Friday, October 31, 2008

Being True To The Lens

Photo by: Bruce Buursma- International Aid
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada / 42° 19′ 60 N, 83° 1′ 60 W

Through my travels, my life has changed. The places I visit, the people I meet, and the history that I've learnt has molded me to become the person that I am today. I've come to the conclusion that life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents or coincidences. No. It's more than that. But rather, in it's purest form--life is a tapestry of events that culminate into an exquisite and sublime plan--orchestrating a symphony of fate and destiny.

And because of that, I have hope.

It has been a week since my safe return home, yet, much like my partner Bruce from International Aid, a piece of my heart remains with the people of Ghana. It's a strange feeling to be sitting here, putting thoughts into prose, reminiscing about a journey that I've captured and stored both digitally and mentally. The heat, smell, dust and dirt are miles away, but the images of the people, their smiles and laughter still linger in my mind. And for that, I am grateful.

You see, through the years, I've taught myself by trial and error how to capture the world, exposing all that is real and true to the story. I used to be proud of my ability to capture images of pain and suffering, moments caught in time depicting poverty and need. I used to wear my camera like a badge of honour--thinking that it would shield me from any guilt I'd feel afterwards for taking pictures of those in need. Then, when I get back and watch what I've filmed, reality kicks in, and the human in me prevails. As a result, the guilt of capturing sadness and sorrow, of finding beauty in suffering--is enough to haunt me in my sleep. I no longer felt human.

During my time in Ghana, I made a solemn vow to myself that I would view Africa in a different light, exposing all that is beautiful by capturing what some fail to see--the beauty of its people. What I didn't want were the iconic shots of dying children, flies covering their faces. The world has already seen that many times over, and I no longer find beauty in suffering; nor do I think it should be the sole reason for people to react and help. As humans, it's our obligation to do so regardless. (A great story from D2)

Sure there were times when capturing the plight of people suffering was unavoidable, but it was captured from afar, utilizing all my glass to frame the shot. I beleive in capturing a scene with respect--rather than shoving a camera in one's face. Yet, when the scene was too cruel to capture, my camera remained off. I had to keep true to my promise.

Shot after shot, my images portrayed a country on the verge of prosperity. A montage of smiling faces stream through my lens as I capture light and sound. The poverty is undoubtedly visible, but our focus was on their 'progress, not poverty.'

As captivators of light, we hold the power to tell a story unlike any other. But by allowing our audience to dictate what we capture, we are no longer doing it for the good of all, but more so, for the satisfaction of man.

Sorry 'Save The Children,' you won't be finding any of my shots useful any time soon.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Photo Essay: Ghana

Photography by: Bruce Buursma- International Aid

Riding backwards on a motorcycle, camera in hand, filming the chaotic urban street scene. Great angle!

A little girl out to fetch water for her family.

Bruce and I with the local village elders and the chief.

Two beautiful children sitting in front of their house.

A group of kids gather at the local water pump.

Filming at a Sand production facility. The sand is used in the Hydraid Bio-Sand water filter to provide clean water for villagers.

Baby goats checking out my camera.

A village cook-out.

Happy and Beautiful.

Weighing myself at the airport. Didn't want to pay any excess fee's.

Friday, October 24, 2008

News From Ghana

Current Location: Tema, Ghana / 7° 23′ 27″ N, 0° 55′ 12.24″ W

As of late, sleep is hard to come by. It has been more of a distant waiting for morning and the unknown, finally shutting down the brain at 12am--and up again by 3am. A symphony of Muslim chants from a nearby mosque begin at 4, overtaken by a rythmic swish of a broom in the streets by 5. I'm tired. I'm cranky. And I'm in need of a good meal.

Filming in Ghana is an experience unlike any other I've ever had. The weather melts you like butter, the dirt and dust sprinkles on you like cinnamon on a Starbucks frappuccino latte expresso grande (whatever that is). And if you're looking to get around, I suggest taking a dosage of Gravol before venturing out--it's going to be a bumpy ride. The pot holes on the road resemble that of moon craters, and the traffic is worse than rush hour in New York City. The funny thing is, even when there's no traffic, the pot holes slow you down anyways, making it extremly difficult--if not impossible, to break (or meet) the posted speed limit of 70km/h.

As for money, just like any cash based economy where the currency is so devalued it hurts, Ghanaians tend to count bills by the thickness of the bankroll rather than tediously fanning through the notes. According to our hotel receptionist, it's around 9100 Cedis to 1 U.S dollar, 16,500 to 1 Euro. The biggest note is a 20,000, making hiding your cash a bit of a joke. Is that a brick in your pants? No, just lunch money. That's how we roll here in Ghana!

Malaria is not to be taken lightly and the ‘zones’ or ‘bands’ in which it plies its ugly trade are growing every year. The strongest, deadliest strain can be found in the band that stretches across West Africa. To battle malaria, I'm currently taking Malorone, the new ‘safe’ pill on the block--it's even advertised in the New Yorker. And according to the ad, it has fewer side effects than Larium. I highly doubt it though. I've only been on it for 7 days and already the vivid dreams kick in. Dead and alive, family, friends and strange celebrities I’ve never met populate my nocturnal haze with acid-flashback intensity.

We're travelling to a rural village tomorrow to film sunrise and early morning life in Ghana. I will be updating soon with photos when the internet service is more reliable. Be well to all.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Malarone, bad dreams, and tired

I'm feeling a bit tired today. My throat is itchy and I think I'm on the verge of a fever. Oh well...
Heading out of the capital city today to film a military medical training facility.

Last night I dreamt that I got into a very big argument with a penguin, then chased by donuts, followed by a guest appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show. Man, this malaria medication I'm on is really kickin' in!

Will update soon.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tamale Thru a Lens

Current Location: Tamale, Ghana / 9° 24′ 27″ N, 0° 51′ 12.24″ W

Ghana is by far the hottest place I've ever been. Sitting at zero degree's on the equator, the sun pounds at you with no mercy.

We're' currently filming in the northern city of Tamale, home to generations of poverty and despair. From one village to the next, I witness thru my lens the sheer need for humanitarian aid and funding. It's a sad existence, but to the people of Tamale, this is their way of life.

I film hour after hour, finding no difficulty framing compelling shots. It's a photographers dream come true to be shooting in a place like this, utilizing the power of light to convey feelings and emotions. And as we interview them on camera, their voices of hardship reverberates and chimes deep within us, long after we've left their village. Cholera, malaria, yellow fever, and diarrhea are all killers in this part of the world. All curable diseases almost everywhere else. The irony is enough to erode your soul.

While interviewing a village chief this afternoon, I spotted a little girl in the corner of my eye that almost brought me to tears. Panning the camera right, I zoomed in for a close up of her face. Both her eyes were barely open as she sat there all alone. Her arms crossed, caressing her fragile little body. In 110 degree heat, she was shivering--suffering from malaria. In Ghana, the strongest and deadliest strains of malaria run rampant.

Just before we left, I handed her mother a handful of Tylenol and instructed her to administer one dose every four hours. She smiled and said 'thank you.' Looking at the side view mirror as we drove off, I saw the little girl slowly stand up and placed her right hand over her heart.

Tonight, after viewing the footage and staring at her face, I wish I could've done more to help. I can only hope that I did.

Tomorrow morning is another day and a new adventure--as I try to find that perfect image, of an imperfect society.

Counting The Hours En-Route

Current Location: Tamale, Ghana / 9° 24′ 27″ N, 0° 51′ 12.24″ W

It starts to get tiring after hour five of being in mid-air. First to go are the cluster of muscles on your neck. It begins as a subtle stiffness, then before you know it, all feeling is lost and you slowly put yourself into mental retard position--head tilted to one side, eyes wide open, and saliva dripping down your mouth. OK, maybe I'm exxagerating just a little bit, but you get the point. Sixteen hours of extraneous flying can drive any photog crazy.

At hour eight, my eyes start to blur--and for the life of me, I cannot sleep. Babies cry from four rows down and two old geezers behind me are arguing about what to get their grand kids for Christmas. My blurred vision is extremely disconcerting. As a precaution, I reach for my small bottle of
Visine and start dropping dribbles into each eye. I repeat this every ten minutes until I run out of Visine. Shit.

By hour eighteen I crumple into a hotel bed located somewhere in Accra, Ghana. My mind and body are too exhausted to even care where I'm at. As the darkness, heat, and exhaustion seeps in, I grope for my alarm clock. I have about four hours to sleep before I must wake and head to Northern Ghana.

The next four hours were indeed the best of my life.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bon Voyage!

4 Cases
4 Camera's (two photo, two video)
2 Tripod (sticks and a high hat)
4 Microphones
1 Portable MacBook Pro Edit Suite
6 Columbia Safari shirts
4 Cargo Pants
8 Boxers
25 Granola Bars
10 Cans of Tuna
5 Packs of Instant Noodles
2 Packs of Gummy Worms (for the kids, of course)
1 Bag of mixed medications
1 Passport with 1 empty page left
= One heck'ov'a trip!

I'll update once I arrive and when internet service is available! Love, Peace, and Chicken Grease!


Leaving On A Jet Plane

Photo by: Jeff Evans
Current Location: Windsor, Ontario, Canada / 42° 19′ 60 N, 83° 1′ 60 W

For fretful fliers like myself, getting there isn't half the fun--it's half the battle. Beleive it or not, I'm afraid of flying. Yup, my stomach churns during takeoff, turbulence turns my breath shallow and palms sweaty; my heart races at any mechanical noise. My mind flashes back to media images of plunging planes and horrific crashes. Sometimes, I even try to calm myself with a drink, yet the closer we get to touchdown, the higher my anxiety climbs. What if the pilot loses control? What if we can't get out?

I think my fear of flying comes from years of bad experiences and near chaotic moments, both on the ground and in the air.

Ever had a fellow passenger die in the seat in front of you while in mid air? I have.

Ever had to make an emergency landing because of a 'mechanical' problem? I have.

Ever had to make an emergency landing because a bird cracked the windshield while in mid air? I have.

Ever had a drunk passenger recite to you all the names on his family Russian? I have.

Ever sat beside a mother with a baby that won't stop crying...and the mother is asleep? I have!!!

I can't wait til they invent the tele-porter!

...10 Hours to departure.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Capturing Light to Shed Light

Current Location: Midland, Michigan, USA / 43° 37′ 25″ N, 84° 13′ 45.7″ W

48 Hours to departure and I'm still packing. Engineers are still going over my gear, and my mom has yet to finish sewing my pants!

Preparing for an assignment like Ghana is a never-ending task. Your mind constantly wonders off as you try to determine what you can and cannot bring. For the most part, my gear is compact, lightweight and durable enough to withstand the elements of Sub Saharan Africa. But no matter how I pack, what I bring or leave behind, the feeling that I've forgotten something erodes my mind like a piece of cheese cutting through my lactose intolerant digestive system.

Over the years, I've traveled to many distant locations--mostly to places that the average tourist wouldn't dare to visit; some places rougher than others. Landscapes and people change, but the way I shoot and the principles I follow remain the same. When shooting in remote locations, I often remind myself that I am nothing more than a foreign observer--utilizing a marriage of technology and culture to tell a story. It's a privilege I take very seriously.

To some people, I have the absolute 'dream job'--but to others who toil behind a camera, they know all to well what I must go through to 'get the shot.' It's not easy. Doing something as simple as plugging in your battery charger into the wrong wall can determine whether you shoot tomorrow or not. And that's only technical.

What makes my job so hard at times is the mental and emotional stress that comes with it. Pointing a lens at the global underbelly is no easy task. How would you feel if you spent eight hours of your day filming starving orphans infected by HIV? How would you feel if you had to roll tape on a mother who just lost her only son to something so trivial as the lack of clean drinking water? How would you feel....?

I've learned a lot from what I've shot thus far. There is little glamour in filming those who live in third world countries--yet, I know that my images will some how make a difference, and it's this form of storytelling that makes my job so rewarding when everything falls into place.

Through my visuals, I intend to give my subjects a voice, a platform in which they can speak. Imagery and photography is a universal language. Everyone understands it. And as a captivator of light, it's my obligation to do justice to their stories--to make sure my subjects receive the acknowledgment and attention they deserve.

Capturing light so I can help shed 'light' on some of the worlds most daunting problems. This is my role as a cinematographer. And that my friends, is why I do what I do.

Monday, October 13, 2008

20 Seconds

As I’m about to embark on yet another trip that will take me around the world, I’m reminded of a question that faces many of us that photograph in conflict zones and third world countries: “At what point do you put down the camera and start to help?”

While in the field, it is important that you never forget what you are there to do: to capture images that tell a story and document history in the making. But in the process, bad things can and will happen in conflict zones; and yes, while in a third world country, you are bound to see first hand the touchstones of poverty and desperation. It’s inevitable.

When faced with a situation that challenges my moral judgments versus my cinematic views, I simply follow my rule of “20 seconds.” I switch off emotions and turn on the camera for 20 seconds to capture what I’m witnessing. Then, just as quickly, I turn off the camera to assist.

It is not a matter of being a ghoul by these actions, but rather the cold-hard fact of doing a good job in a bad situation. It does not always have to be death or injury to allow these events to happen--they can and do occur when you least expect it—and when it does happen, it can reduce you to tears within seconds, and rip the soul right out of you.

It happened to me during my first foreign assignment. I was twenty four years old. Broken hearted and wanted to see some action. I was following a group of Canadian doctors and Special Ops soldiers along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their mission was to support the influx of refugees fleeing the violence that erupted during the Taliban withdrawal in northern Afghanistan. Following a group of Canadian doctors isn't considered a major event in terms of world news, but the images that I captured will forever haunt me in my dreams.

For the poor and the desperate, there is no hope with basic treatment. Children stand in line with their parents hoping for a cure for blindness, two policemen stood there with one eye between them, a medic treats a man whose foot is bloated with gangrene, and when an old woman is asked whether she would like medicine or blankets for her children, she simply replied, “blankets.”

Yet, it was not these scenes of despair and tragedy that drew my breath, but more so, the sight of a man whose son lay on the ground—crippled by Cerebral Palsy. Inside the tortured body of this young man was a human being whose thoughts and ideas will never be known due to a disease that has been part of his family’s fight for survival. His father cradled his rolling head, slowly moving his hand across his face to ward off flies.

At that very moment, the scene never caught much of my attention. I took a few shots and moved on with my coverage.

About an hour later, I looked across the field and saw the young man lying by himself, exposed to the scorching sun as flies prey on him like vultures. At this point, what do I do?

I took a deep breath, framed a close up and let the camera roll—showing the flies crawling around his eyes and mouth. I took my eye away from the viewfinder and slowly counted to 20. That was it. I turned the camera off and walked over to him. Kneeling down beside him, I used my body to cast some shade over his. My hands slowly wavered back and fourth to brush the flies off his face.

Tears of sorrow rolled down my face as I looked into his eyes. He stared at me and smiled. Other photographers came over and asked if they could help in any way. I looked up and shook my head. They saw what I was doing and walked away, understanding that I was doing what I needed to do.

For ten minutes I sat there, brushing away the flies, stroking the side of his face—wondering where his father was. Feeling the texture of his face under my hand, my heart wanted him to know that I saw him as “human.”

I would have sat there all day if I had to. There was no way I could leave him. I had taken an image that will forever haunt me, and now, I was prepared to pay the price for capturing his plight. Everything has a price in life. But it was not that I had to—it was because I wanted to.

I looked up and saw his father walking to me. He looked at me and said the most heart-warming words anyone can hear. It was simply, “Thank you.”

I walked away and continued shooting. Looking back half an hour later, the ground was empty, father and son had left.

Blogger Note: The following was a re-post. I will remove it and post it back to its orignal date.