You should have seen Johnny's face when I handed him an invitation and postcard with his portrait on the cover!
Who knew it took such effort to put together an exhibit.
• Twelve 3' x 4' and fifteen 2' x 3' portraits and landscapes are now in the process of being printed by the brilliant Joe Aker.
• Still need to edit the kids photographs from a workshop Ben DeSoto and I gave at the Tamina Community Center to include in the exhibit.
• Postcards, notecards, and catalogs are printed and ready to distribute.
• I gave a lecture to photography students at Rice University last semester and gave a lecture to a full class this week at Lone Star College, Montgomery County campus. Thanks Rita Wiltz for helping me out!
• Press releases were sent out this week. And I've been asked for an interview with Houston Matters on NPR!
• Texas A&M Press has asked to publish the book, so I've been working feverishly to get the book complete and designed. Anyone know a history professor who might be interested in writing an essay about freedmen's town?
• Working with Cressandra in making a Kickstarter video to help get financing for the book publication.
• Completed the new design of my website.
• Need to update my Facebook page, personal and Marti Corn Photogaphy and must send out an event invitation.
• Great Scott! Do I need to start tweeting?
• Ana has all the video files and is making a black and white silent film to run during the opening reception.
• Need to compile an email list of EVERYONE I'VE EVER MET and create an invite to the exhibit in JPEG format and get that out.
• Lord, I hope I don't forget to get the vinyl lettering ordered.
• And the food. What should be served at the opening reception. I'm thinking Southern Tea Party with egg and chicken salad sandwiches, apple tarts, and sweet tea. Isn't there a vodka with a tea flavoring?
• Of course, it is FotoFest. Think I'll make an appointment with Mary Virginia Swanson. And I must get my portfolio printed!
• And what happens after the exhibit? There must be a museum that would be interested in this work, right? Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Houston? Bullock Texas History Museum in Austin? Anyone have suggestions?
• Meeting with many in hopes of finding funding. Thanks to an incredible philanthropist in The Woodlands and a dear friend of mine, who both wish to remain anonymous, the $10,000 exhibit costs are paid in full.
• The list goes on and on.
• My favorite moments though, are visiting the people in Tamina I photographed, delivering their invitations and listening to more and more memories of this amazing town.
My dear friend convinced me to submit images for a Visual Arts Alliance juried show. Well, both submissions were accepted. So thrilled to be a part of this organization. Opening reception is February 7 at the Heritage Plaza Building downtown. These photographs were made with a toy camera and then I created photogravure plates to make monoprints of each. I love the grittiness of these images.
A dear friend of my family has overcome the loss of his father, mother, and brother in gang violence and now has a chance to sing his stories with Atlantis Records. I made portraits for his demo CD last week. It was an honor.
I am grateful for . . .
• Blue wooden doors painted with peacock feathers and faces peering into the courtyard of Hilmsen
• Blackberries found along cobblestone streets
• Hubert, the cat, who behaves more like a dog waiting to greet your return
• Breezes fluttering the leaves outside my bedroom window reminding me of the ocean.
• Gold-lit fields after a storm with a rainbow's end falling into the stand of trees.
• Rye and wheat fields and sunflowers and gardens
• Painted horses
• Cows who serenade you as you photograph them.
• Long walks in the country
• Bankers, architects, police chiefs, psychiatrists, reporters, mayors, gypsies, authors, photographers, accordion players, harpists students—all who support the importance of the arts
• ACHIM DENHE
• The patio and waitress from Bergermeisterhof which played my home and hostess while photographing
• The soft light that played into Kuntshaus through aged and often missing grand windows
• Hans for providing artists such a magical place for a residency
• Gus who traveled far and wide to help me settle into this new space
• Sebastian who played with cameras with me
• Fabian who made such a patient model and guide
• Our rental car that brought us freedom to roam
• And Hallie, who walked arm and arm with me on this extraordinary adventure.
Making portraits in Kuntshaus had to be kept quiet until the project was complete. So, at last, I can share some of the portraits taken. More than 50 people arrived over a three day period to show their support for the creation of this museum/exhibit space, including the Mayor, painters, musicians, the chief of Parliament, bankers...the list goes on. It was an extraordinary experience sharing such a passion. Special thanks to Achim Denhe for sharing his ingenious creative talents of organization in making this entire project possible. KUNSTHAUS!
I'm spending close to a month in an East German town of perhaps a dozen homes. Surrounded by more cows and horses and fields than people. Today, I photographed Fülker, the most famous artist in his town (as he says, because the other one died).
Saturday, February 27, 2010
The idea of traveling on a plane for 22 hours is agonizing at best. Surprisingly, I discover the eight-plus hour flight to London, which usually seems an eternity, when placed in this new perspective, is a sweet lingering rest before shuffling our way through security lines and the bustling chaotic duty-free zone of Heathrow, as we make our way to the next leg of our flight.
I am enthralled with international airports. I relish seeing the many exotic faces—Norwegians with their bleach blond locks, tanned skin adorned in tights and fur-lined coats and boots; ebony, high-cheeked men in their glorious dreads; richly colored silken saris; and red-cheeked children riding their small hard plastic suitcases on wheels grateful for mum pulling them along.
Nicole and I jump onto the transfer bus taking us to the tarmac where our plane awaits us. Expecting to be surrounded in rich dark brown faces, I instead find myself in a sea of khaki pants. This flight is filled with Europeans heading to the beach for vacation, seasoned couples setting off on safari, and wide-eyed, cheery Americans of all ages anxious for their mission work. All are adventure seekers.
Once on the plane, it is impossible not to notice the toddler sitting in the center row beside us. She has bright inquisitive eyes and has captured everyone’s attention. She insists on exploring every nook and cranny of this plane. The attendants bring her treats, men are giggling and making silly faces to make her smile, and others stop and kneel beside her to offer some form of entertainment. She has brought forward the sweet gentleness found in each of us.
We have landed, made new friends—Johnston returning home after 11 years for a one month visit with family who owns a farm near Lake Nakuru and Lori who is an environmental sociologist and professor in Colorado who will be working with Green Belt.
So many dreams being made reality today. I am in Africa!
Thursday, March 11, 2010
My journey is coming to a close. I sit beside the rooftop pool of this luxury hotel, and I fight from dissolving into pool of tears.
We left Nairobi last Saturday, headed for Gem on the western edge of Kenya, near Uganda. Nairobi gives way to lush scenery. We climb in elevation and find ourselves encased in fog. Temperatures drop. The roadsides are spotted with lean-to markets, donkeys, sheep, cows. The Rift Valley appears like Brigadoon, with sunlight spilling over the valley dripping with misty pastels of blues, creams, and greens with silver glimmering lakes.
Baboons cross the street! Zebras graze feet away! But amidst this breathtaking beauty, poverty is always in sight.
Our week is spent visiting groups of women working together in an effort to make a profit selling their baskets or produce. Pangea provides a training on Human Rights to 79 women. Women’s and children’s rights are taught to yet another group. And we treat ourselves to a safari in Nukuru.
I promise to write more, but I find I am exhausted and need time to process all that I have seen. I cannot understand how this world is filled with such contrasts, such beauty yet sorrow, such wealth yet complacency. And here, they work so hard for so little.
Close to 2,000 photos have been taken, all of the beauty and grace of these people and their homeland. I promise to share soon.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Whether it was because of heart wrenching sorrow, fits of laughter, or gasps of astonishment, I have cried my way through Kenya.
After close to two weeks of intense discovery and interaction with the people of Kenya, we treat ourselves to an overnight vacation at Lake Nakuru in the Rift Valley. When we pull up to the entrance to the sanctuary, Joshua and NIcole head into the building to purchase our entrance passes. Some adorable monkeys come close by to investigate. I get out of the car and begin to take photos. In an instant, they jump onto the roof of the car and then just as suddenly, swing themselves inside. We stare in disbelief as they scavenge for food. Poor Dorothy iss horrified sitting in the driver’s seat with monkeys staring at her from behind. I’m frozen in astonishment. And Josh and Nicole come dashing to the car giggling at the scene. This is a moment that creates fits of laughter that lasts days on end for us.
Though we don’t spot a lion, we do see the carcasses and bones left from their kills. We come around a bend to be faced with a herd of giraffes. If they had been dinosaurs, I would not have been more enchanted. We see baboons, black and white rhinos, water buffalo, waterbucks, impalas, zebras, ostriches, flamingos. Some sights cause me to gasp for breath, tears streaming down my face and the beauty before me.
I love Kenya.
Friday, March 5, 2010
We have driven to the far western edge of Kenya to a region called Gem. Nicole and I quickly learn it is useless to ask how much time is left in our travels. Both Joshua and Dorothy say, “Far, but not so far.” It took close to 10 hours to reach our final destination.
Because of the distance between villages, many children go to boarding schools. We visit seven boys. Milicent, one of the Kibera women, took in her nephews when her sister died of Aids expanding her family to 14 members living in a 10 foot square home. Pangea found a sponsor and arranged to have these boys complete their education in Gem. A year ago, these boys were far too thin and lost in spirit. Now, I see they are healthy, confident, and filled with laughter and dreams.
As I continue to witness throughout this trip, there are unsung heroes in every direction. The director of the young boys’ school is a surgeon. He has opened a clinic for the village, is all-inclusive of those who wish an education turning no one away, and even provides laugh therapy for the traumatized young students.
There is a man down the street from Dorothy’s home who has opened a center for the very young orphans so they may have a place to be safe and learn during their days. At night, they return to the grandmothers, aunts, neighbors who have taken them in.
Gamaliel Osotsi is the Chief of Luanda. He is steadfast in his dedication to his community, opening a polytechnic institute providing tradesman training, investing in farming and distribution centers, and even establishing a fish hatchery.
They do so much with so little. Imagine this. There are 34 students in the tailoring class with the polytechnic school. The only equipment available is a single steel iron that is heated with charcoal, a coat with a handful of needles to practice hand stitching, and a single peddle pushed Singer sewing machine like those we may have seen in our grandmother’s home. In spite of this, all are eager to learn sitting on planks of wood in the mud-walled room leaning in to hear the words of guidance from their teacher. Again, I am in awe of the their undying determination and desire for education.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Many women in the slums hear of Nicole’s dedication to help empower women. So, Wednesday is spent meeting three different groups of women who have already begun a cooperative, supporting each other in their businesses but search for training and guidance.
I wish I could convey effectively what it is I see as I walk through these streets and alleys. I am not able to make photographs with my Canon, because it simply is too dangerous. It is impossible to become anonymous with Nicole’s and my white faces. And to hold a camera, the worth being more than they make in a year or more, along with the total absence of security, makes it impossible to keep my camera out in the open. The women protect us by surrounding us as we walk to their homes and businesses. I carry my small toy camera in my hand though, shooting from the hip. I pray my images are not all of the ground or sky.
I am losing words at this stage of the trip. It is excruciating to see their struggle to survive, the filth, the flies, the children playing in the muck, those who have given up hope and spend their days either huffing glue or chewing endlessly on leaves that bring on a high.
But then I sit and observe these women. They begin to talk, expressing their dreams for their businesses, even dare to imagine buying their own land and building a day care center for children. They talk about their budget, how they save and offer loans to one another. They are business-savvy women and just need more tools to meet their goals. The darkness I feel entering into these slums slips away and the spirit of these women emerge instead. I’m so humbled by their courage.
Monday, March 1, 2010
The first group of women Nicole Minor (director of Pangea Network) selected to help are HIV-positive women, most are widowed, all struggling to survive and support their families. Because there is no security, rape is common. Some men believe having sex with a virgin will cure their illness. As a result, AIDS is prevalent in this slum.
These women work as a cooperative. They each create their own business plan, take leadership and bookkeeping training, chip into a “merry go round” to financially assist each other with their businesses, and hold one another accountable.
During our meeting, each stands and expresses their deepest gratitude for Nicole and proudly expresses the progress and development of their businesses. These women are now self-sustaining, confident women. Some beam with the news they are able to pay to send their children to secondary school and amazingly, even to college.
These women no longer await their untimely deaths. They are focused on providing their children with a better life and find there is no use in sorrow. As Abigail says, “laughter, after all, is a far better medicine.”
Monday, March 1, 2010
It is said that if a visitor brings rain, it is a blessing.
A long steady rain begins shortly after midnight, and I lay staring at the ceiling envisioning myself walking on the muddy walkways of Kibera. It is difficult to be grateful for rain.
Kibera is considered the largest of slums in Africa. 500 acres located on the outskirts of Nairobi is a labyrinth of mud-walled structures capped with corrugated tin roofs each divided by narrow alleys that serve as walkways, toilets and garbage disposals. Depending on which study you read, the population ranges from 700,000 to 2.2 million. Those in Kibera believe there are more than 1 million.
Because those who live here are squatters, the Kenyan government refuses to acknowledge them, leaving them without clean water, sanitation, sewerage, or security.
As we enter Kibera, the road is wide, a handful of cars bring in products, worn buses take children into the city for school, street vendors, crowded on either side, sell anything from second-hand shoes to charcoal to vegetables, eggs, and even fish bones. Music blares from some of the stands which creates an almost festive feeling. There is a bustle of activity. Some head into town for work, men push wheel barrows laden with rocks, women carry barrels of water on their backs, and bread and chicken is fried in the streets.
This area quickly gives way to unnervingly tight alleyways. Because of the rain, they are thick with mud, and the way is slippery. Each step has to be carefully navigated. I try not to consider the reality that I am walking through human waste, though it is impossible with its smell wafting through the air.
In the most rustic sense, there are churches, schools, clinics, community centers, clearings for gatherings, and movie theaters (a tv with vhs tapes) scattered through this slum.
Homes consist of a single room, perhaps 10’ x 10’. Part is partitioned for their belongings, leaving half that space to be used as the living room, kitchen, and bedroom as the need demands. It is not uncommon for 14 family members to share this small space. If they can afford electricity, they have a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. Cardboard and fabric decorate the walls and strips of laminate flooring are used in an effort to protect them from the trash, mud, and rock foundation. They push the table and chairs, if they have those luxuries, out of the way and sleep side by side on the floor.
There are moments I believe I won’t be able to fight back the tears walking surrounded by this wretchedness, but I am amazed at the proud, determined and even smiling faces. These people have an unconscionable strength founded on their faith and hope that humbles me.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
After finalizing plans for our visit, Joshua and Dorothy, the two who oversee Pangea’s Kenyan projects, share the afternoon with us at a cafe in a local shopping center. Disappointingly, the weather is threatening rain so this seems our only choice. Clustered around a table there is talk of dreams and goals for Pangea and the women they represent, the possibility of offering literacy courses and even educational scholarships for their children. We learn of the triumphs and challenges fellow organizations are seeing.
I wander through the mall. Muslims, Christians, Hindu, Bui Buis, Sunday’s best, saris, and even the occasional military garb complete with machine gun is in view. Relieved though somewhat surprised, no one takes note of my pale skin.
Driving in Nairobi is akin to bumper cars. We dodge pedestrians, weave our way into traffic circles, and drive three wide though I only see lanes for two. Red lights are considered only as suggestions. Shanties are tucked between tall cement buildings; trash is tossed along the roadside while just beyond the curb are towering eucalyptus trees and fanned yellow flowering Jacaranda trees and Oleander.
There is an enclosed jeep in front of us. White men, returning from safari, are crowded inside, appearing themselves as caged animals. We giggle at the sight uncontrollably.
Our day ends in the mahogany-rich dimly lit bar of our hotel with a long draft of rum, allowing us to nestle into bed before rising and entering Kibera.
Friday, February 19, 2010
It has taken 25 years to realize this dream. Whether I become anyone’s champion is yet to be seen, but I do have a plane ticket in my hand for Africa.
On February 26, I leave for Kenya and will be photographing the lives of women living in the slums of Nairobi and Kisumu who strive to provide their families with shelter, food, clean water, and education.
I have been invited to make portraits for a local non-profit group, The Pangea Network, which provides micro-enterprises for women in both Kenya and The Middle East. I also will be photographing for Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity Campaign.
I invite you to follow this journey. Provided I am able to find internet services, I will upload images and share my experience.
Amani na Asante,