The Things I Overlooked.

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I’m relearning, and it is happening slowly, but it is happening.  The hours spent writing and revising are now free and finding their way to the people around me.  I didn’t realize how much I was missing when my nose was stuck in my laptop.  I mean, I did.  It is no fun watching people play and feeling like the one sitting on the fence at recess, but you get what I’m saying.

Surprisingly, my camera has surfaced very little in the past few weeks.  With all of this time on my hands, I’ve been practicing harmonica and reading and staying up past my bedtime for late night discussions.  (A side note about the harmonica: you should know before you begin playing that with all of the inhaling and exhaling that you’ll get unbelievably lightheaded and maybe pass out.  I haven’t exactly figured out how to get around this, and I’m generally terrible at this instrument, but time is my friend, right?)

I took the photos above in San Andreas Xecul, a little city not too far from Xela a couple months ago.  We spent an afternoon walking the streets, chatting with little kids who squealed at having their photos taken and demanded to see them immediately after.  The spontaneous giggles and snorts that the kids couldn’t hold in reminded me that there are things I’ve missed in the last year.  Oh, the things I overlooked while being so singly focused on school.  It is embarrassing to admit, and I hate to imagine all the times I kept walking or internally sighed when a child wanted my attention- or a friend.  I never ignored anyone intentionally, but I wonder, who did I not see?  Where was I blind?  What opportunities to love did I miss?  It feels like a failing of sorts, not being present enough to embrace those around me.  There’s nothing to be done, except move forward with resolution.

And so, I begin again- committed to seeing and searching and loving.

The Darkroom Project: Guatemala

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Unbelievably, we're here again.

Every time I think about starting again, I get butterflies.  Partly because its so much to plan in such a short amount of time, with the teaching schedule, meeting with the gallery, ordering frames, creating flyers, printing photos, and the list continues.  The rest of the fluttering comes from wonder, and that I get to watch and be a part of others tell their stories again.

Since our last show in Indiana, I've received an email from Johnny, with photos of the continued public speaking he's done.  He looks amazing.  I've heard stories of the participants and how life has changed for them just because they were brave enough to share their lives.  I'm not saying that The Darkroom Project is responsible, only that we are so thankful to just be here.  Bianca has an attorney helping her get the felony expunged from her record.  He heard her tell her story.  Darlene now has a job, because someone heard her story.  I keep at it with The Darkroom Project because Johnny reminds me of his story, our story.

This time, things will be a bit different.  We will be working with a group of boys (and maybe a girl or two?) that shoe shine for a living.  We will teach, and get annihilated in soccer every afternoon, and eventually have a show.  This project is dear to my heart, as I live the same streets and corners as these kids- we share a home.  I see them run through the park with their boxes, talking every businessman with dirty, and clean shoes, into a good shine.  There are two that continually waggle their eyebrows at me while I roll my eyes at them, and buy them lunch when my shoes don't need care- when I beg them to not shine my converse kicks. 

The party starts on Sunday.  Are you ready?

El Dia de los Muertos: El Cementerio

You'd think that the cemetery would be the last place you'd want to spend a beautiful morning, but no, it was full of life.  There were vendors selling snacks, and there was music and kite flying.  Family members were stacked on one another to reach to place flowers, laughing when they nearly toppled over.  Tombs were cleaned, and there was laughing and crying.  Some families had clear traditions, it was evident in the way they moved, others took naps in the grass while the young in the family hummed a tune.  I felt like there was just so much identity and belonging displayed in the simple act of visiting loved ones.  To me, it was a celebration of what was lost, but what is also present in what remains.

El Dia de los Muertos: Las Flores

On Friday we had the day off to celebrate el Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).  My morning was spent in the Calvario neighborhood where for blocks around the cemetery, vendors were selling flowers and making wreaths.  We arrived before eight, but the streets were already packed.  Case in point, on my way home, my neck started itching and I felt some strange bumps the spanned down my shoulder.  I couldn't figure out where the rash came from, when my friend reminded me that in the course of the morning, we'd both been hit in the face with bouquets at least ten times.  About four of those times the carrier realized it was happening and we had a good laugh, the other six flower slaps in the face, not so much.  I know I was whacked with one bouquet three times as the man turned around when he heard someone call his name.  But then again, all things considered, I'm sure I bumped into people without realizing- it was a zoo.

These are the times, honestly, when I pinch myself and wonder if life can get any better.  The Day of the Dead sounds morbid, but it is really a celebration of the things that we love and miss about those who aren't with us anymore.   In Guatemala, they are brought bright flowers and greenery that is alive and fresh, and people hang out with family, cleaning tombs, and I imagine, telling stories. 

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In the classroom

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Each morning we begin class by looking at a photo from our "Storytelling" board on Pinterest.  We discuss composition, lighting, rule of thirds, where the photo draws our eye and why, whether it should be in black and white or color, and the justification for our thoughts.  We talk about what feelings the photo incites, and if it reaches us at a purely intellectual level or if we find some personal connection as well.  We also discuss a quote or song, and brainstorm ideas of capturing those broader concepts with a camera.

I thought you might like a peek at what we analyzed today.  I used two photos I had taken this weekend, from different perspectives, and asked the participants in both classes to tell me which photo they liked better and why.

 

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I feel like we've taught them well in the sense that they had no mercy when they were telling what was good and what wasn't about the photos.  When asked how they thought the photo was taken, they accurately described the position the camera- and my body- took to catch both shots, and that the angle makes all the difference at times.  They complained about the second photo not adhering to the rule of thirds.  I thought it was artsy.  Whatever.  

Now its your turn- which photo do you prefer and why?  Don't worry about using the right terminology, it's not about that at all.  

In the meantime, find us on facebook to keep up with the project, and pinterest to access the boards that we use in class.

And finally, would you be interested if I started posting mini-lessons on photography based on the work from The Darkroom Project? 

 

The Darkroom Project

It is hard to know where to begin.  Strangely enough, it kind of feels like this project created itself.  I mean, we've put in a lot of work designing the website, and all of the other aspects, but it feels self-propelled.

I met my friend Matthew through our doctoral program.  We began at the same time, though in different cohorts.  He has been a solid mirror for me in the last year, reminding me why I choose to stay in this program when I would rather be doing anything else.  Through some of our whining, we began discussing exactly what it is we would rather be doing, and now it has a name- The Darkroom Project. 

The Darkroom Project is about helping vulnerable populations tell their story.  We feel that too often marginalized people groups fall through the cracks and that they are never heard.  We believe in giving them a voice, and we are going to do it through photography.  Children will learn photography over a two week span and in the meantime, we set them loose, completing photography assignments along way.  What is family?  What does life look like on a daily basis?  The best of their shots will be presented in a gallery showing both in their own country, and the United States- a time for the students to celebrate their work with those they love, and an opportunity for the rest of the world to see an authentic picture of what they go through.  All proceeds from purchased photos will go towards funding their education.  Additionally, each child will be gifted with a digital camera so they can continue to document their life. 

We do not intend to let them go.  We believe in creating a family and growing together.

We would love it if you would check us out, get involved, and throw us some feedback.  Find us at www.thedarkroomproject.org.

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Handmade

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There an element of the irreplaceable in something has been handmade.  These boots were made to fit my narrow feet perfectly.  The shaft is purposely small to accommodate my bird-like calves.  I know about the raw product.  I can tell you which parts are calf skin, and which are sheep skin, and the process for dying the leather.  I learned about the stitching and methodology of customizing boots for stick legs like mine.  I've hashed over the idea with their maker of unique and handmade, and the frustration that it is fading.  Even in Guatemala, it is an uphill battle to compete against mainstream production.

I've been breaking my boots in over the last two weeks, and while they are still rather stiff, the process is worth it.  Soon they will wrap themselves around my feet and hug them through wild adventures and trials alike.  I know they are just shoes, but there is a soulful element that is undeniable.  Given the time, they will become a wordless journal of the places we've crossed, and things we've been through.  They will tell a story- one I hope of passion, long journeys, difficult choices, and restoration.

I didn't blog for a long time, and so now it feels like I'm playing catch up instead of blogging in real time.  I took these photos of Amy and Allan before Christmas as a "hooray, you are engaged!" present.  I'm looking forward to celebrating with them at their wedding in April.  It is going to be beautiful.

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