Ten photos for the whole year? What was I thinking?? This is the second of two posts about 2011. The first part that covers Jan-June is here: “What was I thinking?”. If you just want to see the pics, scroll down. But here’s what I think about them…
My work is in transformation, and what you see on this post is a part of that change. I saw this trip to Africa as a trip to gather raw material in the form of images for new work that I will be producing both as part of the ENEMIES Project and beyond. Some of what you see below are the paints for new works not yet made, some of it is documentary images I did for other people and for myself, some are just snapshots that show what I saw and what moved me. So many artists conceal their process and only show finished images and pieces. The whole point of my blog is for you to see what I go through, how I think, how I edit, how I see the world. This post is a lot of just the raw cut of my view when I was traveling in Africa. I like to expose my process, the way I see the world and this is what my blog is for. This isn’t a supposed to be full view of where my work is going, but it will show you a part of the process. I think there is a risk in this, because the art world is so heavily based on image. For me, I see my life as something of an evolving artwork so this seems appropriate. I’ll continue to put up more of the process throughout the year, and you’ll see it if you keep watching this blog.
Yesterday I came up with dozens of photos from just the past six months that I love. The problem is that I love different images for different reasons – some I simply love because of the image itself. Some I love because of the story behind the image. It always fascinates me how all of us connect to different pieces of art for different reasons, and I like to examine that process in myself. One of the hardest things in photography or any art form is to step beyond your the emotions that are wrapped around your own work. Of course you have to have the emotional relationship with the work in order to produce work that connects with other people.
Art is about expression – at least for me it is. It is about trying to understand the world, myself and my place in the world and expressing all of that in a way that communicates what I feel to others. But I also think there is a fine balance that an artist has to walk here, because we have to express our view while at the same time being able to understand whether the work is conveying that expression on its own. You must absolutely have your own vision and the ability to stick to your own vision in the face of being pummeled by the expectations of others. But I’ve seen tons of art that fails because it is too personal in a way that makes it impossible for other people to connect with. It’s a very fine line, and I think that’s the real skill of being successful as an artist. Perhaps the real issue here is building your inner self in a way that is intellectually and emotionally connected to the rest of the world enough so that when you create your own vision it becomes something that other people relate to or can learn to relate to. You may not think that this type of issue extends to editing and choosing photographs, but it does, and for me it is relevant as I move forward with my work and beyond the simple photograph.
Enough babbling. Here are the pics – some are raw, some are sketches, some snapshot. This is what I saw – or at least a portion of it.
My favorite… toughie, but it may be this one. I saw this girl flying her kite while I was traveling in the Rwandan countryside. It was just one of those beautifully magical, unreproducible little moments.
Rwandan girl with kite
After that I decided to pick one or two for each project – that made it a bit easier.
This was the reason I went to Africa. If you don’t already know, this year I started a project to photograph people from opposing sides of violent conflicts around the world. You can read more about it on the ENEMIES Project website, and if you are inclined please consider backing this project on Kickstarter or help me spread the word about the Kickstarter with your friends. Here is the video I made about ENEMIES for Kickstarter. If you don’t see it below, you can see the video on the ENEMIES Project on Kickstarter. For those of you who don’t know, Kickstarter is a way to raise funds for arts projects. You can become a project backer, and you get rewards for different levels of backing – prints, calendars, books from the project. You back a project with a credit card that is processed through Amazon.com, and your credit card is only charged if the fundraising goal is met.
I went to East Africa so that I could travel to South Sudan, the newest country in the world that is recently out of a grueling forty years of civil war. I also photographed people from conflicts in Kenya and Rwanda. You can find blog entries about them here or just go to the ENEMIES Project website and click on the blog link. Picking one of all the photos I took for this project is really tough – really tough. I like a lot of them, and the stories are intense and many of them inspiring. But here is one. You can see more on the ENEMIES Project website.
I photographed this couple in the village of Wanjyok, South Sudan. The man is Dinka originally from the south. The woman is Mysseria, from the north. South Sudan has been in a bloody and repressive conflict with the northern part of Sudan for four decades. Mixed couples in which the man is South Sudanese are rare for reasons that are too complex too explain in this short paragraph. This is one of those many examples of two people who fell in love rising above ethnic barriers that have been hardened by generations of painful memories.
Mixed ethnic couple in Wanjyok, South Sudan
While I was in Kenya I did some photographic work for the Grevy’s Zebra Trust, a small non-profit that works to conserve the endangered Grevy’s Zebra.
I met so many amazing people in Samburu, the northern Kenya province where I was photographing Grevy’s Zebra. I also took the opportunity to photograph the Samburu and Turkana people for ENEMIES. This man was the brother of one of the guards of the Mebae Conservancy – a community owned ranch where the idea is to manage it for ecological sustainability.
The Samburu people were so incredibly photogenic.
I did relatively little nature photography this year, but I did a few that I made a set of prints from and these gave me an idea for another set of works. Here are two that I liked a lot…
The Human Dominated World
Traveling in Africa made me more aware of something that I’ve been thinking for a while now. The earth has transformed from being a world dominated by wilderness with patches of people to a world dominated by people with only patches of untouched wilderness. I thought about this a lot this year, because in Africa there is still wilderness, but it is generally heavily managed and protected. Africa is truly a human-dominated landscape – much more so than I had imagined, and I wanted to create a set of works that talked about the disparity between what tourists see in Africa and the majority of the landscape. Here are two of those works.
The Charcoal Seller – this man lives in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, a few miles from the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and Nairobi National Park, regular destinations for tourists. He has never seen an elephant and probably never will. He is holding a photograph of an elephant orphan from the elephant orphanage .
These Masai school children live in an area where there are extremely severe conflicts with elephants. Elephants regularly kill and injure people and steal their grain here. Children frequently don’t start school until they are much older, because it is dangerous for them to walk to school. I photographed the elephant in the print they are holding in the Masa Mara National Reserve, which is about 40 kilometers away.
Masai – Elephant conflict
One other project I did in Kenya was photographing and documenting the conflict between the Masai people and elephants outside of the Masai Mara National Reserve. This was a pretty intense story to see. I wrote a lot about it in my blog, which you can see here, here and here. There are a lot of cool photographs from there, including the one above.
This is a drugged elephant inside a transport truck, about to be moved out of a heavily populated area near the Masai Mara National Reserve.
Masai children looking out a hole in the wall of their house made by an elephant the night before. The elephant rammed a hole through the wall in their bedroom, two feet from the bed in the middle of the night searching for grain.
I loved this time-lapse I did in northern Kenya. The singing in the background are Samburu elders from a wedding ceremony I was invited to attend in a Samburu village. If you don’t see the video below you can see it here on youtube.
I love this picture of Ben Ochieng. Ben lives in the Mathare slums of Nairobi. He lost his business in the 2008 post-election riots. Since then he has started a crafts making cooperative, a school and a youth group to keep kids out of trouble. Very cool. You can see some dancing by members of his youth group in my post about the artists in the slums. I am helping them build a small business to take tourists into the slums and see the vibrant arts culture there. It is called Kenya Street Slam – here is the website I built for them: KenyaStreetSlam.com.
Another favorite photo – one of the acrobats from Dandora slums doing the impossible. Also on KenyaStreetSlam.com.
Loved this. I was taking a picture of this newly born goat in a village in northern Kenya when this kid stuck his head in to look at my camera.
Lastly, this is one of my favorite pics of the year. After I got back to the US I took a trip to NY City, and I saw this abandoned rose in the middle of the subway tracks on my way home at 3:00 am. I took this photo with my ipod. It was dark, the photo is grainy. I love it. It’s a story waiting to be told.
My favorite picture of me. Got loads of good pictures of me on this trip to Africa. I quickly found out that doing a self-portrait with someone was a great way to break the ice. Especially with children. But, this isn’t a self portrait. It is a picture of me with a group of Samburu Moran (young men warriors). They all carry guns in this area because here their tribe borders with the Turkana tribe who they have been in conflict with for generations.
Ok, ok stop already… that was more than ten photos. So shoot me 🙂
But I’ll leave off with this one hilarious image. This is the son of a Masai friend wearing my sunglasses. His last name is “Kool” – so totally appropriate 🙂
And speaking of children… go look at the photo on this blog post – “Hand in the slums”. I love that one too. I think I love a few too many of these photos. 🙂