Alice Mendes remembers walking in the Victory Day parade in Newport, RI after World War I ended. This may sound unlikely given that World War I started over a century ago but the day before I photographed her, Alice celebrated her 105th birthday surrounded by friends and family members, including a good number of great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.
Alice immigrated to the United States as an infant from Cape Verde in 1910. While she spent her early childhood in Newport, she and her family moved to New Bedford when she was 10 and she has been there ever since. “Things were really different back then. No gas stoves, no street lights or traffic lights. I remember my mother getting up early in the morning to start the coal stove so that the house would be warm when we woke up,” she explains. Alice also remembers going down New Bedford harbor to see the boats of immigrants arriving. “We’d stand on the sidewalk and wave to them as they were coming in,” she says, her eyes bright and animated.
Alice spent much of her life working as a nanny and housekeeper and married the love of her life, Jimmy Mendes, a professional boxer and fisherman who ended up dying at sea in a storm. Together they had daughter, Barbara, and also raised four other children Jimmy had had with his late wife. Today, Alice lives in her home in New Bedford with her daughter, Barbara Teixeira, 82, and her granddaughter, Cindy Teixeira, 58. In warm weather, she sits outside on the porch and waves to the many people she knows who pass by. “People always wave to me and often they stop to talk,” she says smiling.
“Aunt Alice’s house was always the center of our family gatherings,” says her grand-niece, Melissa Alves. “I have wonderful memories of New Year’s Eve parties where there’d be Cape Verdean music playing and everyone would be dancing…including Aunt Alice of course. She is the clear matriarch of the family–the person we all come to for advice. She just commands respect and has always been stylish and cool,” she adds. Melissa’s own daughter, Sophie Friend, 12, became pen pals with Aunt Alice a few years ago. Sophie and Aunt Alice have shared a strong bond for as long as Sophie can remember and during our visit, that bond was apparent in their sweet embraces and the way they sat together talking and holding hands. “How long has this love affair been going on for?” Alice asks, laughing and looking at her great-grandniece adoringly. Both Sophie and Aunt Alice have saved their stack of lovingly-written letters.
It’s easy to see why people are so drawn to Alice. She’s quick to smile, speaks in a clear, strong voice and her hands reach out to hold a hand or touch a shoulder or fold someone into a hug. Despite her 105 years, Alice is astoundingly healthy. She exercises in her home by walking or doing arm movements, eats a healthy diet and takes only blood pressure medication and vitamins. “She still eats like a horse and has all her own teeth!” laughs her daughter, Barbara. What’s perhaps most striking about Alice is that at 105 years-old, she still seems so engaged in the world. “One of the reasons we all love being around Aunt Alice is that she is always interesting and interested,” says Melissa Alves. Watching Aunt Alice connecting with Sophie, her eyes sparkling and hands animated, I thought of the Jules Renard quote, “It’s not how old you are, it’s how you are old,”. As we prepare to leave, Alice stands up and, with the help of her walker, accompanies us to the door. Each of us gets our own special Aunt Alice hug and she stands in the doorway, small but determined, waving goodbye until we’re out of sight.
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Waking up at the foot of the Virunga Mountains–a massive chain of volcanic mountains that borders Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo–the first thing I saw was a perfect cloud cap covering the peak of Mount Karisimbi (14,763ft), the tallest of the volcanic mountains in this area. Up in the jungle of these beautiful mountains resides the greatest concentration of mountain gorillas left in the world. Perhaps most will know this region from the 1988 movie “Gorillas in the Mist” which centered on naturalist, Dian Fossey’s work with these primates. I’d come to see these same gorillas and with the rich, green mountain range looming up before me, I had a great sense of anticipation.
With the advent of gorilla tourism, eight gorilla families out of 17 in the Virunga Mountains are habituated to humans. Tourists interested in seeing the gorillas may hike into the mountains in small groups and can, for one hour, quietly observe a gorilla family in its natural habitat. While some might be critical of daily exposure of gorillas to humans, gorilla tourism has been instrumental in decreasing gorilla poaching as many of the poachers are now employed as trackers and porters and are therefore invested in preserving their gorilla population. Also, the fees from trekking permits offset the cost of gorilla conservation and boost the economy of the towns at the base of the Virunga Mountains.
My particular group of trekkers was assigned to the Ngambara gorilla family which has 17 family members including three infants. Soon after our group began the ascent up Mount Bisoke, it was clear that this would be a tough hike. Starting off at over 8000ft above sea level, our lungs already struggled with lower oxygen levels and the steep climb quickly left us out of breath. Our guide, Felicien, warned us not to touch the giant stinging nettle leaves which loomed up on either side of us. Felicien stopped at regular intervals to check in with the trackers and see where our gorilla family was located as well as inform us of some fact about the flora and fauna. At one point, he stopped to show us a massive earthworm the size of small snake. This area also boasts a variety of other wildlife such as golden monkeys, spotted hyenas, forest elephants, buffalo, giant forest hogs, bushpigs, bushbucks, black-fronted duikers and large variety of birds.
After several hours of hiking, our group veered off the main path into the thick jungle. Above us, Tarzanic vines hung in ropy masses and tall trees rose up like quiet giants. The stinging nettles grew so densely here that they were now almost impossible to avoid. Despite wearing long-sleeved clothing, long pants and gloves, the nettles stung through our clothing. By now we’d connected with our trackers and one of them used a machete to cut through the dense vegetation. After some time of hiking through this denser jungle, Felicien stopped us at a large tree and told us to put down our backpacks. “We don’t want the gorillas to smell any food you have with you,” he explained. He then lead us further into the thicket. Suddenly, Felicien began making a series of low rumbling belching grunts indicating contentment. Earlier, he had demonstrated a variety of sounds gorillas use to communicate and had suggested we use the “contentment” sound when in close proximity to the gorillas.
Moments later, I got my first glimpse of a mountain gorilla. He was a large silverback sitting quietly and cradling his head. He sat so close to us, I could see the movement of his eyes and smell his earthy gorilla scent. I was mesmerized. Felicien told us that there were three silverbacks in this family group and that this one was second in rank. Nearby, a smaller female sat in a clump of grass. Apparently, while the lower-ranked silverbacks are not supposed to mate with the females, they will sometimes sneak away from the family group and secretly do so. If the top silverback catches them, he will punish them.
Soon after, Felicien lead us to the dominant silverback who lazed on his back with a mass of female and baby gorillas around him. One particularly small baby with sticking-up punky hair–a three-month old, Felicien told us–was particularly fascinating to watch and human-seeming as he climbed all over his mother and demanded her attention while she tried to nap. Slightly older gorilla babies playfully rolled around pulling at each other’s hair and somersaulting over the bodies of the adult gorillas. This playful behavior teaches young gorillas how to interact within the group and adult gorillas encourage their play. Gorillas are highly social animals and their family groups are held together by strong bonds between members. Silverbacks, who are responsible for the family’s safety, are more likely to defend family members than territory and will even go so far as to sacrifice themselves to protect their family.
I completely lost all sense of time watching the Ngambara gorilla family. I was struck by the humanness of their interactions–the gentle grooming, the playful tumblings and affectionate intertwining of gorilla bodies. While I’ve seen a lot of wildlife in my time–primarily as a child growing up in South Africa and later on trips to Asia and Africa–there was something particularly powerful and elemental about this experience. I think part of it was that we were essentially in the gorilla family’s intimate space. There was no glass window or car door between us and these primates. In such close proximity, it was easy for me grasp how much we have in common. Specifically, we share 98.6% of our genetic code with gorillas and like us, they prioritize family, have human-like hands, have an almost 9 month gestation period, communicate using sound, are susceptible to the same diseases and have a very similar sense of smell, taste and sight. In the final moments before we had to leave, I watched as the mother of the three-month old infant engulfed her son in an embrace. She looked up at my camera momentarily (see top image) and I was so struck by her expression. I thought of my own childhood and the comfort of being held in my mother’s arms and knew exactly how that baby gorilla felt.
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I just spent two weeks teaching a portrait and self-portrait photography workshop to students at the “Through the Eyes of Hope” project in Kigali, Rwanda. “Through the Eyes of Hope” was started by photojournalist, Linda Smith, in 2006 and is a wonderful program that empowers kids through photography, allows them to express themselves creatively and also enables them to earn a bit of money through the studio they run where they primarily provide passport photos for locals. The students’ work has been shown in exhibits in both Rwanda and the US.
When I first arrived in Kigali, I had no idea what to expect. During my first few days of teaching, I presented some techniques for creating portraits and self-portraits to the students and showed them lots of images that illustrated the techniques. It immediately struck me how engaged they were with the images I was showing them. We talked a lot about composition, lighting, altering one’s visual perspective, using props, choosing interesting backgrounds, using reflections, finding good door or window light etc. I soon had them standing on tables, shooting from the ground, seeking out colorful walls in the neighborhood and generally experimenting with the techniques we’d talked about. It was quite a sight–the group of us carrying cameras and a big reflector around the neighborhood, often attracting interested crowds. There were many lovely moments, lots of laughter and general joy in these photographic adventures.
Over the course of the workshop, we worked on a collaborative portrait assignment, a portrait assignment and a self portrait assignment. They approached all three with great enthusiasm and I was touched by many of the images they created over the course of the workshop, some of which you will see below. The collaborative portrait assignment images, which were all shot in the studio, encouraged them to think about who they are and how they wanted to portray themselves visually. These images will be featured in a separate blog post. Some of their own self-portraits, which followed this assignment, are below.
On Saturday, the last day of the workshop, I showed the students a final slide show of their edited images. I think they were excited about the work they’d produced. We had a little celebratory party and I recorded them singing together for an audio slideshow I plan to put together about the workshop. Between their beautiful voices rising up in the studio, looking at their creative work and saying our goodbyes, I felt such a sense of joy and connectedness and knew, without a doubt, I’d be back.
For more information about Through the Eyes of Hope, go to:
Through the Eyes of Hope Project
Here are a selection of images made by the students during the workshop:
Watching the macaque monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali, I found myself mesmerized by their expressive faces and extraordinarily human interactions. I watched a mother macaque gently chastise her teenager when he pulled away from her grooming, two adults squabble over a banana, an infant peeking anxiously from underneath its mother’s belly and siblings huddling together in mutual protest of their mother’s grooming.
After hours and hours of watching and photographing the macaques, I was left with the impression that, like us, macaques have a complex social structure and their interactions are fraught with meaning. After doing a bit of research, I discovered some interesting facts. For instance, the amount of time a female spends grooming a male signifies his social hierarchy, a female will solicit a male by presenting her swollen behind to him, looking back at him and smacking her lips together and young females will, under the supervision of a mother, carry infant macaques as a way of practicing for motherhood. This all sounds quite familiar.
It did not surprise me to discover that monkeys play a complex role in Balinese society. Like humans, they can embody both good and evil and this is reflected in the cultural narratives one sees in Balinese dance and theater. While on one hand, monkeys are revered and protected by the Balinese because they are believed to guard temples from evil spirits (hence their protected status in such religious sites as the Sacred Monkey Forest which houses several important Hindu temples), they are also seen as a menace because they raid rice paddies and are famous for their thievery (often stealing bags, cell phones and other objects from tourists or items from shops). Perhaps too the Balinese see themselves reflected in the monkey and recognize their own fallibility.
On my way out of the monkey forest, I noticed how many tourists, like me, could not draw themselves away from the macaques. Perhaps they too were mesmerized by the mirror held up before them–a perfect image of the gentle, loving, complex and sometimes frail bonds that connect us.
Imagine three tiny islands with no cars, motorcycles or dogs, surrounded by beautiful clear blue waters and white sand beaches. The occasional clip-clopping of horse hooves blends harmoniously with the rhythmic sounds of the ocean and the occasionally mewling of a cat. What you’d have imagined are the Gili Islands, an archipelago of three tiny islands off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia. “Gili” which means “tiny island” in Sasak, is an accurate adjective for these islands which together are less than 10 square miles. I spent some time on Gili Air and fell in love with its otherworldly beauty, its quiet streets and small fishing community.
Gili Air is the second smallest of the islands and has a population of around 1800 local residents. While it is a popular destination for tourists who mostly stay in small bungalows on the beachy perimeter of the island, when one walks the interior or wakes up early and heads to the harbor, one still gets a sense of the real community and the rhythms of its anachronistic lifestyle. Below are some of the vignettes I encountered during my magical time on Gili Air.
Every fall Cape Cod’s cranberry bogs are transformed from dull fields into a colorful landscape of floating red berries when growers flood the bogs. This October, I spent some time photographing Ray Thacher and his crew as they harvested their berries. Thacher’s family has been growing cranberries on Cape Cod for over 60 years. As children, he and his two sisters worked with their parents on the bogs just as his own children did when they were growing up. “Growing cranberries means you have to be a farmer, a mechanic, a builder, a painter…you do something different every day,” he says. While fall is harvesting season and the most visibly busy time for Thacher and his crew, cranberry farming is demanding year-round. From maintaining bogs and equipment, to setting up sprinklers, monitoring for insects, fertilizing and pruning, dry picking, water picking and accounting, Thacher’s work is never quite done.
In recent years, cranberry growers have been threatened by a surplus of berries. “This can be a huge problem for growers because the price of cranberries plummets and unless you’re part of Ocean Spray–a grower-owned cooperative–you can’t make a profit,” says Thacher. His family is lucky to have joined Ocean Spray decades ago so they are less vulnerable to dips in prices. “It’s sometimes tough working outside in the winter but mostly, it’s great to be growing food (and juice) that is enjoyed world-wide,” says Thacher. During my time photographing Ray and his crew, I was struck by the beauty of the setting and the camaraderie of the crew. Below are some images from my time with them.
Ray Thacher and Richie Gault use “dry pickers” to dry pick berries in late October. The berries
are put into burlap sacks and then dumped into containers. Dry berries are sold bagged at the
grocery store for use in fresh recipes.
WARNING: SOME OF THE IMAGES BELOW ARE GRAPHIC AND POTENTIALLY FRIGHTENING (ALTHOUGH ALL IN THE SPIRIT OF HALLOWEEN). USE DISCRETION WHEN VIEWING AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!
Ask anyone in South Yarmouth, MA and in all likelihood they will know exactly where Chris Baker’s house is. During the days leading up to Halloween, he has so many people drive by (43 Captain Daniel Rd, South Yarmouth) to look at his house that his kids have a special name for them–“peepers”. While many people decorate their yards for Halloween, Cape Cod DJ and mobile device technician, Chris Baker, has taken Halloween decorating to a whole new level. Not only is his yard full of skeletal creatures, humans drowning in tar pits, gravestones, bloody decapitated heads, evil pumpkin creatures and frightening scarecrows, but a red-eyed reaper beckons one to enter a spinning vortex of green fog. Once through the ominous entrance, a pneumatically-animated skeleton jumps violently towards one, activated by a secret trip switch under the floor boards; a decapitated head hangs above a man in Hazmat suit; a bat bares its teeth over an electric box whose wires it has clearly eaten through; a spider victim hangs upside down, immobilized by a thick cobweb and an acid-eaten corpse offers up its horrifying visage. Chris himself can be seen creeping around–half creature, half plant–and just as one thinks one can escape, a wooden panel falls away to reveal a frightening doll-like woman who hands out candy.
Chis fell in love with Halloween as a child and when he outgrew the “trick or treating” phase, he graduated to making his own Halloween getups. Over the years, he has learned new crafting techniques online and through others who share his creative passion. When he moved to the Cape ten years ago with his three children, he set up the beginnings of what has become “The Village Mire” and every year, his props have become more complex and sophisticated. On a good Halloween night, he’ll get over 350 people coming through. “Kids tell me they love that my house gets scarier and scarier every year,” he says. For the past couple of years, Chris hired me to photograph his Halloween setup for a multi media piece he puts together. Even though I knew what to anticipate, I still found myself jumping and shrieking as I photographed what I know is the creepiest house on Cape Cod. Below are some of my images. Enjoy and Happy Halloween!
When I photographed local entrepreneur and Adventure Chatham owner, Justin Labdon, in the spring for the Boston Globe, he told me about the night supping adventures he was beginning to offer. As a stand up paddle boarding enthusiast myself, this immediately captured my imagination and knew that I wanted to photograph it. What I love so much about stand up paddle boarding is its ability to transport one, surrounded by nature, to a quiet, meditative state. So what could be more magical than having that experience on a moonlit evening? I also knew it could be visually beautiful although I wasn’t sure how well it would photograph because of the low light conditions.
Justin attaches specially made LED lights to the base of the board which illuminates the water below allowing the paddler to see all manner of fish otherwise invisible in the darkness. That night, the moon was full, there was no wind and it was still quite warm out on this late September night. The paddlers headed out of Sesuit Harbor in Dennis, MA at around sunset and standing on the jetty photographing down, what I saw was even more beautiful and surreal than I was expecting. I thought I’d share a few photographs from this extraordinary night.
I just spent a week in India on assignment for a world hunger foundation that supports sustainable agriculture. As those who have been to India know, in the urban areas, the crush of cars, cows, motorcycles, rickshaws, goats, dogs, people, pigs, bicycles, trucks and the like is overwhelming. Barely a space of pavement or road lies unoccupied by something or someone and the visual complexity–not to mention the decibel level–of all that activity boggles the mind.
By contrast, India’s rural farmlands are quite beautiful and peaceful, busy though they may be with the hum of agricultural activity. Because the farms are mostly small, few mechanized tools are used so one has the sense of stepping back in time. Also, women make up 70 percent of the agricultural labor force so everywhere one goes, one sees women working in their bright-colored saris under the scorching sun. Below are some of the images from my journey through this other more pastoral version of India.
Most people visit Cape Cod in the summer when the world is green and bursting with life, the beaches are colorfully peopled and the roads are jammed with traffic. In the winter, Cape Cod is a very different place. While the short, cold days can be challenging, there are moments of exquisite beauty when the landscape becomes a completely new canvas. When it snows, of course, the transformation is complete. I love snow for its ability to turn our everyday world into a magical space full of curves and softness. The dirt and grit disappears and a monochromatic dreamscape replaces it.
As photographers, part of our job is to show people the world in a way they haven’t seen it before–whether it’s an unusual angle, juxtaposition of subjects or a moment frozen in a way we don’t usually experience it. For me, winter does exactly that–shows me the world newly imagined. Below are a few of my images showing Cape Cod in a way perhaps some have not seen it.
I love silhouette photography for its ability to capture a sense of drama and mystery. The early mornings and evenings along the Pacific coast in Costa Rica, have this exquisite mystery about them and I couldn’t help but create a series of silhouettes trying to capture something of that feeling. During the daytime, the beach is so hot that almost no one goes near the water where there is little shade and the sand burns one’s feet. Sunrise and sunset, however, bring out locals and tourists alike and there is a sense of communal relief. Fishermen launch their boats, dogs chase one another, children play, surfers come in and out of the water, shore birds run back and forth along the surf line looking for the little edible creatures the waves leaves behind, people walk the beach or just look out at the ocean as if trying to understand its inscrutability. All in all, it’s just a vibrant time of day to be out photographing.
A mother and her child play on the beach early in the morning at Playa Guiones, Costa Rica.