OnTrak Magazine: Vikesh Kapoor

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.

Vikesh Vapoor

Vikesh Vapoor

Vikesh Vapoor

Vikesh Vapoor

Vikesh Vapoor

 

 

The Cadence of Motherhood

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.

Brynn in surgery

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.

Ben, Aaron, Brynn

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.

Fatumo

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.

Lalo

Ethiopian woman praying

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.

Taiko Cooking

Joni and The Camel Milk Producers

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.

Women waiting in Gimbie

Woman waiting for health care in Gimbie, Ethiopia

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.

Fanta

Young girl in Sheno, Ethiopia

The Passage

 

Pink Martini + Oregon Balley Theatre

I love shooting for the Oregon Ballet Theatre, and this last shoot was exceptionally fun!

Here are two renditions of the poster they created for this performance.

Photographing Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini was a highlight of my career.  He was alert, game for anything, and even taught me a lesson or two.

 

OBTFINAL

OBT_25_Poster_final

Acosia Red Elk

Photographing a person always has a spiritual feeling for me, but standing before Acosia as she dissolved one with her land was quite an astonishing and humbling experience.

We have so much to learn from our land’s indigenous culture.

Go to a pow wow, not only to watch the dancing, but also cross the cultural divide, dismiss any personal shyness and hesitation, and spend some time talking with someone from a tribe. Listen to their tales of history and beliefs. It’s opened my world and shifted my thinking substantially.

I can’t thank Acosia enough for letting me into a small part of her rhythmic world.

Watch her dance here.  Get the article here.

Acosia

Joni_Acosia_PDF-4

Magazine Assignment: Young Farmers In Oregon

This assignment from 1859 Magazine goes down as one of my all time favorites!  The editor, Kevin Max, and I drove all around Oregon talking with young farmers who are devoted to bringing good things to our tables.

From fruit to cows to pigs to wheat, and even vacant city lot planted vegetables, we learned a lot about what it takes to make a commitment to growing things and understanding the unpredictable nature of land.

Here’s a collective cheer to these fascinating and energetic souls!

1859 Magazine: Farmers

1859 Magazine: Farmers

1859 Magazine: Farmers

1859 Magazine: Farmers

Young Farmers, for 1859 Magazine

“Abebe” Goes to Vermont

“Abebe” has been curated into the upcoming “Blue” show at the Darkroom Gallery in Essex Junction in Vermont.

We are especially excited for this, as this image is being considered as a cover for the upcoming book that will be released in September 2014.

All images from The Mercato Workers series were taken in the market in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.

Abebe

Lecture: Portland Art Museum

What an honor to be included in the Portland Art Museum’s Brown Bag Series!

The title of my lecture was “Humanity Before Us: Crossing The Cultural Divide“.  I spoke about the lessons I garner from the various cultures I am assigned to photograph.  This also includes my own self assignments with “cultures” such as my own family background and heritage.  Coming to terms with our own reflection can be daunting at times, and I wanted this lecture to expose the good and the bad and everything in-between.

We are human.  We all make mistakes.  What is most enriching and important is how we take our own platforms of experience and adversity and move them into new ventures, relationships and art.

Here is a poem written by the Greek playwright Aeschylus that I have loved since I was a very young girl:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

Portland Art Museum Lecture

(Photo by Jon Combs of Pro Photo Supply)

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