Tag Archives: photography
Maggie’s story and the path she decided to take early on in life, has touched the hearts of people around the globe and changed the lives of hundreds of Nepalese women and children.
Maggie was a high school classmate of my daughter, Erin. After graduation, Maggie decided to take a gap year and travel before heading off to college. Eventually, she ended up in Nepal and saw a country devastated by 10 years of civil war and thousands of orphaned children left in its wake. She used her babysitting savings to buy property and build a home for herself and orphaned children – she was 19 years old. Maggie has 50 children now, has built a primary school for 250 kids and is currently building a high school.
When Maggie accepted the Hero of the Year award the other night, she said; “ And to all of you in this room and who are watching, please, please remember that we have the power to create the world that we want to live in”. She’s done just that and has inspired countless others, to do the same. She inspired my daughter and I to seek out other individuals all over the world who were creating positive change and to make a filmabout them, with the hopes it would inspire others to make a difference.
Imagine if we all thought like Maggie and believed we all have the power to create the world that we want to live in. The fact is we do have that power. It starts with the little things we can do – in our own lives, in our family’s lives and in our communities. Small things have a way of growing into big things. When you educate one child, you change a life that has the potential to change other lives.
Maggie, you continue to inspire me. You are a bright light in a troubled world and a beacon of hope. Congratulations for this well deserved honor.
If you’d like to watch Opening Our Eyes, a film about Maggie and other change makers, you can view it here.
The day had an ominous look to it, with a dark foreboding sky and choppy water on the great Amazon River. Erin and I were staying at the APECA base camp upriver from the town of Belen, one of the poorest towns along the river. We were planning to go there that day, by boat – everything is done by boat – there are no roads.
Pablo, Gina Low’s partner at APECA, assessed the situation and decided to go as planned, but he told us it was going to rain and to prepare for it. The trip to Belen took about an hour if my memory serves me well. It was open water with just a few villages along the way and aside from the sound of our motor and those of other boats off in the distance; there was an eerie silence.
When we got to Belen, the skies let loose. Pablo quickly navigated our boat to one of the shacks along the river. We took refuge in this machine shop and watched the storm play out. We were thankful for the cover over our heads and grateful to Pablo for knowing exactly what to do. I think that is what continually impressed me the most about the people in our film, like Pablo. They were all incredibly independent and resilient in difficult situations. They were people you could trust and that says a lot.
When my daughter Erin, and I were planning our 99-day adventure around the world, we built in some buffer time, between our scheduled times with our subjects. We needed flexibility, in the event things didn’t go perfectly according to plan, which had a high probability, considering the scope of our trip. Ultimately we had very few glitches and that buffer time gave us the opportunity to get more involved with the culture we were. It also gave us time to shoot still images.
We spent 5 days in Moscow. It was June and the days were long. One Saturday, everywhere we went, there were weddings. It was amazing because each bride and groom seemed to have his or her own style – everything from a pirate theme to pure “glam”.
Click here to see other still images from our journey.
Most folks don’t realize that when Erin and I went around the world in pursuit of people creating positive change – we weren’t just shooting a movie – we also shot over 5000 still images.
When we planned our itinerary, traveling and shooting on six continents in the summer of 2010, we built in some “free time” to see the sights. It also acted as a buffer in case things didn’t go according to plan. As it happened, everything did go according to plan and we had some wonderful down time in Moscow, Istanbul, Bangkok, Melbourne and Sydney, Australia and India. We shot still images in all of these destinations in addition to the stills that we shot on the movie set, and ended up with a nice archive.
I’ve been editing this archive over the last year and am going to make them available for prints. You can see the first gallery of images, and there will be more to follow over the next few months. A print would make a beautiful Christmas gift for someone special. If you order before Dec. 17th – the prints will arrive before Christmas.
In some ways we have never been more connected than we are right now – at this juncture in the timeline of mankind. In other ways we have never been more disconnected and detached. When I embarked on a 99 journey around the world almost 3 years ago to date, I suppose in some ways I was looking to get more connected with what was happening globally, in a real sense. These days, it’s too easy to fall into a cyber world, where most of our connections are intangible. Call me old fashioned, but I feel the need to connect with people in real terms. When I returned from my journey, I had not only connected with people from all around the world, I had connected with myself and what part I was meant to play in the timeline of life.
As the years have ticked away, I have tried to remain true to myself, especially in how I apply that to my craft and my career. This past weekend I had an assignment for Kiwanis Magazine. The assignment was to photograph volunteers from the local Kiwanis and Ki Clubs, repairing a home at the NJ shore that had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy. I had not been down to the shore since Sandy, but I knew this area had been the hardest hit in the state. While much of the debris has been taken away, there’s an empty and desolate presence especially in the poorer towns that had no money to rebuild.
The task on hand for the volunteers that day, and there had to be about 30 people who showed up, was to install new sheet rock and insulation, put in a new bathroom and do general clean up of the property. It was a modest home in a very modest neighborhood of houses that had been salvaged amongst the ones abandoned. The first thing that hit me was in fact – this is someone’s home. As much as I was there to photograph the volunteers, my eye was drawn to the personal effects of the owners, pushed up into the corners of damaged rooms along with their Easter decorations in rooms they were living in. Life must go on.
The day was filled with positive energy. Kids were painting, raking, cleaning storm drains while older tradesmen were working with other volunteers and teaching them their craft. And at the end of the day, everyone walked away tired, but feeling really good about the contribution they had made. I’m sure some of these kids had to do some kind of community service as part of their school mandates, but could I tell that every one of them got a lot more out of the experience than just school credits. I know I got a lot more out of it than a paycheck and some photographs in a magazine.
After the chores had been done and I had gotten the photographs that I needed, I took a drive with my husband along the ocean road. It was a new landscape, changed by a hurricane that hit hard. But I felt hopeful and humbled once again about the power that’s in all of us to make a difference.
The best part about creating the documentary, Opening Our Eyes, was getting to be around some of the most amazing, inspirational people I’ve ever met in my life. So many things that these folks said during their interviews, still run through my mind on a daily basis.
One thing in particular was something that Maggie Doyne said when she was talking about what she built in Nepal “It’s not perfect. If I had waited for things to be perfect, none of this would have happened.”
I work and live with a perfectionist, my husband and my business partner. We are opposites in every way. I am one to take my “big idea” and jump right into it. I’m also one who wants to complete something and follow through right away, regardless if it’s “perfect” or not. For example: I could have/should have gotten this film professionally color graded before I sent it out to festivals and distributors. But, I didn’t have the funds to do that, so rather than let the film “get old” until I could get more funding (which may not have happened), I pushed it out to the universe, and good things have happened.
It’s good to be detail oriented and to strive for perfection, but not if you use it to give yourself reasons to stop yourself from moving forward. Many times, when I tell my husband my latest “big idea”, his first instincts are to tell me dozens of reasons I shouldn’t act on it until……………everything is perfect. His intentions are good – he wants to protect me from failure, but if I let it, his words might also end up protecting me from success.
We both recognize our differences now as our individual strengths and that when we listen, learn and balance those opinions and differences so that they can work together instead of opposed to each other, great things can happen. But that takes practice and also not having to be right all the time. There is no one “right” and that’s the beauty of collaboration and working in harmony.
Yesterday as I was packing my gear for an upcoming three week trip to New Zealand, I had a major flashback to when I was getting ready for a 99-day trip around the world. My daughter, Erin and I had embarked on that journey about a year and a half ago. But this time, I was going solo.
I looked at all the gear laid out on the dining room table, just as I did last year, wondering how I would fit it into one small backpack. I will strip it down of course, taking only the gear that I can manage by myself. For the most part, I will be traveling solo this time. It got me thinking about the round-the-world trip that I took last year with Erin.
I’ve spent the better part of my life traveling the world and taking pictures. Most of those years, I was a solo act, on assignment for various magazines and corporations. Last year, when Erin heard that I would be circling the globe, she wanted to come along. Initially, I hadn’t imagined the trip or the project as a collaborative effort – let alone with my daughter. She had recently graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago and had been lucky enough to get a job. But Erin wanted to be part of this project and journey and so it became a combined effort – a mother-daughter team.
That ended up being the best part about the trip– sharing that experience with my daughter. We’ll have that bond for a lifetime. And now, I couldn’t have imagined doing that journey any other way.
Since then, there have been countless hours/days/weeks/months that have gone into the post-production part of the film, leaving the “journey” a collection of water colored memories floating in my head. I’ve remained closely connected to the project because I’ve been very hands-on with the edit. So for me, those memories remain part of my daily psyche. In that regard, the making of the film has been a bit bittersweet as I am reminded daily – that part of the journey is over.
We’ll always have those beautiful memories burned inside our heads. More importantly, we have a film that can be shared with others around the world, in the hopes that it will provoke thought and maybe even move people to action – to make a difference.
Please share this film. That’s the only way it will happen.
It wasn’t at all like I imagined it would be – it was so much better.
I met singer/songwriter Jackson Browne last night,
after seeing his concert in Montclair, NJ. The show on its own was amazing. Jackson did an acoustic set, his 17 guitars lined up behind him, a keyboard and a solo chair, all perfectly positioned on stage. He doesn’t use a play list for his acoustic shows – he simply picks out a guitar and plays the song that he associates with that particular instrument. It can get a bit rowdy with the audience shouting out titles for him to play, but Jackson is more free-form and picks up on the vibe of the audience. His performance last night was incredible – he sounded great and his audio mix was outstanding.
So, why am I writing about Jackson Browne and what does he have to do with Opening Our Eyes? Many of you know the answer to that question but for those who don’t, I’ll explain briefly. I’ve been a big fan of Jackson’s music for over 30 years. I also admire him for his social activism and his efforts (as well as his wife Dianna Cohen) in making a difference in the world. Jackson does countless benefit concerts for various causes and Dianna is founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, a movement to get people away from “one use” plastic products – water bottles, shopping bags etc. So, both Jackson and Dianna personified what this film is about.
When I was struggling to find a title for the film, I was listening to Jackson’s music one day while on the treadmill. One of his songs, Alive in the World really resonated with me – it was almost like it had been written for the film, but at that point in time, I was far from even envisioning this project as a film – I was still in the planning stages of the trip. There’s a stanza in the song that goes:
“To open my eyes
And wake up alive in the world
To open my eyes
And finally arrive in the world”
….and I thought – “yeah, that’s it – Opening Our Eyes.”
I started manifesting in my mind that if Jackson became aware of our project, he would give his permission to use his song in our film. Long story short, this project has had many “angels” behind it and one very dear angel, Angel Burns – made this happen. Angel got Jackson and Dianna to watch the trailer of the film and he granted us permission to use it in the film. We can’t release it (yet) on DVD with his music, but we do have permission for community screenings and film festivals with the option to “re-negotiate in good faith” if the film gets picked up for distribution. If that’s not motivation to find distribution – what is?
In communicating with Jackson’s assistant, I mentioned that my husband and I had tickets to his upcoming show in New Jersey in October. I relayed to her that I would love to personally thank Jackson and hand him a copy of the finished film. She wrote back saying that she would set up AS (After Show) passes for us to pick up at Will Call.
That was a couple of months ago and I’ve been thinking about what I would say to Jackson, ever since. I wanted to make sure I thanked him of course and I wanted to tell him how meaningful it was for me to have his beautiful song as part of our film. I also wanted to tell him that Dianna had totally changed my thinking as to how I packaged the DVD’s. Rather than use a conventional “plastic” DVD case, I decided to package the DVD in simple cardboard slip jackets. And lastly, I wanted to give him a copy of a DVD I had made over ten years ago, The Delta Blues Musicians. It was basic and pretty crude because it was the first video piece that I had ever created, but I somehow knew that Jackson would appreciate. It was the stories of seven Mississippi bluesmen – all gone now but one.
So, back to last night. I was on such a high after Jackson’s performance. I was feeling so full – full of life – full of love – full of everything good. We had been told at Will Call when we picked up our passes, to gather at the front of the theater and that someone would escort us backstage to meet Jackson. I saw a crowd of people gathered there, and I figured that we would be shuffled through a “meet and greet” type of thing. Then one staff guy spotted my pass and looked at me and said “Gail?” When I responded with a “yes” (after a bit of a delay – I was totally surprised that Jackson would be expecting “me”) he told me “I’m John – c’mon.” So, John, Tom and I and one other couple headed up the back stairs to Jackson’s dressing room. John left us outside a door marked “Jackson Browne” and told us to wait a bit and that Jackson would come out in a minute.
After a few minutes, Jackson walked out the door. I hesitated, waiting until the other couple said their hellos and left, and then I introduced myself. He said, (in the nicest possible way) “so, I can’t wait to see the rest of the movie” and right on cue I handed him a copy of the DVD in the awesome packaging that digital artist Allan Davey had created. Allan is another angel who has become part of our project and that in itself has made an extraordinary difference in how this film is being received. Jackson remarked on how beautiful the packaging design and artwork was – I thanked him and handed him another copy to give to Dianna. I told him that Dianna had totally changed my thinking in terms of the packaging and had influenced my decision NOT to use plastic DVD cases. Jackson looked at me and pointed to his arm and said “goose bumps”.
There was one last thing I wanted to do and that was to give Jackson that old copy of my “blues” DVD. I told him that I should be embarrassed to give him something that was so basic and a bit crude – and that it was the first video that I ever created. I’ve come a long way since then – and so has technology. But I told him that I thought he would appreciate it because of the interviews that I had captured of all those old blues cats. I told Jackson that my interest in making that video, wasn’t so much about the music as it was about that time and that place in America that gave birth to that music. Once again, he rubbed his arm and said “goose bumps”. I know that Jackson will enjoy that video for what it is and for the stories that I captured. I told him that I had hours of interview footage of those old blues artists – and he thanked me and remarked about the importance of documenting those stories and recordings. I don’t know why I thought to give Jackson that DVD, but at that moment in time, it seemed liked all the dots became connected – like everything I’ve been doing over the last ten years was somehow related.
I apologize for such a long post, in a way I write this for myself – so that I will remember every detail. In all the anticipation that led up to last night – I thought it would feel like the end of a chapter. But instead, all day yesterday, I had this feeling that it was really just the beginning.
Thank you Jackson and thanks to every one of our angels and supporters. We can all do this together. We can make this world what we want it to be.
I woke up in kind of a funk. I watched the news and I instantly felt worse. Everybody was pointing their finger at one another and they all needed to be right.
What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, I had just come home after being out of the country for almost four months. I had never felt better in my life, both in body and in spirit. I had been following my heart and I had been on” purpose ” I had spent the entire past summer with people who were making our world a better place. They were inspirational and they all had one thing in common. They were exactly where they wanted to be – in both body and soul.
Every now and I need to remind myself of the state of mind I was in after returning from that journey. I start thinking about all the ways that I can make a difference – even if it’s just a small act. Its those small acts that
make big differences in people’s lives.
Robbin Moulds, a subject in our film said: “At 211 degrees water is hot. At 212 it boils. That’s a one degree difference. I say to people – what’s a one degree difference you can make?”
- 1. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. You’ll make them feel good – I guarantee. Don’t put it off – you may not get the chance again.
- 2. Take someone else’s call. Call waiting can be cruel sometimes and it makes it easy for people to avoid and ignore. Would it be so horrible to have to listen to someone for a few minutes? Ignoring someone is the worst thing you can possibly do.
- 3. Say something nice to someone that you don’t really care for. Surely you can find something nice to say.
- 4. Don’t always try to be right. It’s a lonely path to be on.
- 5. Help a child with their homework or teach them one of your passions.
- 6. Read to someone – a child, an older person, someone who needs help with English.
- 7. Pick up a piece of litter that someone else has discarded.
- 8. Write a note or a letter to someone. I treasure every hand written note that I get in the mail these days. They are rare meaningful gems.
- 9. Don’t judge someone by how they look. Get past the clothes and adornments – the hair – the size and have a chat with someone you normally wouldn’t talk to if you judged them by their “cover.”
- 10. Make amends with someone you’ve had a falling out with. I try to patch things up if friendships get off track. I treasure the relationships I have with people and I don’t take them for granted.
Live in the now and as Steve Jobs said: Stay hungry. Stay foolish.
I was preparing a print today to send off to the YPA for their upcoming auction and fundraiser. It was a portrait of blues drummer Sam Carr and it had recently been on exhibit in the Senate building Rotunda. The photograph was part of a personal project that I had embarked on over ten years ago: The Delta Bluesmen. The project consisted of environmental still portraits of the musicians as well as interviews of them that I had captured on video. This resulted in a short documentary and multimedia exhibition.
I thought that it would be nice to include the DVD of the documentary as part of what I was offering for auction. While making sure that the DVD played OK, I got sucked into watching the full 20-minute piece. It had been a long time since I had watched this film and it struck me that all but one of the seven musicians in the film had died.
At the time, I came up with the idea for that project, I really didn’t know why I wanted to shoot a project on these blues musicians – I just knew that I had to. It’s not like I was a super avid blues fan. I did love the music but I wasn’t one of those fans who could recite the “who’s who” in the blues world. I was interested more in the cultural background of these men and their music. What gave birth to that music in that part of our country at that time in history?
I listened to the interviews of these men telling their stories about growing up as poor black men in the South during the 20’s and 30’s in America. Sam Carr talked about a time when a lot of the poor folks, up and left to get the good jobs in the North. I couldn’t help but feel the irony as I listened to Sam’s story and reflect back on our trip to Detroit this past winter. We were there to shoot our last and our only North American story for Opening Our Eyes. Those jobs that those poor folks headed North for – are gone. So are the neighborhoods they once called home – now just derelict ruins and vacant lots. I wondered what the future would hold for the city of Detroit and for the growing numbers of unemployed in our country.
One thing did hit me though as I watched this film that I created so many years ago, and that that I had archived these stories for generations to come. That made me feel good and proud and that in my own small way I had helped to preserve that legacy. That’s more meaningful to me than just about anything else I can think of doing in my life. I believe that this is my purpose – to tell the stories of our time. That’s why I had to make The Delta Bluesmen – even though I had never done anything like that before. It’s the same reason that I had to do Opening Our Eyes. It took me a lifetime to realize my purpose and I am very grateful that I am able to fulfill it.