Posts Tagged With: pictures

Pictures & Memory Association

Above: 10 year-old Neo Makoena on his birthday, playing in the street. 

Quick summary: Neo was born HIV positive, by no fault of his own. Even if you don’t need to know the story of the how…all you need to know is that he should have died in December. BUT “H.I.V. can’t kill Happy Birthday”

He’s a fighter and a conquerer with a beautiful heart. He got to enjoy another year’s celebration of being alive. God bless you buddy. May I always remember to dance as carefree as you do.

So, lately I’ve been thinking about how pictures create “a radiating web of associations” in our mind.

Isn’t it crazy how a picture can take us back to that moment, in the snap of the fingers? With just one glance, we are submerged in that memory. We are there. Taken back in time.

I don’t know what that might be for you — a picture of your family, a long-lost relative, a lover, a childhood snapshot…..but it’s powerful isn’t it?

I took that black & white picture this summer, during a photography stint in Capetown, South Africa- documenting the youth of the slums.

The associations a picture creates can be “good” or, in the same regard, “bad”.

I’m not sure how you would label this one…..but I can tell you this. It still haunts me today.

It was…surreal being there. My head was swimming. The reality didn’t (fully) kick in until I returned stateside.  I don’t think anyone can truly comprehend a 10 year-old staring down death with a smile…..until you actually meet such a person. Seriously, I don’t. You have to put a face to a name.

Seeing this– suddenly flashes memories from that day: endless talks in the car, driving what seemed hundreds of miles, fighting mental and physical exhaustion, Edwin’s orchestrating of the gigantic party like a proud father, food, the words on the cake – burning into my retina afther the flash, a donated DJ,  presents from the community, the whole neighborhood packed into to every square inch of the property- spilling out onto the street, music blaring, Neo’s mad dance moves, children running, Edwin trying to speak over the numbing buzz in my brain, my unsolveable anger for the whole situation……

It’s powerful– somehow I still am transported back there, upon seeing the pictures.

Let me tell you why.

The doctors said that Neo should have died in January. Yet there he was. Smiling. Dancing. Living.

Above: Mother (left), Neo (middle), Edwin (right)

It’s almost as if you could write more than just a few lines to describe some of your memories…..you could write a novel.

It’s a never ending web of associations. One thing sparks another….

[I’d love to hear what pictures do that for you]

Well, I found myself writing this poem, in response to reviewing them. I hope it helps explain things further.

Ode to Neo

Your mother realized she was pregnant, the same night she wrecked her car

checking for blood transfusion, the worried chaos beyond the immediate, a deafening crash of

“what will he think when he finds out?”- -smack, another painful blow, again undeserved

you see, she found out the bad news too, she had been given AIDS from someone else

when she got home, nobody could tell the difference between another black & blue bruise

a broken family, an only twin, you were no stranger to the pain when birth came

without a Dad, but Edwin made sure you had more- a Godfather closer than heaven

he held you, baptized you, bought you clothes, called over the whole neighborhood to play,

one last party to defeat the slurs of death, you danced over your own supposed grave

December’s calling should have given you a new name,

but instead

you threw down that badge and entitled your own –

the fighter: one whose feet move too quick for death

now, I know I have no room to talk about shed tears, but

remember, this is hard for me-

a paradox I can’t deceode

a metaphor I can’t create

a picture from which I can’t look away

A party so full of life, amidst the wreckage

It was not our gifts, which gave you grace to smile tonight

I realized the contrary was my lesson

You were slowly teaching us

how to shine

kids and adults alike

how to move to the music, to run in the streets

not denying the darkness

but shining in the midst of it

the very thing we long for as old men

wishing we could have done

Neo, dancing at the party

Neo, playing with his friends in the street

Edwin (the godfather) suprising Neo at his school, giving him clothes as a birthday present

*This post goes out with special love and dedication to Edwin Louw from These Numbers :  a family man, a mentor, a friend to so many, an inspiration, a role-model, a teacher, and above all– a father to so many.

Edwin, I miss you dearly from this side of the world. Please give Neo a hug for me. I will do my best to continue providing captions to the endless amount of untold pictures. I will do my best to tell the story well.

Categories: Life Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pictures & Perspective: Notes from East Africa

Stringer/ Reuters

“An aid worker using an iPad photographs the rotting carcass of a cow in Wajir, near the Kenya-Somalia border, on July 23, 2011. Since drought gripped the Horn of Africa, and especially since famine was declared in parts of Somalia…”

This picture says so much.

From the fancy shoes to the i-pad, it makes me wonder just how much people like him “relate” with such hardships. It says “objectifying” all over it. Like he’s a tourist, about to upload it to Instagram or something…

Groups of photographers unloaded from buses and swarmed the Kenya-Somalia refugee camps in July 2011, to cover the famine. You might remember some of the raw pictures of starving children.

but….none of them turned out like this.

this picture has more depth and and a deeper story we immediately get pulled into.

I know, this picture doesn’t look significant at first.

What’s the big deal? It’s the carcass of a dead cow.

Well, it has to do with perspective.

It has to do with our approach, and storytelling.

Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images

[For the sake of those with a weak stomach for such hard-hitting images (myself included), I’ll just post the link to other pictures. I found this news website to be well-balanced, with a range of picture styles, but you will still see what I am talking about in terms of human portaits. —–  http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/07/famine-in-east-africa/100115/  ]

I know it may sound odd, but I’m inspired as a photographer every time I see the the first picture.

Not the second. (child)

It’s not that there’s inherently anything “wrong” with the second picture. It’s a great portrait. It’s just that there’s more than one way to tell the story.

Pictures are a lot like words. Like writing.

If you always said the first thing that popped into your head….it might be “truthful”….but not always appropriate for the situation.

Like our words, there is a difference between immediately reacting to a situation’s intensity and intentionally gathering our thoughts.

Also, this hasn’t even breached the topic of “telling half the truth”. I won’t try to cover it, because it would take too long. Besides, I doubt I need to explain it.

In journalism — you may not necessarily be “hurting” the subject per say, if you choose to tell the story by attacking viewers emotions. But you aren’t telling the whole story.

Thousands of photographers went to cover the Kenya-Somalia famine in July of 2011.

So why was Stringer the only one who didn’t do the usual emotional appeal pictures? (extremely emaciated African babies)

Stringer reminds me to be bold, to think outside the lines, to not immediately objectify or stereotype a situation, to search for the whole truth, and to due justice in telling the whole story.

I think Stringer’s blog/video will help explain it more:

http://blogs.reuters.com/photographers-blog/2011/10/25/the-children-of-dadaab-life-through-the-lens/

Stringer says,

Through my video “The children of Dadaab: Life through the Lens” I wanted to tell the story of the Somali children living in Kenya’s Dadaab. Living in the world’s largest refugee camp, they are the ones bearing the brunt of Africa’s worst famine in sixty years.

I wanted to see if I could tell their story through a different lens, showing their daily lives instead of just glaring down at their ribbed bodies and swollen eyes.

It was a challenging project. As one senior photographer asked, how else can we tell the story without showing images that clearly illustrate the plight of the starving millions? Few photographs cover all aspects of life in the camps.

Let me know what you think.

Does the 1st picture compete with the second? Does it tell the story of starvation as clearly as the second?  (remember, starvation is the subject)

Categories: Life Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments