Prints For Prints: A Makeshift Studio in Rural Ethiopia

One thing that has become apparent while traveling anywhere is how precious a photograph print is to a family, especially in the rural areas of Ethiopia.  Most families have no record or image of their loved ones, and when we are able to give prints to villagers, it is appreciated beyond measure.

So this November, I will be traveling to Ethiopia with a small team of photographers and we will set up a small portable studio in several villages. We will capture portraits and donate the prints to the families we photograph. In addition, each US photographer will be paired with an Ethiopian photographer so there is an exchange of talents: technical skills, cultural awareness, and love for humanity.

We are planning a fundraiser to help with the costs for this project.  The concept is simple: we are calling the fundraiser “Prints For Prints”, and we will auction matted prints from photo-loving friends (both amateur and professional photographers). The prints will be sold at a very reasonable “affordable art” cost ($50-100 sliding scale) during a fun and relaxed party, followed by music by Portland’s very own Ethiopian funk band: The Tezeta Band!

This event will be held on August 8, 2013 starting at 7pm at the Secret Society Ballroom and we hope you will be able to attend.

All ages welcome until 8:30pm, then it is 21+.

Follow me at @jkabana on Instagram during November to see this project in action.

Facebook page:

See our Website to view all of the prints and the fabulous photographers!


Villagers in Marovoay, Madagascar look at a Polaroid photo that was just made with their family.

(Villagers in Marovoay, Madagascar look at a Polaroid photo that was just made with their family.)

Prints For Prints Poster





Exhibit: 2013 Kellicutt International Juried Photo Show – Through A Lens: Ten

I just received notification that one of “The Market Workers” was juried into the Michael H. Kellicutt International Photo Show in San Francisco, California.  Jurors are Tom Till, Kim Komenich and Crista Dix.

“Selam” is a market worker in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.  He sells vegetables and performs other labor such as carrying heavy items. It is an honor to represent these exceptional Ethiopians in celebration of their hard working and innovative spirits.

See all of the images selected for this show here.  Opening reception and awards ceremony will be on July 6, 5-8pm at the Coastal Arts League Museum in Half Moon Bay, and the show will run from June 28 – August 6, 2013.  The show will also be displayed at the Gallery At Calumet in San Francisco from August 9 – September 11, 2013, with an opening reception on August 15.


Dance With Me

I got into some trouble once because of the way I was dancing.  I wasn’t thinking about anything except the music that night, and I just let the seductive beats hit my body and let go.

“I like your dance”, he said.  Not “I like the way you dance” or “I like your moves”.  I heard him, and I think I knew what he meant, but being in Africa where rules and structure are consistently challenged, I was somewhat unsure.

I am a middle age lady, have birthed three kids who are now in college, and my body is not as elastic as it once was.  But the more time I spend in Africa, the more I can’t stop myself from letting my rickety legs interpret the music I hear.

Rhythm. Even that word looks erotic at first glance. RRRRRRR, followed by hhh, a twist on the “I”, then a sexy th, followed by mmmmmmmm.

We are born through a series of contractions, intensity increasing until we break through barriers and scream ourselves silly, those screams also expressing a pattern of rhythm, back and forth and back and forth.  What happens between that entry into life and how many of us become so self-conscious about moving our booty to music is something I have pondered for years. In Africa, dancing occurs any time a semblance of a beat is heard, while driving, walking across a fancy hotel lobby or in the midst of a surgical process.

But that late night, I found out that dance has the potential to bring out the animal in a person.

And, perhaps, why should it not?  It was just a close call lesson to be more mindful of the power of dance.

Several weeks later I was sipping beers in a shady spot of an outdoor restaurant in Ethiopia’s deep south with the director of an NGO who was hosting me during an assignment. We started talking about courtship and procreation.  He told me about a tribe in Ethiopia that practices “evangandi”, a quest for procreation through the power of provocative dancing.

This is how it works:  under a full November moon, the boys and girls all come together in a big field and they dance erotically with each other. The kind of dancing where you look into each other’s eyes, then look away, then look again, knowing you hooked someone with they way you move.

If a boy and girl choose to have sex, they sneak away into the forest and exchange their passions under that incredible citylights-free African moonlight. If the girl gets pregnant, this is celebrated, as it means she is fertile.  The baby is given to the girl’s father’s family, and she is free to marry the boy she had sex with, or someone else.

Last summer, under a starlit night in my own backyard, conversation waned and the few remaining dinner party friends listened to the beat of a calypso band coming from our LP record player. Steve, a formidable friend I have known for years, asked each of us to dance with him. I am not one to sit on the sidelines when good music is playing, and when he came over to me, my heart did a quick start at the inquisition.

I was not prepared, at all, for what happened next.

Steve’s subtle moves, his directive hand and confident style made us all fall in love with him. After the swoon fest was over, he slipped away without much of a goodbye. I think he realized the power he had over each of us. We have been yearning to dance with him since.

Each year I return to the Pendleton Round-Up rodeo to watch the way dance turns girls’ hearts inside out when those strong cowboys take the reins of music’s influence. The streets are cleared, and under the dark sky night, boys tip their hats beckoning to show those girls a thing or two about how to move to a beat. Silly blond haired girls are flipped up and over their shoulders, brought down to ground where they beg to be lifted back up while the boy just teasingly stares at her plight, both of them laughing from the place where bliss resides. It makes me happy to know our conservative and dance shy culture has a segment who know what soulful pleasure that dancing can instill between two human beings.

When we dance, nothing else matters. It is a remedy for all ills. Try it!

It just might be what we were born to do.



Ethiopia: What It Feels Like For A Girl

In the back of my mind, a Madonna song is playing. I can’t recall all of the lyrics, but the ending lines play over and over as I watch Kuye in her classroom full of boys:

In this world
Do you know
Do you know
Do you know what it feels like for a girl
What it feels like in this world?

There are 42 students in Kuye’s class, and only four of them are girls. In a society that cherishes girls to a point of thinking of them as “prizes”, too often girls are not seen outside of the home for fear that she will steal the heart of a man before they are ready to have her live outside of the home. When a girl goes outside of the house to socialize or to school, she can also be ostracized a bit, out of fear, jealousy, or the upholding of traditional norms.

Kuye used to go to the spring to fetch water at 3am with her friends because water was very difficult to find. In exchange for her labor, these friends helped her by purchasing pens and exercise books for her to use while at school. If she didn’t help them fetch water, they would not help her. Sometimes she would arrive at late school because she was so tired.

However small, her support is provided by her mother, Taiko. Since she attends school under such financial hardship, sometimes she wanted to quit, but her friends encouraged her to remain in school.

Mercy Corps supports Kuye by covering the expenses of pens, exercise books, uniforms, and soap. Kuye speaks about her moral obligation to her friends, and still wants to help them. But now she tells them that she has assignments to do and will help them as soon as she is finished with her homework.

I ask her what her dinnertime is like, and she tells me that if food is present, they eat. If no food is present, they don’t eat. Sometimes Kuye walks home from school with a friend and they search each other’s homes to see which home has food for that evening, and they will share what they find with each other.

A tough life she has. Yet she remains confident and excited about her future.

She realizes that she is learning more than just the traditional subjects at school. One area that has been particularly difficult is changing the way her family and village think about equality between males and females. Since attending school, Kuye has successfully built the case surrounding her brother’s and her duties at home: hers should be no more nor less than those of her brother’s.

Kuye wants support to be available so she can go to university. She wants a comfortable home in which to lay her head down at night. She wants a husband to love, and children to educate. She also knows more about family planning, and has decided that she would like to have only two children, which will reduce the burden she and her husband will have to feed and educate them.

Kuye is a girl. She loves pretty shirts and skirts and hair bows and bracelets.

She is also a pioneer and a fearless leader, bold and defiant, paving the way for others.

Madonna would be proud.


Ethiopia: Eating From The Same Table

The first thing I notice about her is that she is sassy.  I can tell, even without knowing what she is saying in her native language, Konsogne. There are over 80 dialects in Ethiopia, so I imagine when one tribe member meets another, they find different ways of communicating than simply via words. Everyone laughs, belly laughs, at everything she says. But I can also see her liveliness in her beaming face.

Her eyes dart back and forth, her smile is wide and mischievous, and she makes little sounds when she giggles that make me want to live with her forever.

Her name is Taiko and she is a mother of six children, three of which are attending school. She  secured a loan from Mercy Corps to purchase an ox to fatten up and sell for a profit at the local market. The ox lives right outside of her thatched roof hut, and everyone pitches in to help care for the ox. Yet, the job of cleaning the ox’s space is usually left up to Taiko. Who wants to grab handfuls of ox poop?

Taiko does it with a smile.

She tells us how her life is better now that she has support from Mercy Corps to assist with books, pens, uniforms and toiletries, all things that were extremely difficult for Taiko and her husband Orxayito to purchase so that their children could be in school. Three of their six children are already married and were not able to go to school, so they celebrate that their remaining three children will be educated.

Taiko shows me how she makes a local drink, cheka, which she sells to help support her children’s school needs. She also shows me the sorghum and corn she will send to her daughter who is attending university so that she has something to eat while attending school away from home.

As we talk, she starts to scurry about madly, gathering up corn and wheat that have been drying in the sun. Her spindly legs and arms cannot move fast enough for her and we all wonder what she is doing, and why.

Soon, the rains break through, making us all dash for cover.  How did she know they were coming?!

I keep searching for her eyes to falter, to drop from their pixie up turned edges. Is she ever sad? She said she has two main problems right now: to not let rumors from other villagers bother her, and to be confident that her two other children will have funds for university classes. She knows that the Mercy Corps program is for high school level only. She is preparing now for how she will be able to support her children as they move along their chosen paths.

Swiftly, her eyes assume their dancing pattern again and she looks straight into my eyes, locking in for a time that is usually highly uncomfortable for my Western cultural influence. I expect her to ask me for support.

Instead, she throws her head back and says “I am also very happy. Let us laugh! She will put my picture on her wall. It seems as if we eat from the same table.”

Ethiopia: A Girl Can

The imagery and sound I collected while in Ethiopia last November has been edited into a video and included in Mercy Corps’ new “A Girl Can” campaign.  It is an honor to be involved in this effort to assist girls’ education in rural Ethiopia.

(Photo by Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps)

Ethiopia’s Promise: Lecture + Exhibit

I am thrilled to announce that Mercy Corps has created a solo exhibit of my black & white images from Ethiopia.  The show will run from March 1 – 28 in the Action Center Gallery at 45 SW Ankeny in Portland, Oregon.

I will be giving a lecture on Thursday night March 14 at 7pm at the same location.

Entry is free, and kids are welcome!


The lecture was well attended and the kiddos had the BEST questions!

(Lecture photos by Bill Purcell)

Guest Post: Kerry Reinking

For those of you who wonder what it is like to travel with me to Ethiopia, here is a guest posting from someone who did just that last November!

Photographer Kerry Reinking traveled from Amsterdam and experienced a whole lot more than he expected while traveling to Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar.

(Image of the back scenes of photographing The Market Workers series by Kerry Reinking)


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