An Extended Hand, From The Heart Of A Boy

Too often, African males are characterized as being insensitive to a woman’s needs. Magazines, newspapers and even charitable organizations frequently focus on rape, child marriage and physical abuse to reveal injustices from men that women face while living in an African nation.

But there are other sides to these stories, and scenarios abound that depict men as caring and loving human beings, showing deep respect for their sisters and wives. We see men carrying their sick wives for days to reach a health post, traversing rugged terrain and selling off their cattle to pay for the bill. They realize how vital their wives are to the well-being of the entire family. Men are visibly shaken as they fear the loss of their loved one, and they will go to great lengths to ensure that she receives the care she deserves, often traveling to various health care centers before finding one staffed with a health care practitioner.

Men gather around a woman who has just had surgery to alleviate obstructed labor in preparation to carry her home. Motta, Ethiopia

Man helping woman in Ethiopia

We recently visited several schools in rural areas outside of Mekelle, Ethiopia, and we were able to talk with some of the boys to see how they viewed the topic of menstruation. In the recent past in Ethiopia this topic was taboo even for mothers and daughters to discuss and some families still view it this way. But all of the boys we randomly chose to interview had positive things to say about the time when a girl has her period. Many of them asked if the school could have a place to rest, showers for cleaning and tea for stomach cramping, just so the girls will feel more comfortable during this time.

Ethiopian boy Dignity Period

Ethiopian boy Dignity Period

Ethiopian boy Dignity Period

Ethiopian boy Dignity Period

Dignity Period not only supplies reusable sanitary napkins to girls, but the educational component has had a great impact on lessening the mystery when a girl shows blood on her clothing. Schools now require all students to read a booklet that details why girls menstruate and how they can be supported rather than laughed at.

Older boys now teach younger boys how to react sensitively when they know that a girl is menstruating. G/Maryam Asene, a student at Adikeyh, even cites this time as being “a gift” and says that anyone who laughs at a girl is also laughing at their mother, an extremely shameful thing to do.

We ask the boys: What would you do if you see that a girl has unexpectedly started her period?  Their ready answer was energetic: We would take our shirt or sweater off and let her wear it until she could change her clothes!

Sensitive souls they are.

Ethiopian boy Dignity Period

Ethiopian boys Dignity Period

Ethiopian students Dignity Period

Featured in Photographer’s Forum Magazine

Many thanks to Claire Sykes for the lovely article she wrote about my philosophy and work in this month’s Photographer’s Forum magazine.

It is a humbling honor to read what she has written, and also the various quotes by people (Jim Friedman, Shelby Lee Adams and Lewis Wall) who have greatly inspired me over the years.

Photographer's Forum Magazine

Terra Magazine: Uganda Goat Milk Soap-Making

The recent issue of Oregon State University’s Terra Magazine  features a story about our goat milk soap-making project in Uganda. What an honor it has been to work with so many Oregon constituents in making this project come to life, all initiated by one gesture of gift giving from a soap maker in Fossil, Oregon to fistula survivors in Soroti, Uganda.

 

Terra Magazine Uganda

Oregon Ballet Theatre: Dancer Portraits

I love when I get to be inside the walls of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s building and watch the heat and fury that arises from the dancers as they practice. It takes enormous focus and energy to perfect those twists and turns and leaps, and to be able to witness trial after trial until they reach their aspirations is a wondrous sight.

I was there to make dancer portraits, and even though they came right from brutal practice to sit before my camera, they each faced the lens with authentic passion in their eyes.

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer

Valley Uprising: Stills From Yosemite

Several of my images made while on an assignment documenting extreme climbers in Yosemite are included in the documentary, Valley Uprising.

If you attended my lecture at the Portland Art Museum, you might recall that I left my corporate work years ago to become a full-time photographer based upon two experiences: watching people trying to salvage photographs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and a life-altering discussion I had one day in a cave with climber Dean Potter.

This film is startling and evocative, delving into the tensions that exist between climbers and rangers in the Yosemite area.

It was a complete surprise to see that my name was listed in the credits at the end!

Yosemite Climber

Chongo

Yosemite climber hand

Workshop: Environmental Portraiture

My Environmental Portrait workshops are up and running in the John Day River Territory, where I am spending more and more time while I am in Oregon. I can really see how this Eastern Oregon wilderness land has an effect of people, and I hope to be able to teach more in this area.

Class discussions are held at my remote cabin near the small town of Spray, but most of the hands-on training for this workshop is spent photographing people in the surrounding wilderness areas.

I have made a commitment to providing an immersion experience that focuses on “honoring the land/respecting the subject” while also enjoying great company, local fresh foods and delicious wines.

Each workshop accepts an extremely limited number of participants so that the group size is conducive for intimate exchange of ideas and nimble change of locations.

Follow along on my Instagram account for live stories and images during these workshops and throughout my on-going backroads exploration!

McKinsey

Vista Capital Portraits

I love working with teams of people to make portraits for their website and other promotions. Here is a snapshot of portraits from one company I especially admire, Vista Capital Partners. Each staff member brings a unique personality to the table, yet they form a very cohesive and friendly group.

We scheduled the portrait sessions in the Rose Garden last month so that a bit of greenery was included in the background, which represents many of their offerings. Quite a departure from their previous stark white and square portrait layout!

 

Vista White

 

 

Vista Green

There Is A Reason For This

I saunter up to the tall lanky cowboy who is leaning against a shed and muster up confidence to ask him my question:

“Do you know where I can find a good plumber out here? I’d like to get an outdoor shower up and running before my extended family arrives from out of state soon.”

He looks at me straight in the eye, pauses, and with a slow curl of his lip, he said,  “You already have one. That is what hoses are for. Let ’em sit in the sun a bit, and you have yourself some nice hot water also.”

And like that, I learned more than a few lessons.

This might seem like nothing more than a humorous exchange with a dollop of sarcasm, but that moment set the stage for how I would come to live in (and understand) my new rural town of Spray, Oregon.

As I make my way around the new digs, I am constantly learning things each and every day. Close all gates. Respect the land. Ask before making assumptions. Listen closely. Have a sense of humor, politically incorrect at times but rooted in truth.

I was drawn to this area of Oregon because it reminded me of being in Ethiopia, where most of my work has been of late. The landscapes share striking similarities. I also am finding that there is  a cultural divide between city/rural that is not unlike the chasm that exists between western/developing nations. And just as we often see aid distribution with well-intentions go awry, the same “we know best” attitudes are too often seen when city/rural tensions collide.

As I dial back my city attributes and attitudes, I am finding myself surrendering to the notion that mankind just might fare best when living close to the land and in shared community. Yet at times I witness something that I just can’t wrap my head around, whether it is seeing a dead coyote draped over a fence or listening to harsh complaints from a local shop owner. Luckily, as I meet people out in this area, I am fortunate enough to be getting some great advice along the way.  A very wise local once said something that has now become one of my mantras:  There is a reason for this.

There is a reason why city folk and ruralites might clash at times. Judgement and misunderstandings prevail over mindfulness and openness to what I refer to as “crossing the cultural divide”. Whether it be in far away lands with exotic cultures or close to home in rural/city Oregon, both parties must be willing to set aside preconceived notions and seek to understand the position of the other and not make assumptions for what is best. Once this happens, synergistic collaborations can surface.

Our small towns are struggling to stay afloat all over the nation. Big box stores, online shopping, and digital “travel” through our computer screens have fostered a laxity in some for in-person explorations of places outside of our misguided comfort zone. While seeing a beautiful photo online gives great pleasure, there is nothing like planting our feet in front of a soaring and majestic colorful rock formation that is millions of years old while watching a large bird against a kaleidoscope sky search for its dinner and feeling the wind nudge us into letting our fears and worldly concerns slide away.

Nature brings a perspective like no other antidote. It doesn’t matter if we like outdoor sports or not, the point is to just run for the hills and immerse ourselves in sensory delights, whether by foot, bike, boat and yes, even a clunky car. I love finding myself on a deserted road at night when the stars come out and only the moon can be seen with no other man-made structure in sight. It makes me free fall out of the chaos that cities can at times impose upon us. I believe we are more fragile than we realize.

So let’s go. Stop short of only following adventurous people on social media and make your own adventure. Select a far away small town to explore (your dollars are desperately needed to keep these towns in existence), cross that cultural divide and listen to locals tell their stories, tell yours, and become inspired by one another. Commune with some animals. Perch like a bird on a lookout point. Read a book on a riverbank. Explore the remote outer areas that take you a while to reach.

I think there is a reason for this.

 

Painted Hills

(The Painted Hills, part of the John Day Fossil Beds, Oregon)

 

Spray Cabin

(Spray, Oregon)

 

Maupin Deschutes

(The Deschutes River, near Maupin, Oregon)

 

Blue Basin

(The Blue Basin, near Kimberly, Oregon)

 

Wallowa, Oregon

(Carmen Ranch, Wallowa, Oregon)

 

Painted Hills

(The Painted Hills, near Mitchell, Oregon)

 

IMG_0071-2

(My cabin in the John Day River Territory, photo by Michael Schoenholtz)

Spray or Ethiopia?

Wow…take a gander at the similarities between the land of my home in Spray/Fossil, Oregon and that of my friend’s in Ethiopia!

Ethiopia_Spray

(Photo of Ethiopia by Kefyalew Sileshi)

 

Spray Cabin

(Photo of Spray, Oregon by Aaron Opsahl)

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