Photography for Africa: the Bulembu Calendar

This February I travelled to Swaziland after filming in Rwanda. I was on assignment with the Teldon Community Foundation, photographing the town of Bulembu. A former mining town, Bulembu is now being transformed into a centre of job-creation, commerce and orphan care.

The images were destined for a fundraising calendar, which you can now get your hands on here. The final product is excellent, and I’m excited to see the photographs used for a good cause. Head to Bulembu.org for more info and to purchase your copy of the calendar. 100% of the purchase goes to Bulembu Compassion.

{{ Check my Bulembu Archives for more posts & photos from the trip. }}

work-in-progress

For those of you visiting this site in browsers other than Safari, I feel your pain. I recently viewed this site on another machine and much of the beauty is lost to some formatting glitches. I hope to have those fixed in the next while.

I’m happy with how often I seem to be drawn here to post. It comes and goes… but there are times this web canvas is an attractive forum for thought. When I’m in deeper trouble, I tend to be more introspective and less ends up here. I turn to my sketchpad, my personal thought-bucket. The thoughts trickle back into public places once I’ve had a “Eureka!” moment, or when I can’t hold it in any longer.

This is one of those times.

outside my window

I am working out something within me that seems to nag whenever I reach a period of stability. Somehow, right now, I have more passion and creativity; but it’s stagnated, dirty water in a puddle: like I have words but nothing to say. I am more prepared than ever before to burst into what I want to do, but I’m creating less than any previous period. Why?

I feel trapped by stability.

For me, freedom is a Very Big Thing™. Keeping my options open falls above engagement in my subconscious reflexes. Options give me the illusion of control.

Bizarrely, and – this is where I’m wanting to understand myself – I pair aloofness with responsibility. I frequently bind myself to roles and ways of thinking that negatively cut down the emotional and creative side, in the name of duty – and in the name of power: power to keep my options open.

In the end I bind myself twice – to self-imposed responsibilities and exile from true engagement.

That’s why I turn to writing, sketching, drawing. Not usually here, public like this – but writing helps me work out my ideas, just like photography & music help me work out my emotions. I’ve been taught how to listen to my internal themes to avoid the siren call of distraction, and when something’s up my gut pulls me to express it so I can work things out.

And this writing, this expression is the art. It helps me remember: I am not bound to freedom. I am free so that I can live life fully – to create, engage, be broken and re-create. That, to be bound to things worth holding is not a cage.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

— Dr. Howard Thurman

[updated to work out the 3AM writing delirium]

Oh Can I?

Canada - Clean & Exposed
Canada, Clean & Exposed

Last night I walked outside, the air was nice – warm, clean, with a breeze. I was headed to Safeway, a block away. I picked up some fresh blueberries, some cleaning supplies and a few other things, and bought a piece of pizza for dinner on my way home. I skipped a coffee – enough to eat already.

On the walk home, I started to relax. Not the little “this is nice” relax, but the big, “I’ve found a home” relax. The people on Commercial Drive are interesting. The guy at the pizza place was intriguing – didn’t know how to use a Visa machine, probably a recent immigrant, had a fire to him that I liked. The houses are small, interesting, not cookie cutter. The streets have lots of trees and plants, and there are nice views to the mountains. People are interested in each other. People I want to get to know.

I have a cool flat, that’s “me” in the furniture, the artwork, the messiness, the order, the little tricks that make a big difference, the one-of-a-kind layout, the air, the light. I have a few people in my life whom I love, who I want to be with… and they are there for me as well.

I’ve worked the edge off a lot of the angst and anger and frustration I’ve held, me vs. them, my dependant independence and lack of emotional IQ. I’m still me, quirky and weird and not good at a lot of things… just without the edge, the neediness, the fear and anger dissipated by growing up a little bit (or maybe growing younger :)

And I have a job. One that I like, that I’m good at. Filmmaking. Photography. Storytelling.

I’ve made it.

That was the feeling. I’ve achieved all the things I really wanted to have in my life. Not like it’s a task complete and I’m moving on. More like, I’ve moved into my neighbourhood. The things I want and like and am interested in are nearby, within my reach. I can see them… some I have. I can ask for others and get them if I want or need, through a friend or my own effort.

And I can’t help but be thankful. That I’m created. That I live in Canada. That I have friends and good things. That I’ve been cared for in big and small ways.

I rarely have days like this, so I’m revelling in the enjoyment of being at peace.

Moving to LA [UPDATE #2]

I can’t say much, but just wanted to post a quick update to say I’m moving to LA, for how long I’m not sure. In a chance combination of who-you-know and timing, I’ve been asked to direct my first feature film for an off-shoot of Lions Gate!

Never in a (pick a big number) years would I have guessed that I would get an opportunity like this.

I can’t say too much about the project, except that it is fully budgeted, includes at least two name stars that you would recognize, and the genre is right up my alley. I can say that it is a sequel… which, if you know me, is not my first choice – but as a director, stepping into an existing franchise leaves out a lot of the guess work. And what am I saying – I get to direct a feature! With a budget!

Assuming my follow-up interview goes well, pre-production begins next week with shooting starting sometime early June in Bangladesh. I’ll try to keep things here updated as much as I’m able.

[UPDATE]
I’ve been informed that I can tell you the working title of the film: Alien vs. Rambo

[UPDATE #2]
Yes, you’ve caught my First of April ruse… it’s not really a romantic comedy. It’s actually a buddy-comedy – Alien and Rambo hit the road together to bust a cap on the bad guy.

Photo Essay – The Bulembu Story

Bulembu Cableway

Bulembu went from a sleepy hollow of Swazi homesteads to a major mining operation – producing one-third of Swaziland’s GDP – to a near-ghost town in the space of several decades. Now it’s in the midst of another transformation. To tell the story, I’ve put together a photo essay from my recent assignment: “The Bulembu Story” (There are a few dozen photos, so it may take a minute or two to load).

Gallery – Portraits of Bulembu

Maria Portrait

My recent assignment in Swaziland was a 2009 calendar on Bulembu. The concept was to photograph people involved in transformation, telling their story in a single frame. I approached this primarily through wide-angle portraits of the characters in context, attempting to include hints of past, present, and future as much as possible. I made extensive use of my new lighting rig to control tone and contrast.

Click the image to view a few selects from my portraits in Bulembu.

N.B. I’ll be posting a photo essay about the town after I get back from some R&R on the mountain this weekend.

Together on opposite sides

Strong stories are buried deep on all sides of the Rwandan story. Many are full of pain and suffering, and in some cases the divisions continue. But there is hope. Stories like the one we filmed today.

Widow & Son - small

A Tutsi widow, who lost her husband and most of her family in the genocide. A bright Hutu boy, whose father is in jail for participating in the genocide. After his father’s conviction, the boy’s mother left him to fend for himself. Despite good grades he had to look for work. The widow offered the boy a job cleaning and doing odd jobs. As she learned of his needs, she helped him – she paid his school fees and allowed him to study after work. And eventually, she took him in as her own son. In his eyes she didn’t see a Hutu, the son of a killer, someone of another ethnicity. She saw a boy, a person in need of help.

Our translator, Grace, became emotional as she heard the story of a Hutu taking in a Tutsi. It is a rare and beautiful thing for forgiveness to be so complete and so real.

Still enjoying the RED… click the picture above to see a full-size frame capture. All natural lighting…