Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rwanda Again

I was in Rwanda several years back.  If you knew me then, you know that I was somewhat obsessed with that country and its history and its beautiful people.  While I was there I wrote a lot and posted all of those writings on a blog.  It is 

While we know hunger in this country, Rwanda really knows hunger.  While we have racial issues in this country – to this day, Rwanda was nearly destroyed by ethnic violence.  Over one million people were killed there in a hundred days.  It was 20 years ago. 

Most of us don’t know a lot about the Rwandan genocide.  Our government told lies about it and did not act when they should have.  The O. J. Simpson trial of the century bought off our attention for the news.  And, after all, Rwanda is in Africa.  Put simply, if it doesn’t affect us directly, most Americans don’t care about Africa. 

What struck me most about my trip there and all of my readings and my acquaintance with the beautiful Rwandan people, especially Immaculee Illibagiza (author of Left To Tell) and our photographer/driver/translator/friend Richard, was their resilience. 

Today, while Rwanda still has its problems, it is one of the most peaceful, safest, most beautiful countries in all of Africa.  Incredible as it seems, the people have moved dramatically toward forgiving each other for the violence and murder of just two decades ago.  It is nothing less than miraculous. 

When I think of my time there, I think of verdant green hills and mountains, and the genocide memorial in Kigali, the mountain gorillas we hung out with in Virunga Park, and the little church in Ntarama where so many people were killed in one single event during the genocide.  The scars of the survivors, the smiles on the children, the sunrises so beautiful they made me cry, and the stories of survival, the hard relentless work, the mass I heard in English – the priest’s very first, and our visit to Mother Teresa’s Orphanage where they never turn anyone away.

There is no particular reason I came back to Rwanda for this blog.  Maybe I need to just because those memories are slipping away.  And I never want to forget those people, that precious time.

I'll include some photos from my trip, and a blog post I wrote back in September of that year, the words taken directly from my notebook that I obsessively recorded in while I was there.  I will come back to Rwanda from time to time.  I don't want to forget.

Children from the school at Ntarama.


Chopping Wood/That is Rwanda

Wednesday 7/3/07 8:00 PM

I didn’t get to finish my thoughts on Mother Teresa’s orphanage. Just one more before I forget. There were about half a dozen guyschopping firewood for cooking in a big open area inside the compound at the orphanage. Somehow they managed to haul in some huge logs. They looked like cedar but smelled different. Three feet across. Really hard wood. It was a hot and sticky day. The men were working with machetes and really dull looking hand axes. The axes had pipes for handles. Hot. Hard work. The kind of work that would have taken about an hour in the US with chainsaws and splitting equipment. Six guys. Chipping away at tree trunks with machetes. That’s like a metaphor for how things are done in Rwanda. This scene stays with me. They had their shirts off. Their dark bodies were glistening with sweat. They were relentless. We were there for about an hour and when we came out they were still chipping away with machetes and these tiny axes, hatchets really.

Then a puff of cool breeze came. Almost as one the men stopped their labor, closed their eyes and sort of leaned into the breeze. Little smiles came to their faces. Just that little pause. That tiny sip of refreshment. Then, just as quickly as it arose, the breeze left and the men went back to work. Sleek. No body fat. Thin and muscular. Determined. Uncomplaining. Facing a limitless task – That is Rwanda.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The History of Photography

Minolta AL-F

"There are no rules for good photographs.  There are only good photographs." - Ansel Adams

When Heidi and I were young, she gave me a camera.  She got it used.  I think it cost 50 bucks back in about 1977.  It wasn’t just any old camera.  It was a Minolta Hi-Matic.  The Hi-Matic was a rangefinder.  Instead of focusing directly on your subject, you looked through a viewer and brought two little yellow images together by rotating the lens.  

While it was rather crude, even for its day, it taught me about photography.  There was nothing automatic about it.  You opened the door in back and put the film cartridge in, pulled the film across and made sure that the holes in the edge of the film reached the little sprockets on the other side.  Then you closed the door and advanced the film by snapping a few pictures, rotating a lever each time to pull the film across. 

There was a built in light meter, and you used that to set the shutter speed and aperture.  Heidi and I were self-taught.  We learned that anything slower than 1/60 of a second would likely lead to a blurred image.  Unless you used a tripod and the subject was very still.  We learned about depth of field and backlighting and when to use the flash.  

We learned to bend the rules sometimes and slow down the shutter speed for some cool effects while photographing our friends playing music in bars or while we were camping taking flashlight photos on a quarter of a second.

Canon AE-1 Program

After we were married, Heidi’s folks gave us a Cannon AE-1 (35 mm of course).  That was a sweet camera.  Great glass, single lens reflex so when you looked through the viewer you were seeing the image that was going to the film.  We got a bunch of cool lenses and attachments and filters.  When we printed out our pictures we put them into albums.  We thought we were pretty good at it. 

After a while, 35 mm became obsolete and there was a time when we really didn’t take many pictures except for special occasions.  Then an assortment of low end point-and-shoot digitals, which made taking pictures easy with relatively nice outcomes, but there wasn’t the same ownership as considering available light, setting the shutter speed and aperture, bracketing a few shots with slightly different settings and choosing the one you preferred (and LEARNING along the way). 

Now, of course, with “smart phones” I have become a fairly “dumb photographer”.   Point.  Shoot.  Apply effects (if desired).  Save.  Email or text.  We still have that old Hi-Matic, the one that recorded our early lives together.  I still break it out every once in a while to remind myself of the not-so-bad-amateur photographer I used to be.  And one day, I’ll get a digital SLR.  But for now, it’s all about being in the right place at the right time with my phone in my pocket. 

On a related note, I checked out this series of photographs taken over 40 years of these 4 beautiful sisters.  The idea was totally simple, but the effect sublime.  Four sisters sat for the same photographer every year for 40 years.  They began in 1975 – the year Heidi and I graduated from high school.  They continued the ritual 40 times.  The result is breathtaking.  When I looked at the series again this morning, I teared up a little.  I am not sure why.  Maybe it is because I see myself and my beloved in these pictures.  I know our faces are lined and our hair is graying.  While I weigh about the same, my weight is not distributed the same way it was in 1975, just graduating from Chesterton High School with my life in front of me and my dreams still being formed.  

I remembered the early pictures of my parents when they were young and frisky.  I remember thinking, Were they ever really that young?  When I misted over looking at the faces of these beautiful girls-to-women, I think it was about connecting to the changes and recognizing that beauty isn’t just with the young.  Check it out.    I'd love to know what you think.

"When I look at my old pictures, all I can see is what I used to be but am no longer.  I think:what I can see is what I am not." - Aleksander Hemon