- What does visual peacemaking mean to you?
Visual Peacemaking to me is the mission of making photographic images that inform and enlighten the viewer about our global family.
Photographs will always be powerful in shaping our views and stimulating our response to an issue. I believe a visual peacemaker is a photographic voice addressing all manifestations of human conflict, natural conflicts inherent to our ever changing environment, as well as the life altering conflicts faced by people worldwide due to the the constant pressures of modernization.
- What motivates you to be a peacemaker?
I am motivated by my opportunities and privilege to witness the life realities of people and places of lesser known or misrepresented cultures coupled with the ability to make photographs that accurately document and help to preserve these rich cultures. I’m driven by the power to change - photo by photo…. - the way we understand and participate in our world.
- Have you ever felt stereotyped?
In Africa most of the people regard foreign photographers as opportunist there to take photos only to return to the “west” to sell exotic photos of Africa for gazillions of dollars. Fortunately for me my continued return over the years to the cities, towns, and remote villages with gifts of photo prints has erased this “American” photographer stereotype. In fact in many of these places I am fondly called “camera man” - there only to tell the world the story of their beautiful existence.
Here in the States the photographer working in Africa is often stereotyped. In this case most people are conditioned to seeing (and expecting) the typical images of naked, starving, dying people, or war-torn hopelessness and moreover the safari adventure pictures of elephants, lions, and monkeys that have long been the hallmark image of Africa.
My photographs, showcasing life in the big cities and bustling towns mixed with images of the vibrant life in traditional villages, tend to break down the layered stereotypes that plague the photographer working in Africa and the subject - Africa.
- How does your camera get you to reflect on your world and your life?
Seeing more intensely and observing more patiently with a greater understanding and appreciation of my subject. When traveling to a destination (new or previously visited) I enter a thought process of visualizing photo compositions based on my research, planning, and/or prior experience. On arrival I carefully scout photo compositions based on the light, and the vibe of being there. Finally I begin to make photographs in response to the moment, the movement, and the sense of place. It is during this entire process that I am forced to slow down and absorb everything - the sights, the sounds, the smells, along with the feel of my surroundings. I am constantly reflecting on my world and my life when looking through my lens and capturing an instant in the lives of others.
- What do you like to photograph best?
My favorite subjects are people being people while candidly living out their day-to-day lives in all their magnificent diversities.
- What technical aspect of photography do you find most challenging?
1. Shooting film in a digital photography dominant era poses a challenge. With each medium having it’s pros and cons, I could make a list that highlights the advantages that film has over digital when considering the locations that I shoot in and the conditions I shoot under.
2. Airport X-ray (although I’m well known by scores of airport security agents in dozens of countries for talking my Fujichrome around X-ray machines).
3. Chasing great natural light between Cancer and Capricorn.
- Is there a particular group you feel is misunderstood or stereotyped that you’d like to document common humanity amongst?
Most of the African peoples - misunderstood and stereotyped - south of the Sahara. The roughly 80% of this part of the continent who are not involved in some kind of conflict or safari adventure.
- Do you have an idea worth sharing?
A great idea: an IGVP annual printed book celebrating its member photographers and their visual peacemaker accomplishments.
A few years ago I had an interesting conversation with some friends about world travel. Europe, Asia, South America, and the conversation became more interesting when we talked about travel to Africa. We discussed everything from the decades old stereotypes to the current events that come to mind when we think of Africa.
War; famished children smothered in flies; AIDS, Malaria, hopelessness; and of course the safari adventure. These are the kinds of thoughts and images we’ve come to associate with Africa. Limited information (or misinformation) has shaped our perceptions about an entire continent.
Stock photos, Hollywood films, and far too much news media covering Africa usually focus on conflict or tragedy amid underdeveloped or seemingly incurable conditions. Albeit necessary in keeping us aware of the plight faced by some African nations, this lopsided coverage has influenced our views and beliefs for decades. You’ve seen the commonplace media portrayals of war and poverty – or pictures mostly showcasing exotic wildlife backdropped by vast landscapes. What’s your impression?
My first trip to Africa was a sort of pilgrimage to connect with my “roots”. A true discovery voyage, my trip proved more enlightening than I had anticipated and was life changing. It was all so amazing. The pure culture rush from the uniquely diverse peoples and magical places inspired me. I enjoyed every exciting moment. As this experience continued to unfold, I quickly realized that there was a need for information and photographic imagery that accurately reveals the total picture of Africa.
So I went back in 2003 and began making photographs that document and celebrate Africa. Within the past twelve years (since 2002 and counting….) I’ve lived in, traveled throughout, and photographed the vibrant life and culture spanning Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, and Djibouti - with the goal of seeing and photographing the entire continent.
I’ve logged a lot of months and miles, and my commitment to presenting a new perspective paid off with access to subjects (some never photographed) and encounters essential to exposing the unseen Africa.
My mission is to enlighten you. My vision is to use my photographs, my point of view, and first-hand travel journals to tell the stories that showcase the intense beauty of Africa – in all its richly varied manifestations – in order to bring new insight valuable to seeing and truly appreciating this magnificent continent.
Most of all through my images I want to take each and everyone on the journeys that reward me over and over, and share with you a new look at the “big continent”.
My Recent Activity
I will be working in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somaliland, Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Chad, Guinea, Senegal, and Togo from December 2013 through April 2015.
I have logged extensive travel and experience throughout West Africa and I am rapidly developing my experience in East Africa. My commitment to presenting a new look at Africa has earned me access to countless subjects and unique encounters that expose the unseen beauty of this magnificent continent.
I’m available for exhibitions, photo talks, and workshops. Please contact me directly.