reencontro kids, children left orphaned because their parent or parents died of AIDS. A third group consists of UNICEF-sponsored youth activists, teens who are deeply concerned about the welfare and future of their country and are advocating awareness and action on the issues that concern the young generation. Finally, the BYkids film team continues its work making Alcides' movie.
Posted 10:14PM on Wednesday, August 08, 2007 Pacific Time
It is amazing that in three days time these kids have been able to progress from being shy and almost awestruck around the cameras to analyzing each situation for composition, lighting and angles to produce dramatic photography. The intensely personal vision of the kids when they photograph their friends, neighborhood, and yesterday, their homes, offers an amazing insight to how they view their world. They have begun to realize that with the lens of a camera they can share their stories and there are people both in Mozambique and thousands of miles away who will care.
While conversing with my father through email he was reminded of "a speech by Bill Moyer this last January. In the speech [Bill] reminded us that the successes of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War Protests were because the stories of man's inhumanity to man were told over and over again, especially through graphic photography, until it finally seeped into the American consciousness. This process took many years, even decades of perseverance by the story tellers. They opened our eyes and we owe them a great deal of gratitude." My hope is that when all is said and done and the book has been published and shows have been set up, the stories will keep being retold by those who listen.
Posted 9:45AM on Tuesday, August 07, 2007 Pacific Time
Eighteen children orphaned by AIDS are pointing their cameras with aplomb and shooting images of their lives: stark, compelling, lively, hopeful. They range in age from twelve to sixteen, and they've got a lot to say through their images about living without their parents, most often in small shacks by themselves. That's the harsh truth about AIDS in Africa. Millions of children are growing up alone, a generation without the guidance or love of parents. But there is hope, because of organizations like Reencontro, which make sure that children orphaned by AIDS have food, schooling and a place to live -- even if it's without adult supervision. There are too many children orphaned by AIDS and no orphanages; no real foster care. Unicef estimates that there will be 20 million children orphaned by AIDS in Africa by 2010, so we must speak out now for more financial aid to Africa. These children are Africa's future and they deserve the same opportunities to fulfill their passions and dreams as our children have.
Soon on our website you will see the photographs the children of Reencontro have taken that document their own lives. I can tell you from being with them today that you will be moved by their images and stories. Over the past two days, the children, along with six teen activists from UNICEF-Mozambique, have been learning the fundamentals of photography from our talented mentors. Yesterday was spent taking portraits of one another; today was down and dirty in the streets of Maputo, practicing their craft. Tomorrow, their lives at home.
The second part of our project involves making a documentary. Following the same philosophy as "The House Is Small," this film will not be made by an adult, but by one of the children of Reencontro. Today, Chris Zalla, a writer and film director who won the Grand Prize at Sundance this year, and I chose Alcides Soares to make the film. Chris and Zego, a Mozambican documentary filmmaker, taught Alcides the basics of filming. We selected him because of his passion for storytelling, his wry sense of humor, his great eye, and his drive. He's sixteen, he wants to be an engineer (and now a photographer) and he wants "to tell stories about hunger." We took him and all the kids to a restaurant yesterday. I asked Alcides if he'd ever been to a restaurant. "Never," he said firmly, but then smiled, "this is a very good start."
Yes it is. Alcides will take us to his home, where he lives with his younger sister and an elderly woman in a wheelchair. She gives him a small place to live and he cares for her, cooks for her, cleans for her -- and goes to school. Alcides will tell his what his life is like, through his movie, in a way an outsider couldn't.
The movie is being supported by ByKids, an inspiring organization headed by Holly Carter. Check out the website at www.ByKids.org. Alcides's film will be part of five documentaries made by kids and mentored by renowned filmmakers.
And this documentary would not have been possible without the support of my dear friends from SVU: Mariska Hargitay, Chris Meloni, Dawn DeNoon, Jon Greene, Amanda Greene, Mark Goffman, Josh Singer, Paul Grellong, Kam Miller and Ken Storer. They bought the Canon high-def camera Alcides is using. I am so grateful.
Posted 8:00AM on Tuesday, August 07, 2007 Pacific Time
Day 2 of photography just concluded. The project team met up with Reencontro in Bairro Ferroviario, a Maputo suburb considered one of the city's most impoverished. The roads are unpaved pathways of salmon-tinted loose earth. Vendors sit in chairs and on wooden stumps alongside the roads selling vegetables, charcoal, and baskets. One-story structures made of mostly cinderblock and corrugated metal paneling form the basic local architecture for homes, shops, and community buildings. The neighborhood has been hard-hit by AIDS, which has claimed lives and left children to raise themselves without their parents. Reencontro occupies a cozy space in a building with a community pharmacy. The organization uses its space to provide local orphaned children with job skill training, such as sewing and handicraft making. A medical clinic is run in a back room, and while we were there a nurse was giving treatment to a teen diagnosed with AIDS. Down the road, we met up with our kids and community members. There was a huge crowd of people who sang a moving folk song about "getting rid of the disease of the eighties." It is in the neighborhood of these people where the kids spent their first day of field photography. For some, this is home. Others live nearby. We are offloading images from twenty cameras now and expect to be uploading highlights to the website in a matter of hours.
Posted 11:29PM on Sunday, August 05, 2007 Pacific Time
Day 1 with the kids is today. Team is meeting in about a half hour to go over details. The entire group -- both the kids from Reencontro and the teens with UNICEF -- is meeting us here at the hotel, where we will do introductions, learn how to use cameras, and do a little photography. Portraits will be the subject of today's shooting activity. Russell, who makes portraits for a living and who teaches Venice Arts portrait workshops back in Los Angeles, will be leading. Expecting photo uploads to website later today. Also, filed under video is the first of several interactive profiles of the team. This one is a short video-subtitled audio interview with Maputo filmmaker, Zegó, who will be assisting Neal and Chris with the film.
Posted 2:36AM on Sunday, August 05, 2007 Pacific Time
Thanks everyone for the comments and welcome. After a an unplanned 34-hour layover in Johannesburg, I have finally joined the rest of the team in Maputo. In all, getting from Los Angeles to here took three days. The keys to safe and sane traveling in Africa appears to be: travel with plenty of patience and don't expect your baggage to travel with you. It turns out my luggage made it to Maputo before me on an airplane that I was not able to board. To me that sounds like a security concern, but fortunately the only things out of the ordinary in my bags are a mobile podcast studio and half a bag of Trader Joe's honey sesame sticks.
Ben's luggage is still missing. We spent most of yesterday in Johannesburg exhausting all opportunities in trying to locate the missing luggage. From the observation deck, we watched the rest of the team leave on the morning flight. Then we spent a few hours pounding the pavement all over the international terminal, exhausting all our leads with various airport operations people who were unable to help us very much. Then we slept on some wooden benches. Then we caught the last flight of the day to Maputo. We met Neal on that flight, on his way in from Madagascar. He had some amazing stories of his conservation tour there, and of the groups working to preserve the island's fragile environment and rare animal species.
It's late morning now, and I am a room at the Maputo Holiday Inn overlooking the beach. The skies are overcast, the air temperature is comfortable, and there is a healthy offshore wind bringing flutter into the tops of the palm trees that line the beach. The project team has a planning meeting this afternoon and tomorrow the project begins.
Posted 10:19AM on Saturday, August 04, 2007 Pacific Time
I am writing this somewhere over the Atlantic, as I fly the first leg of my journey to Maputo. This will be my first blogging experience, one that I already find somewhat difficult. It’s odd for me to write in the first person, as generally I feel most comfortable focusing on characters and stories -- certainly not myself. I suppose there’s a reason I chose a life behind the camera instead of in front of it.
My days leading up to departure were intensely busy, and I certainly neglected a lot of people and responsibilities as a result. I was gathering, testing, and packing video equipment for this trip, rewriting a screenplay, creating a new one, and coordinating the upcoming release of my first feature film, PADRE NUESTRO. So I am quite looking forward to the focus and purpose that will come with our project in Mozambique, as I think it will offer some badly needed space and perspective.
I am thrilled at the prospect of encountering the unknown these next two weeks, yet I am also quite apprehensive. It’s been over two decades since I last visited East Africa (my place of birth), and I am not quite sure how the radical transformation of the Sub-Saharan region will affect me. My memories are indelible, yet they have become more and more incongruous with the news stories, images, and reports from friends over the last twenty years.
I hesitate to make any generalizing statements about the dual epidemics of poverty and disease in Africa (especially HIV/AIDS), before engaging those realities in person. We all know (I hope) the numbers, the statistics, the tolls. But I am not sure how much we’ve transcended that data and seen the human dimension that constitutes it.
Ironically, it seems to me, in this world where we have more and more access to each other via the new media, we spend less and less time truly connecting with others. The result has been a reduction to -- and reliance on -- labels. Perhaps it’s a tool for managing the overload of stimuli we receive, or perhaps it’s a way of coping with difficulty, or perhaps we really don’t care about our neighbors after all. But with the labels come a simplification; a reduction of humanity.
One of the greatest things about film is that it speaks the universal language of human emotions that transcend cultural boundaries. I hope that by empowering a child to learn basic filmmaking, we can give him/her the tools to capture those emotions, and the power to speak that language. Though the clamor of our busy world will no doubt drone on we can help add a child’s voice to that din, and just maybe, open up a new conversation.
And we can listen.
Before I end, I must thank Neal Baer and Holly Carter for extending me this great opportunity. It’s not often in life you get to share your gifts in order to empower others. Success has no better reward.
Posted 8:55AM on Friday, August 03, 2007 Pacific Time
If you had the chance to visit any place in the world, where would you go? I chose Madagascar. It's one of the most ecologically threatened places in the world and I wanted to explore the region, to understand the importance of maintaining biodiversity first hand. My son, Caleb, and I have been introduced to the evolutionary splendor of the island by Dr. Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International. CI's mission is to protect the biodiversity of our planet, which as we all know is being treacherously threatened by overdevelopment, slash and burn agricultural practices, and dependence on fossil fuels. I've seen a dozen species of lemur, primates found only on Madagascar, and I've come to appreciate the undeniably important work Russ and his colleagues are doing to insure that all species survive our often egregious practice of destroying nature. Please go to www.conservation.org to learn more about CI's work and how we all can support them.
On Saturday I leave the glory of nature for the city of Maputo, Mozambique. As many of you know, I am going there to continue my work on a project in which American photographers teach photography to children orphaned by AIDS so that they themselves can document their lives. This project grew out of my interest in storytelling to change lives. I've been so fortunate in being able to write on two compelling television series, "ER" (from 1994-2000) and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (2000-present), where I can tell stories on the cutting edge of social issues. It struck me some years ago that everyone should have the chance to tell stories that move them, because storytelling is the most human and fundamental way we have of communicating with each other. Just think of all the stories you've told your friends, colleagues or families today. What would our lives be without the ability to tell stories?
I was also moved some years back by the book, "Shooting Back," by Jim Hubbard a renowned photographer and Pulitzer Prize nominee for photojournalism. Jim was one of the first people to do something simple: He gave cameras to homeless children in Washington, DC, and taught them to "shoot back," to tell the stories of their own lives. This idea of Jim's was profound. In the past, photojournalists and documentarians went in to often impoverished areas and took pictures, then went home. Yes, these pictures moved us; yes, they were often tragic, beautiful, compelling. And they often moved us to take action. Recall the photo of the young girl in Viet Nam being napalmed, or Walker Evans's images of rural Southerners. As important and moving as these pictures are, they only tell one story -- the photographer's view. I wondered what the "photographee's" story was too.
So I found Jim in Venice, California doing engaging and important work with kids, teaching them to tell their stories by teaching them photography. Almost everyone can tell his or her story nowadays because technology has made cameras relatively inexpensive and easy to use. We raised money last year for a trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where Jim and Lynn Warshafsky, his wife and the director of Venice Arts, taught fifteen mothers with HIV how to shoot. The results are compelling and can be seen on our website, www.thehouseissmall.org. We are now going to Maputo to complete the second half of our project, which looks at HIV in Africa from the perspective of mothers and children. In Maputo, which has nearly half a million children orphaned by AIDS, we will teach fifteen photography so that they can tell us in their own way what it means to live without parents. Our hope is that these photos will tell Americans a story that haven't seen or heard -- and will give these children a chance to share their own tales with people across Africa.
I will continue to blog a bit about this adventure and what we are doing to link people around the world who are doing these projects. Please go to our blogsite -- www.thehouseissmall.org. -- to follow our trek.
My heartfelt thanks go to many people who have supported this project from its inception: Malena Ruth and Gerrie Smith of the African Millennium Foundation, Jeanie Linders, Dick Wolf, Paradigm Literary and Talent Agency, the Kaiser Family Foundation, Universal Media Studios, Peter Hermann, Geoff Cowen and Josh Fouts of USC's Annenberg School of Communications, the wonderful and talented members of Venice-Arts, and of course Jim Hubbard and Lynn Warshafsky for their tireless work.
Posted 8:39AM on Friday, August 03, 2007 Pacific Time
Quick update. After a very long and tedious travel day, part of the project team is making an unplanned layover here in Johannesburg, South Africa. Due to a missed connection, we probably spent a good seven hours at the airport here unsuccessfully trying to get on any one-hour flight to our final destination. The good news is that most of our missing baggage, especially the ones containing the cameras, has been located. Also, part of the project team was able to get a connecting flight and is in Maputo now. I'm just now getting settled in my hotel room at the Southern Sun. We'll be back at the airport tomorrow morning.
Posted 5:01PM on Wednesday, August 01, 2007 Pacific Time
The journey from Los Angeles to London was overdosed with drama. At the airport, it took us three hours to run the check-in gauntlet. During that time, a woman had to be taken away in an ambulance.
The most tenuous moment of this leg occurred on the flight itself, somewhere over Canada. A man began to storm down the cabin aisle, desperately screaming for a doctor. Fortunately, one was on board. This man's mother had fainted while in her seat or was otherwise unresponsive. The man sat down in the empty seat next to me, visibly upset, and I offered him some water and conversation to help him keep composure while the physician made assessments.
The man sitting next to me turned out to be a Los Angeles high school student, as big as a bear and showing a fierce protective instinct for his mother and family. They are traveling to Armenia where they will have a month-long reunion with some 60 or so relatives. In our conversations, the student told me of his dream to live in an ocean-view house in Malibu, and to work as a doctor, specifically as an ostetrician/gynecologist. "I thought about what kind of doctor I want to be and I decided on this area of ob/gyn because I want to help people to have joy in their life."
His name, translated from Armenian, turns out to be something along the lines of "Sneaky Tiger," although there's nothing sneaky about his very direct intentions and outlook on life. Here's a kid who really believes in studying hard and putting in the work. He has made a road map for his own life. Whether he ultimately reaches the final destination that he has set out for himself is beside the point. What matters is that this person has big dreams and is making use of powerful tools and resources to realize them.
It's clear to me that someone growing up with a strong family/community environment, and access to education, is going to have better and more opportunities to make goals and do something about achieving them. It got me thinking as we get closer to starting our work with young people who live in a country where, according to U.S. State Department statistics, the adult illiteracy rate is more than 50%, the average citizen has spent less than two years in school, and a growing number of children are living as orphans.
Tools and resources, as well as powerful practices that make use of them, are needed to help young people in these conditions work on the dreams that will lead them to a better life.
We're in London for another day. Tomorrow, my fellow travelers (Joanne, Russell, and Jalal), will meet up with the rest of the project team, and as a group we will continue on to Maputo.
Posted 12:27PM on Sunday, July 29, 2007 Pacific Time
As you read this, I will be on a plane to Mozambique, having attended to the last details related to bringing 20 cameras and a team of 10 media artists to work with 21 kids in Maputo, Mozambique, while keeping half an eye on my 9-year-old daughter, Sofie, preparing for her third trip to the African continent for a Venice Arts' Social Art Initiative project.
We are traveling to Maputo to complete the second phase of The House is Small but the Welcome is Big, which we launched in 2006 in Cape Town, South Africa. The Cape Town project photographers were 15 women -- all moms or moms-to-be -- living with HIV/AIDS. In Maputo, there will be 21 project photographers: 15 kids orphaned by AIDS who, although some as young as 11 or 12, are now raising their younger siblings on their own; and 6 youth activists using other art and media forms to educate their peers on AIDS, malaria, sanitation, and girls' equality.
Between them, they represent the more than 500,000 Mozambican kids who have lost their parents to AIDS and, also, the growing number of Mozambican teens using innovative methods to advocate their concerns and inspire action.
I look forward to seeing the rich and varied photos that they will create. Through their pictures they will, I am certain, significantly enlarge upon many people's notions of what it means to be living as a young person in this particular country at this particular time in history. My own best hope? That the project will contribute, even if in a small way, to effecting change by attaching real faces and stories to abstract numbers and helping some of those who are the most voiceless amongst us make a lasting record of their lives.
This year, our team is expanded. We are not only bringing more photographers but, also, an accomplished documentary filmmaker, Chris Zalla, who will work with one child on a documentary short under the auspices of BYkids. We are also bringing the wonderful Internet whiz (among other talents), Eugene Ahn, who single–handedly designed our interactive website -- www.thehouseissmall.org -- assuring that photos, writing, video and audio are posted online as quickly as possible so that all of you, back home, can watch our project unfold. This is our first venture into the world of the interactive web, and we are very excited about what we'll be able to offer both our project participants and each of you. I encourage you to:
Subscribe to our email notification and we'll tell you each time new content is posted.
Subscribe to our PODCAST and receive new video and audio when you open iTunes.
Track the blogs and images of our mentor–artists, kids, and partners.
Click on the "tell a friend" link at the bottom of the page and help us to spread the word.
Click on "let's hear it from you" link at the top of the page and share your own impressions about the project, a blog, the photos or other media, with us.
So check out the new site. Visit it regularly. Spread the word. Let us know what you think.
P.S. I hope to see you this Fall when we open our first exhibit of the kids’ work in Los Angeles, celebrating the launch of our new Institute for Photographic Empowerment at USC, a joint project of Venice Arts and the Annenberg School for Communications.
Posted 12:28AM on Sunday, July 29, 2007 Pacific Time
That's the desired order of preference when it comes to deciding on best method to generate multiple image sizes. There's a possibility imagemagick will not be installed on the server before the project commences. In any case, I've written some batch actions scripts that take most of the manual out of whipping up lean thumbnails.
In general, the formatting guidelines are as follows:
Landscape thumbnails orient to 120 px wide by 80px or 90px tall
Squarish thumbnails orient to approximately 100px on each side
Portrait thumbnails orient to 120px tall by 80px or 90px wide
Posted 1:11AM on Saturday, July 28, 2007 Pacific Time
When I first heard about the trip to Mozambique I was both excited and intrigued. Going to Mozambique is a great opportunity to expand on my experiences surrounding both teaching and photography. I am a student at Colorado College majoring in studio art and education and hope to become an art teacher after I graduate. For the past year I have been working with students in Colorado who are considered at-risk for dropping out of school and dangerous behavior. I am also working on my own art work including both photography and sculpture. I am really excited to meet the kids whom I will be working with. It will be interesting comparing and contrasting my teaching experiences in Colorado and Maputo. I'm packing frantically and am looking forward to meeting everyone on the trip."
Posted 9:05PM on Friday, July 27, 2007 Pacific Time
I first met Jim Hubbard about 20 years ago. I was his student when he was teaching a course in Documentary photography. We hit it off pretty much right away (same birthday you know!) I guess we are like minded (read-wise ass)
Jim invited me to go to Romania with him to teach photography. I'll always be grateful to JH for that opportunity. We worked in an orphanage in Bucharest (casa di copi #10) in 1992. The dictator Ceausescu had recently been deposed and the orphanages were full. Jim and I traveled there for World Vision. We were teaching photography for empowerment and to show the world their life through their eyes. Most of the kids were both charming, troubled and " skin hungry" (craved attention and contact). They were eager to work with adults and responded well to a little attention.
It was a heady time, with Romania being in transition from a closed, bullet marked eastern block state to a developing one. Outside of Bucharest was a time machine where horse drawn carts were as common as automobiles. In one small village I visited near Pitesti, a very old woman said "I never thought I would see the day that an American would set a foot in my village".
These are things I'll never forget.
When JH called and asked if I wanted to do it all again in Mozambique I did not drop a beat! As a photographer this is the kind of thing I live for.
I have little preconceived Ideas of what to expect in Moz and my son and I are "empty vessels" for the hard work and experiences ahead.
Posted 3:44PM on Wednesday, July 25, 2007 Pacific Time
The website is now set up to publish blog entries via a mobile phone. I am trying it out right now with this entry using my Motorola Razr. Everything appears to be working well because my thumbs are tired.
Posted 8:54AM on Wednesday, July 25, 2007 Pacific Time
In a few days I will join a team from Venice Arts, a Venice, CA youth arts organization, to embark on an exciting journey to Africa, our third since 2001, that also causes me some personal conflict. This time the long flight will put us in Maputo, Mozambique where the chasm between our world in the U.S and the African reality is as wide as the distance our aircraft will traverse. Maputo is a beautiful city situated along the Indian Ocean with wonderful and warm people and from what I hear astonishing sea food. Unfortunately it is a poor country with severe shortages, low life expectancy and nearly a half million children orphaned by AIDS.
The differences between the two worlds, at least priorities, may best be described by a call that I just received from a reporter at a Santa Monica, CA daily paper advising me that the story they were planning to do on our upcoming work with children orphaned by AIDS in Mozambique would have to be put on hold for a couple days as they needed the space for a breaking news story: Lindsay Lohan had just been arrested for drug possession and drunk driving in front of the Santa Monica, CA police station. Don't think for a minute that the priorities of this small Santa Monica daily newspaper are unique. They share the same view of what is an important story with the majority of print and electronic media. This encapsulates my personal conflicts about wanting to help the "least among us," while being a member of one of the richest and most warped cultures on earth.
The intention of the trip is to teach children orphaned by AIDS how to use cameras to document their world so that others can see what their lives are like. In some ways we serve as "bellringers" through photographs and words to inform the privileged that cruel and harsh conditions exist for hundreds of millions of human beings. Our group of about ten energetic and caring people are motivated by a variety of reasons ranging from "faith based" beliefs to humanist beliefs. Regardless, I am certain the group of kids that we meet will be filled with joy, as will we, when we first meet and and begin to work together. As the kids gain proficiency with the cameras, they will create a visual story that will depict children living in some of the cruelest conditions and circumstances in human history. While it is true that the nature of our effort does not ameliorate the wretched conditions they constantly endure, our ability to produce exhibits for the public, publish books of their photographs and stories, and sometimes interest media outlets in the continuance of public awareness that may, perhaps, mobilize more people to help the poor and suffering. Bottom line is that we value the possibility of a paradigm shift—of seeing more interest in the suffering of the world rather than the endless fascination with Hollywood stars and other escapist trivia.