Mercy Corps: Featured Blog Post

Mercy Corps hired me to do some work in Gidole and Konso areas when I was in Ethiopia last month. They produced a slideshow of images that was featured in their newsletter and on their website on International Women’s Day. I hope our combined efforts bring forth increased awareness regarding how important it is to support a girl’s education in rural areas within Ethiopia.

New Series: The Market Workers

Oh, the joy of landing on a subject matter that makes my heart pound faster…

I had literally fifteen minutes on the first day and twenty minutes on the second day to capture these images before police, frustrated shopkeepers, or a pressing crowd stopped us in our tracks. My assistant Dani had to negotiate extensively for us not to have to go to jail. Apparently I need a license to shoot on the streets with a backdrop in Ethiopia. (Working on that!)

But now…I can’t wait to return and see these beautiful faces again.  Such difficult work, such difficult lives they lead, the market workers of Ethiopia.

The Truth Of A Still Image

Does a photo ever tell the truth?

For many years, I have brought this question up during the classes I teach, delighting in the hearing the discussion that would follow. A still photograph is, after all, a replication of a slice of time, right? But yet, a still image also takes on meaning from the perspective by which it is viewed. Connotations derived from our own experiences “color” the image, and attaches attributes to the photo.  And in this digital age, where post processing can greatly alter an image from its original state without notification to the viewer, how can we ever trust that a photograph truly reflects reality?

The moment I enter a scene and select a subject, the decision making begins. How I angle the camera, which background I choose, how I like to see the light fall on the person’s face are all elements that can greatly affect the mood of the image. I know when a photograph might evoke emotion and when it might have less appeal to a viewer, and I deliberately discern how I want to construct that image.

People frequently tell me that my photographic style celebrates the integrity of the subject and preserves authenticity. While I certainly strive for more of a connection between me and the subject rather than the camera and the subject, I still believe that a photograph never tells the full story and by the time an image is made into a print, so many decisions were made that the viewer is only seeing one fraction of reality, and this is from the photographer’s and viewer’s standpoints, not from the subject’s.

I have a trick I use that works like a charm every time I want to shift the power from camera operator to the subject.  I wait patiently for this to occur before I press the shutter release, resulting in what many refer to as “capturing the soul of the person”.  This look in their eyes has nothing to do with photography, and everything to do with humanity and our interplay as human beings relating to each other, regardless and usually despite of the overlay of language.  However, even with this practiced altruism, I still walk away feeling like there is so much more I could portray about the person I am photographing. I never feel satisfied that I have “captured” someone. Never.

I leave every single encounter with a longing. A heart wrenching longing that is insatiable and tormenting. I leave something behind, many things, when I photograph someone. Like a lover left on the shores of a far away country, these people I have photographed play out their stories in my head, one by one, over and over, begging to not be misunderstood.


Ethiopia: The Human Touch

I have often wondered what happens in the flicker of one split second, when eyes register something other than simply being viewed by another, and understanding between two people takes place. I study this as I work with my still camera….I see the “dead” images, where I don’t have much communication with the subject, and I compare these to the “alive” images, where the subject and I have come to an understanding of one another, exchanging a form of love without spoken words.

In Western developed culture, we rarely spend time feeling each other. Fleeting eye contact, minimal touching, hasty interactions, we don’t often permit enough time with each other. We seek what we need and want, and move quickly into our next desire, rarely lingering long enough to foster communication that goes deeper than what is easily defined by words.  Lovers might feel this type of encounter, but how often do we allow ourselves to feel this with someone who is not our most intimate partner?

Here in Ethiopia, there is a purity of spirit that reaches out and envelopes even the most calloused person, should they dare to shed the shackles of puritan posturing and let themselves truly feel the deep presence of another human being.

Mankind started here in Ethiopia; we all come from this place. In new age terms: we are one on this Earth. When Western lifestyle is shed and an openness to Ethiopian spirit is permitted, you can fall in love with those you meet here.

If I bring my camera into operation too soon, before I feel silent heart exchange, I cannot record the love that is expressed through the beautiful and powerful retina of our eyes. But if I engage with someone and I am open to this manner of human encounter, at times the camera looses its intrusive power and love can be viewed via the image.  I treasure these precious images, each and every one, and count on them to remind me how capable we are as human beings to express love to one another.

Back home in my daily routine and distractions, I look into the eyes of these people and know that an area of the world exists where love and tender care comes first, all else is secondary…or even deemed useless to many. Often, I have seen many Ethiopians tilt their heads in endearment toward me, their eyes expressing that they know how lonely I must feel at times in my culture based upon independence.

Inevitably during these exchanges, tears well up and flow out of me, from inner recesses I rarely pull from in my comfortable life. I turn away, as it is extremely upsetting if Ethiopians feel that they have disturbed another human being. But I feel each tear, letting it absorb back into my skin as a medicinal antidote for carrying me forward.

And I believe, with all of me, that this is how we were born to love each another.



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