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My latest work in Zimbabwe made the cover of the Weekend Australian magazine. The project followed the subject’s family story from Harare and surrounds to Bulaweyo, giving me the opportunity to drive over a 1000 km across this beautiful country. It was a fascinating time to be in Zimbabwe pre-presidential elections and I was fortunate to hear perspectives from village to city, and be invited to photograph village celebrations, artisanal gold mines, and the Vice President Joyce Mujuru on her private farm.
In April, I was approached by Hart Howerton, a high-end architecture firm, to work on something outside of my normal scope.. or at least I thought. He asked that I photograph a preserve in the Carmel Valley area of California that he and his partners have been developing for almost 20 years.
“We have architecture photographers who have photographed the houses,” he said, “but we want to tell the story of the community, nature and land. We want to show the development as it was designed, an experiment in community preservation of land.”
The Preserve’s website reads, “Our community dedicates itself to preserving and protecting a quintessential 18th century California rancho for generations. We are committed to living gently and lightly on the land and to respecting nature and each other….”
After five days of shooting, traversing a property the size of Manhattan, I knew the project could take a lifetime.
Here are some highlights.
After a week in the desert of Jordan, the team headed back to New York for phase two of our Google AdWords shoot. A quick change of clothes and not much sleep and we were in Red Hook, Brooklyn, working with Roberto Gil on highlighting his custom children’s furniture company, Casa Kids.
The shoot took us from coffee shops to the Red Hook factory to customer’s homes, shooting the process of design, creation, installation and observation of the kids in their personalized spaces. Roberto’s passion for his work and his customers inspired us all. See www.casakids.com for more information.
Phase one of a three week shoot for Google AdWords. I was hired by Enso Collaborative out of LA to shoot stills on three back-to-back commercial shoots featuring businesses on three continents which have used Google AdWords to grow their businesses.
Bedouin LifeStyle Camp (http://www.bedouinlifestyle.com) in Wadi Rum, Jordan was our first project. The Wadi Rum desert is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I first traveled there in 2002 and returned in 2007. Over the years, the town of Wadi Rum and the tourism infrastructure has grown tremendously. Gone were the days of pulling up on a little local bus, one a handful of tourists, and chatting with local Bedouins who had a jeep and taking off into the desert. Today, there is a grand entrance to the town with a registrar and entrance fee for foreigners. Busloads of tourists descend, bringing much needed tourism dollars, and enterprising young Bedouins have built permanent tented camps in the desert to share their world. Our story focused on Attalah al-Bwli, one such young, local entrepreneur and his Bedouin Lifestyle Camp.
Its just after 6pm here and we’re on our way back from the refugee camp. So close to the equator, the Great Lakes Region year round has approx 12hrs of light and its already almost dark.
The camp was sobering – as refugee camps tend to be. Over 10,000 refugees from the latest fighting and approx 9,000 waiting to be transferred from the transit center on the border. Most fled as the fighting neared or had just entered their villages. The Congolese are sadly accustomed to war, and when they hear bullets they run. In the chaos, however, families are divided and women grab the children at home, having to leave husbands, other children, belongings, and animals behind. They literally have with nothing but the clothes on their backs and have no idea when they will go home or see their families again.
In the camps, they receive food (corn, beans, salt and oil) from WFP, a tent, cooking pot, spoon, blanket, soap and plastic bucket from the UNHCR, some firewood and very basic medical services. The kids play with plastic bags bunched together to form a ball or a car fashioned from empty plastic bottles.
While there, I watched new busloads arrive 260 in total, 78 families. Other refugees lined up, along each side of the road, everyone searching for missing family members or friends. Some embraced and greeted, other new arrivals continued walking searching for familiar faces.
And yet they smile. They laugh. They joke and greet you with openess and curiosity, they start small businesses (selling vegetables, telephone SIM cards, maize beer), help manage the camp, construct offices for the NGOs, etc. Their undying spirit and determination is humbling and inspiring. Facing war time and time again, losing all and rebuilding over and over, it is truly awesome. I met a man of 70 years old with his wife, “The war in Congo never ends..” He’s been living with this since 1959.
It takes more than pencils and textbooks to be a schoolgirl in Afghanistan these days. It also takes tremendous bravery and tenacity. While Afghan girls are theoretically free to attend school, they are stymied at almost every turn by militant attacks, a lack of adequate facilities and teachers, and even their own parents’ reluctance to break from the tradition that says “girls belong at home.” Millions of girls have entered school since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, however their status as students is threatened by the deteriorating security situation and the international community‚ focus on stabilization and counter-insurgency rather than on long-term development.
Trust in Education (TIE) is supporting those Afghan girls by building schools and supporting after-school programming in art, science and physical education. They tackle with work on a grassroots level, their Afghan staff working directly with the local population, and that is why I decided to work with TIE. Without much infrastructure or overhead, a substantial percentage of dollars donated directly impact programming on the ground. My work with TIE put a face on their projects, most for the very first time. I visited projects and villages, documenting the organization’s current work as well as the condition of schools and classrooms in target areas. Traveling to remote villages, unannounced and anonymous, witnessing the girls’ enthusiasm underscored for me the great risk the students and teachers take everyday, and the passion and dedication with which they push forward from the repressive Taliban-era to modernity.
The far northern part of Kenya, bordering with South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda, is known as Turkana and is home to a tribe of Nilotic people of the same name. The land is harsh, arid and rocky expanses of flat plains with rough mountainous patches. Drought is common, a natural phenomena occurring every ten years or so, but the rains always return.
The Turkana people are pastoralists, living with and by their animals. They move their herds and manyattas with the weather, following the rains, which provide their livestock water to drink and grass to graze.
The world is changing faster than the Turkana people. Borders have been drawn, wars fought, and in the past decade, even the climate has changed. The last great drought they remember in 2001. And since that time, they haven’t seen rain the way they once did, what was once forest and green plains, is now desert. Spartan rains have left the soil parched and cracked, rivers and vegetation dried, and life is a struggle.
The past year has been the worst, over ten months without a single drop of rain. The Turkana are surviving solely on the international community, their only water coming from the few bore wells and with most of the livestock having starved to death, the only food is international aid.
Shortly after graduating from UCLA, I moved to Senegal, West Africa, to spend 27 months serving in the country as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It was my first time in Africa and in a Muslim country, and at first, I was terrified. Our group of 68 volunteers became a community, in that bygone era of no cell phones, internet and email, and Senegal became our home. We assimilated quickly into the local culture, living with Senegalese families, eating local food, traveling on public transportation and speaking the local languages. We learned the joys of Africa – the music, dance, laughter and community – and the hardships as well – poverty, infant and maternal mortality, devastation by curable illnesses, and even our own vulnerability in a world with no harsh climate and no infrastructure.
I returned to the US a different person, older, much wiser, more confident and with a part of me now tied to a distant village in Africa, a way of life and a family who had taken me in as their own and loved me. I finally returned to Senegal last month after 12 years to visit my family and was welcomed with open arms. They had moved to a larger town, my brothers and sisters had grown up and had families of their own, and though the time had passed, I felt like I had never left. Here are some scenes of my latest trip.