All to often, and wrongly so, we see stories on the unpleasantness from certain parts of our planet. When working on the global malaria story a few years back for @natgeo, there was so much goodness taking place, in Africa, for the people of this incredible continent. I had spent a day at the A-Z Textiles Mills in Arusha, Tanzania. I’ll be honest, factories may seem interesting, but they are challenging places in attempting to attain much visual enlightening beyond the obvious. And machinery is not my thing, especially if the story is not how things are made, but the end product that saves lives. Within all the humming contraptions, off in a far corner of draping blue, I saw Flotaya in her own blueness, floating within clouds of mosquito netting, inspecting for any holes before packaging. The beauty in this blue oasis is how just one factory makes each year nearly 4 million long lasting insecticidal nets. Empowering Africans, to help Africans. A bit more pleasantness from my continued love affair with Africa...
The most beautiful gift in life and photography is when someone believes in you. Few photo editors have taught me more about myself, and storytelling, than Sarah Leen @roseleen. Before becoming director of photography at National Geographic magazine, we worked together on 4 or more stories for @natgeo. Sarah had an idea for Bedlam in The Blood, a global look at our world’s greatest killer. It was a marvelous, crazy idea…photograph a group portrait of 3000 people, to illustrate the number of deaths every day from malaria. I’m not really a portrait photographer. Meaning, a set up portrait photographer. Imagining the heaviness of photographing not only one person. Three thousand! We thought a lot about this and found a possible solution...rent a crane, drive it to an event, and ask through a megaphone if everyone would kindly gather briefly for a portrait. Sure enough one late afternoon, there was a campaign rally outside Lusaka for an upcoming town election. After all the speeches were made, I was warmly offered the microphone. With a welcoming crowd of more than 3000, all fully bewildered why some long haired fellow was perched high upon a rickety crane, they gathered for the largest portrait I had ever done. This photograph never ran...we counted once in DC during editing, we were short by a few hundred people. What I did learn from this experience is never underestimate the need and beauty of being supported. Lifted, both physically and spiritually. Given strength to believe anything is possible. 2600+ beautiful people kindly patient, looking to the sky. Thankful it was overwhelmingly, more than one.
These last few days, I‘m having a love affair with Africa. Maybe it’s because @lindabournane is curating a possible project in this beautiful part of our world with @viiphoto? Or it’s due to returning later this year for another @natgeo story? Whatever is causing this, I’m loving going through the archive to do research, wanting to share some moments from previous visits. Here with a photograph from the small town of Manyatta in Tanzania, taken during the National Geographic story, Bedlam in The Blood, about malaria. This was a positive look at prevention from our planets greatest killer, and how sometime so simple as a mosquito net can save lives. Riziki Nnko and her family took malaria prevention to an entirely new level, using bed netting not just on beds at night, over doors and windows too, gently swaying in the afternoon breeze. Thank you for indulging me on this returning research to Africa. Surely a few more to come.
Tonight I had a nice chat with @jamesbwellford, senior photo editor at @natgeo, regarding very early plans for a new project we will be working on together in various countries, one being Uganda. After the call, I began thinking about previous visits to this welcoming African country, remembering time spent with these two teenagers for a previous National Geographic story, “When The World Forgets”. These two boys had been abducted by the LRA (Lords Resistance Army), forced to be soldiers, and were recovering from lost limbs and trauma at the Rachele Rehabilitation Centre in Lira, just weeks after escaping. This next story will be bringing me back to this area of northern Uganda. If there is time on the visit later this year, I may try to find these young men who kindly welcomed me that late afternoon while playing in the courtyard of the centre, to see how the scars of war heal. Externally, and internally.
Swipe image ~ It was one of those strange encounters, when the unexpected happens, becoming unpleasant. A late afternoon a few years ago in northern Ethiopia while working on part one of the @outofedenwalk, we had parked our LandCruiser in the Afar village of Aduma. I had spent much of the day with a family in this desert part of the country, the father’s wife always pleasantly pouring coffee. Taking a break to charge camera batteries in the car, I sat in the drivers seat, the only shade under a still heavy afternoon of heat. One of the daughters slowly walked to the side, very gently. She appeared shy and extremely curious, then paused to take a look at herself in the rather jumbo sized mirrors. Moments later I heard a raspy shout, and within seconds, her father came running toward her wielding a stick, thinking his daughter was troubling me. It happened so quickly, I put down my camera after only a few photos, imploring to the man that I was not upset whatsoever. He didn’t seem to believe me, raising his voice again to his daughter before she ran away. I learned later the family had only one small pocket mirror, that likely our car’s side mirrors were the largest this very kind girl had used, able to see her equally kind face and beautifully braided hair. Often I think of this moment when trying to see whether a shirt is too wrinkled or I’ve spilled coffee on a jacket, peering into a small yet still larger bathroom sink mirror. Remembering how content, albeit briefly, this young woman was to see her face in a side mirror.
Mysterious processes of rituals, an early morning sacrifice of a baby pig as an offering to Kelimutu Volcano, part of a Lio tribe ritual held in Woloara village near Kelimutu Volcano in Flores, Indonesia. The offering was preformed to ask the spirits (Lio ancestors) who are believed to inhabit Mount Kelimutu, if it would be alright to use the name "Kelimutu" in connection to a football tournament. I took this photograph a few years ago while working on the #volcanogods story For @natgeo. The first of many mystical events that day, culminated in the offering of this sacrifice on the slopes of the active volcano by village elders. Although the top of the volcano was a about a 2-3 kilometer walk from the village, the Lio people live right on the flanks of Kelimutu, one of the world's most famous volcanoes with its three colored lakes, considered extremely spiritual for the people of Flores, who are predominantly Catholic.
Yellow daisies sway between listing stone markers in one of the last remaining Islamic graveyards, located near Martakert in Nagorno-Karabakh. Buried here are Azeris who once coexisted peacefully with ethnic Armenian's. The main conflict over Karabakh began in 1988, with a four day war in 2016, continuing with cross-border shootings at the NK border with Azerbaijan in this unrecognized republic. The present-day conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a 4,400 square kilometer region about the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island, has its roots in the decisions made by Joseph Stalin and the Caucasian Bureau in the 1920’s.
From my latest story for @natgeo, Us vs Them, Things That Divide Us, in the April 2018 single topic issue on Race. Link is in my Instagram bio.
This month I continue publishing images from this global project I photographed for the magazine throughout 2017, a visual dialogue on what divides us to understand why we don’t get along, including this photograph that never ran in the magazine from Nagorno-Karabakh, where borders divide us, not unite. Join me on this story through the US, Brazil, Mexico, the Middle East, Bangladesh and Rwanda, lacing together a complex narrative in order to find a means to no longer divide ourselves. #IDefineMe
Preparing to perform in the Jathilan, a dance part of the Reog Ponorogo culture steeped in mysticism from East Java, Indonesia. This Javanese custom is believed to have originated in the 15th century during the Majapahit Empire. Jathilan was originally danced by men who had smooth, flawless looking features or similar to a woman. This photograph was from a story I did for @natgeo titled, Volcano Gods. It never ran in the magazine, completely forgetting about this photograph till coming across it this evening while printing. This image is available as a print in my gallery. Direct message me or visit the Stanmeyer Gallery & Shaker Dam Coffeehouse in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. @shakerdam