Looky! Vikesh Kapoor has used one of the images I took of him to be printed on t-shirts to be sold at his concerts.
I love to see imagery used such as this. What an honor!
The opening is August 8 – a great time to have some fun in Astoria!
This image was taken with my cellphone, and processed in the phone as well. The location is in Kimberly, Oregon, near the little grocery store.
He stands tall, towering over the ladies, yet his gestures are gentle. His smile comes quickly as he expresses his love for these women. We are here to listen to his song, hear his words and see dancers hop, shake and spin to the music he makes, all in the name of educating others about the devastating effects of fistula.
The women file into the room, their colorful dresses accentuating their inherent cheerful spirits. They are all fistula survivors, and they are here to help spread joy and encouragement to those who are still suffering from this condition. They have been here before, and they know the isolating despair they felt when they were leaking urine and feces down their own legs.
But today is a new day. They have been healed by the hand of a skillful surgeon and they are now participating in reintegration skill training at Terrewode, their programming funded by the Worldwide Fistula Fund, in the beautiful Soroti region of Uganda. Sewing, jewelry and basket making, bread baking: the products of all of these activities can be sold in markets and and is a way for these women to get back on their feet and feel productive once again. They are here to learn these skills, and also participate in a performance for us.
The African man suffers a generalized stigma that portrays him as typically uncaring, a tyrant who dominates women, marries them at an early age, and abandons them when when they become ill. While these things do happen across our globe, there is another side to this portrayal; concern for women by males in African countries also can be seen readily if one spends any time in villages.
Stephen Otim uses music to attract others to the joyful sounds heard in the distance. In various villages, people gather to see the colorfully clothed dancers and to watch the drama unfold before them. The message in the lyrics and in the dialog all centers around educating others to look for signs of obstructed labor and also to refer a loved one for care should she develop a fistula. Through music and drama, this group is removing the shameful stigma associated with fistula, and in its place they are helping men and women rally around the condition.
One by one, more men ask to become a part of the festive ensemble. They not only understand the issues surrounding maternal care, they feel a sense of responsibility and a surge of motivation to spread maternal health education further. Young men, old retired men, boys: they all want to be a part of this collective concern for their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters.
Each day, approximately 16,000 women die or suffer serious complications from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. Every six seconds a mother-to-be experiences a life-threatening complication.
I think we all have some work to do.
Music heals, beckons and is a universal language that has no boundaries. Stephen picks up his thumb drum, smiles at my young Moroccan male assistant who has been busy setting up equipment, and says slyly “Would you like to learn how to play?”
(Update: I will be returning to Uganda in November 2015 to work on documenting the music and dance troop’s performances and to assist with an Oregon-Uganda goat milk soap making project. Donations for this work are greatly appreciated. Send us an email if you would like to hear more about these two projects. You can make a donation here. Specify “Soap Project” or “Music Project”)
View a video of the musicians and dancers in their village here.
Mary Ellen Mark lives.
She is still examining between the lines of what we see and what we understand. The subjects of her portraits, her students, the people whose eyes she deeply sought and whose lives she intricately examined, know she is not gone. How could she possibly be far from our reach for influence?
Her voice lives on. Her love of the less seen and forgotten souls lives on. Her catch of nuance and unveiled thinking still moves us.
I will miss talking with her, yes. Seeing her braids. Hearing the jangling of her bracelets. Feeling the swish of air that arises from her swirling skirts when she walks by. Looking at her hands.
But she lives. She’s here. Her belief in humanity and resulting photographic images command a riveting attention like no other. How she moves us.
Maybe I finally will listen to her words of advice more so now since she won’t have to repeat those sentiments as often as she had to in the past. Sorrow blankets my heart. I can hear her voice, magnified.
No, Mary Ellen has not left us. She has only just begun to fill the world around us, and will do so for our future generations.
She just caught the light.
To see more images, follow this link:
To hear my radio interview on Oregon Public Broadcasting: Remembering Mary Ellen Mark
Every so often, someone asks if they can use one of my images for a reference for their paintings. Here is the latest from Bhavna Misra. She used graphite and prismacolor wax-based colored pencils on heavyweight bristol paper.
We are so very pleased to announce the launch of our beautiful little book The Market Workers, a loving tribute to some of the hardest workers on earth.
This book has been a labor of love for many years, starting when I first entered the market in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia and saw the tireless energy and positive mindsets of the market workers who work so very hard each day to bring food, clothing/textiles, spices and household wares to so many. From simple dinner tables to high end luxury hotels, these people make sure there is a ready supply of items that feed the body and soul.
This book could not have been created without the help from so many others. Enormous gratitude goes first and foremost to Lincoln Miller, owner of PushDot Studio, who labored over the files to get them to look colorful and lively, all with a consistent feel, even though the images were created over a three year time span. His talented and gracious wife, Dardi Troen, owner of Ditroen, worked with renowned educator and artist (and very good friend!) Kirsten Rian to create the look and feel of the design of the book and sequence the images. We could not select a cover image (this proved too difficult when I love all of the workers!) so the cover is a very simple black face with red/orange foil type.
Aida Muluneh, founder of the Addis Foto Fest, penned a heartfelt introduction to the book and coordinated an exhibit, and mentor and friend Mary Ellen Mark, who has had a huge influence on my visual heart and soul, wrote a special sentiment.
Words escape me when trying to articulate the gratitude I have for the assistance I received while in Ethiopia from my many friends there, from the city officials in Bahir Dar, and above all, from Habtamu, my trusty guide and friend who works in the markets in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
The printing was done by Brown Publishing, with astonishing results. The colors are deep and saturated, and skin tones are true to life.
Each book was lovingly crafted with a hard cover, the highest quality papers and flat lying binding. This is a very short run (only 200 copies) and many of them were given to people in Ethiopia (including the energetic market worker who coordinated the project within the market) when the book was launched during The Market Workers exhibition opening at the National Museum of Ethiopia last December.
Prints have been shown at Lightbox Gallery, PushDot Studio, Katayama Gallery, The Clymb headquarters, and have been included in many other international exhibits. Special gratitude to Laura Domela, for her painterly hand at post processing each image to appear lifelike. The sales of these prints offset costs that enabled this book to be published, so a sincere thank you goes to those who purchased prints.
Each book costs $40, plus shipping and handling. All proceeds enable me to pay for the cost of producing the book, plus allows me to keep doing the work I do in Ethiopia.
Kindly email me to reserve a copy.
How can a young man, so early in his life, produce such forlorn material that depicts strain and stress and mystery and broken down spirit, with the tendrils of hope right within and outside of reach?
This is Vikesh Kapoor‘s style of song, and he sings it with conviction, as though he really did experience such down trodden affairs.
Photographing him was not an easy task – when he reaches for his guitar and begins to sing, he is lost in the lyrics and I had a difficult time finding a connection through the camera. For most of our session, I just put the camera aside and listened to him.
Once the guitar is by his side, he returns to his impish and stylish self, joking and smiling in a playful manner. But the specs of my assignment was to photograph him while he was playing. I waited and joined him in his means of story-telling, forgetting that I had a job to do. Sometime during his songs, I was able to pick up the camera and create these images by not looking through the experience-ruining lens.
Something feels a bit controlled about him, but not in the traditional way. He seems to be really thinking about things: his day, his upcoming tour, his lovely girlfriend perhaps? No, there seems to be a tragedy that lurks behind his boyish grins. Who knows if he has experienced some trauma that brings him to this music – it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t seem to question where his creative center comes from, and neither should I.
The Portland Mercury writes that his album “The Ballad of Willy Robbins is a vital, blood-spattered document of the times America currently finds itself in, examining hard-working people and their families as they’re sidelined by big business and the bottom dollar”. At such a young age, he is certainly able to channel nuance, the loss of a cherished something or someone, with anguished tentacles running deeper than we allow ourselves to feel in this highly distracting world.
I wonder what he will do next.
Images shot for OnTrak Magazine; his story is on Amtrak trains now.
Each year. Mercy Corps selects twelve images to include in their yearly calendar.
Here are samples of two calendars that include portraits I have taken during assignments in Ethiopia.
I watch her slip into a surgical cap and gown, and carefully wash her hands. This isn’t the first time she has been in the operating theater in Africa, nor will it be the last. She stands tall and confident, and moves about as though she has the experience of a lifetime.
But she is only 18 years old, and she is on a mission trip to Ethiopia to help with maternal care surgeries.
As I watch my daughter work alongside deft handed surgeons, my heart pounds a bit harder. Here she is, whole and healthy and grounded, and had we lived in this same Ethiopian town at the time when she was born, most likely we both would have perished. She means the world to me.
I suffered obstructed labor with my first child, and luckily lived in a nation where I had access to emergency obstetrical operations. Two other children came after the first, born under the same conditions, and all three are now enjoying robust lives. And now I have a family to cherish. They mean the world to me.
My connection to women in Ethiopia runs deep. I am devoted to bringing their stories afar with the hope that more people will rally around global maternal care concerns. Each time I look into their eyes, I want to express my sorrow for the inequity of health care around the world. Why was I so fortunate to have had access to emergency obstetrics and these women, the women who teach me so very much, do not? In this day and age, it is unforgivable.
Yet, faced with so many problems and maneuvering a day’s hard work of fetching loads of wood and carrying heavy jerry cans of water while traversing rugged terrain just to get food on the table for their loved ones, these mothers show no remorse and reflect only astonishing resilience. In their eyes, I don’t see sorrow or resentment or desperation; instead, I see a quiet fortitude, boundless happiness, and flickers of hope.
One woman takes my hand and helps me learn how to milk a camel and cook over a fire. Another tells me that my attire will never attract anyone. And yet another mother shows me how to nurture a child through a tantrum. They all, each and every one of them, show me the virtue of grace and the benefits of choosing happiness over despair, even while experiencing dire circumstances.
The demand for good maternal care in Ethiopia is high. Men will carry a woman for days to a health post only to find no staff in sight due to a shortage of doctors and health care officers. Women will stand in line at rural health posts for weeks, waiting for assistance. I applaud organizations such as The Liya Kebede Foundation, The Hamlin Fistula Hospital and The Barbara May Foundation and many others as they work tirelessly to bring effective health care services to these women.
Yet it is the young girls who are embedded in my heart the most. They learn early on to withstand pain and suffering, and to only focus on the positive threads in each day. It is these girls who need reassurance the most – that the world is here for them, and substandard and inequitable health care practices are unacceptable.
They deserve to know that they mean the world to us.