Monday, July 27, 2009

The transition and the website.

Over the last several years, a whole transition has been underway in my work, about how I see and present myself as a pro. With a heavy newspaper background, I have struggled to truly redefine myself in the larger world as it became clear that newspaper work was destined for my rearview.

Surrounding me are people who specialize in many things, things that I thought I would have to start doing in order to get a piece of the pie. Things that just do not inspire me as a visual artist or a journalist.

I pressed forward dabbling in this and that, only sometimes feeling like what I worked with resonated with my inner creative.

Along the way, I learned to teach photography and improved my skills with architecture and artificial lighting. I was finding ways to continue growing.

And then, one day it became clear.

It took a couple clients with the right kind of job to help me see it.

I realized, I do not have to completely relearn what I do and throw out the thing I love most, telling stories about people with photographs. It is what I have spent my career learning to do well and what I had continued to do for several clients.

Everyone has a story to tell, individuals, organizations and businesses, and they need their stories told visually by someone who has honed that discipline with passion, artistry and effectiveness.

I never needed to change what I do, only needed to recognize another vast market.

This realization came with some others. J-school taught nothing about business or marketing (we were all going to work at NP’s and magazines, who needed these other skills??). Many of us artists have had to put in our own efforts to correct this shortcoming.

When it comes to marketing, presentation is as important as the work. If you do not reach potential clients with the initial presentation of who you are, they will not see the great work you bring to the table.

It may not be fair, but if potential clients do not move past the landing page of your website, “fair,” will only be the place where you go to eat cotton candy and corndogs then get on that ride that spins until you feel sick.

I suspected this may be a problem in my business, an older, clunky website that is hard to use, and does not do enough to truly showcase my best work.

As if to confirm this suspicion, a few months back, a friend and client referred another potential client to my old .net site. After taking a look, the potential client told this friend, “ I am so glad that you recommended I look, otherwise I would not have made the effort to see that his work is great. The site is so hard to use.”

And so, as I approach my 20th anniversary as a professional, (Aug 29th to be exact) and begin to truly emerge from a crucible of change in my career, I am today presenting the new face of my business, D’Elia Photographic at www.deliaphotographic.com.

You will find a mix of my familiar and new international and local work, in portraiture and storytelling with great light and moving moments. You will see work that is effective and versatile for many types of commercial and editorial projects.

You will note that these are not purely people. During this transition and even before, my skills, inspirations and clients have never been limited to that of photographing just people and this collection represents more of what I bring to the table as a professional.

One thing that at the moment you will not see is the fourth portfolio. I encourage return visits to the site as I have reserved this space for recent projects such as new overseas work and for other images I love that I want to share.

I am more pleased than ever with that which represents my work and business on the web, and hope that it inspires you whether you are a friend, colleague or client to go out and make a nice image or better yet ask me to do it for you!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Uganda Reloaded

A few years ago, after much soul searching, I decided to join what I call Peace Corps Lite, A Visions in Action Program in Uganda designed to connect volunteers with programs in a variety of disciplines for a one year commitment. For my part, I connect with the national independent daily, the Monitor (or with the local accent needed when giving your destination to a taxi: Moe nee tah) as well as with various organizations for one-offs and projects to work on projects at a greater depth than is possible when I parachute in on short trips.

Back then I was blogging before I knew what it was. I had a list of about 100 people who wanted to keep up with the adventures of daily life in Uganda.

Since the economy has helped to make this a pretty challenging year in pursuing the international side of my work (don't forget I am valuable right here in metro-Phoenix), I thought it might be interesting to replay some of the more interesting blogs in the place that they really belong. I will periodically post more Uganda letters depending upon whatever else is going on in realtime.

As I worked on improving my descriptive writing, many of the blogs contain a fair amount of details, but if you are interested in this kind of thing, I encourage you to stick with it and read through for a little entertainment, sometimes or maybe often at my expense.

Kampala, 092603
The eight of us are relaxing with our second cups of tea after the five-hour return trip from rural Rwakwezi west of Mbarara, our rural home stay complete. It followed our first dinner in a week devoid of any banana-based staple.

Van Morrison hangs like a haze above our heads as we appreciate the brightness of the recently-repaired electric central light fixture in the living room. The very idea of illumination lacking the orange oiliness of a paraffin flame comforts us as the experience of village living sinks in. A sense of relief floats on the air as we realize we have completed the most difficult part of our orientation with everyone still standing.

I feel that my words will not fully describe the week, but I’ll give it a shot.

Traveling south through the constantly lush, hilly landscape south of the equator we bumped over successively narrowing dirt tracks, deep into banana country to reach our home for the week. As the path narrowed, banana leaves slapped the sides of the van as if tell us to go back, that the path really was the footpath it resembled rather than one suitable for motorized transport.

Crossing the equator we traveled south in the very mode our British doctor told us to avoid- the matatu. (they pass on blind hills and curves and drive too fast) Ours had seen many city miles and demonstrated the level of care it had seen in its life as we raced along the two lane roads with a lug nut missing on each of the four wheels and as the undercarriage tire rack dropped and dragged twice on the trip. Further concern arose as we slowed outside Masaka to notice an audible vibration in a front wheel, feeling like the wheel might consume its ball bearings causing a failure that, in my worst estimation could have caused the matatu to veer left, dive to the pavement and flip us over and over at high speed.

We arrived on Africa time, about four hours later than we were expected.

The purpose of this stay was to work with the villagers on starting a cash-generating mushroom-growing project with the village. The process was simple but tedious involving soaking the remnants of cotton crop (seed husks and bits of cotton left on the plants) overnight in water. The next day was spent squeezing handfuls of the stuff to drain as much water as was humanly possible. Then handing it to someone else to squeeze again. Then the village ladies packed it tightly in plastic bags and into a banana-leaf lined drum to steam over a charcoal fire. The sterilized bedding would then be mixed with mushroom seeds and placed them in a dark mud-walled room to grow.

Part of our program fees paid for some of the materials as well as some tools to help the village build a culvert over a swamp to connect the main road more directly to the village. The other purpose was to understand how much of the population of Uganda lives and to better appreciate and adjust to our Kampala home with all of its shortcomings.

Our first lesson preceded even the first stage of mushroom preparation when we discovered that our hosts were not Baganda, whose language we are studying, but Banyakole, who speak Ruyankole, a related, but different language. (the greeting is “agandi” to which you respond either nimarungi or adiaho).

My next lesson in rural living followed a fulfilling dinner of matooke, (better made in the country than the city) groundnut stew and doodo (sort of like spinach and pronounced doh-doh) by lantern light.

After dinner I made the 20-minute walk to my host’s house where I was fed dinner a second time. It was washed down with fresh, boiled milk mixed with tea and fresh honey.

Following dinner, I found more culture shock after my affirmative answer, concerning the desire to bathe. I found myself standing in my host family’s front yard, with a plastic water basin and two jerry cans- one filled each with hot and cold water. Hidden from the road by a rising slope, rows of banana trees and absolute darkness, I mixed the water and bathed as family members discreetly avoided stepping outside the front door until I was finished. A basin bath under the stars.

Only the next morning did I discover that they actually have a “shower,” a surround made of narrow poles draped with banana leaves for coverage. The actual shower mechanism is operated by mixing the water provided, for temperature, and pouring the basin over yourself. You stand on a slab of slate which is placed atop other small stoned to allow drainage from the surround. Apparently since darkness provides a shield, the family sees no point in using the surround at night.

My accommodation I discovered was actually rather plush. A foam mattress and bed frame under a mosquito net in a ten by ten foot mud floor and mud-wall room while family members slept in three other bedrooms. Some of my colleagues lived in much smaller homes. One slept in the same room with the family

I found my family to be very much involved in getting a full education as they all were beginning a three-week long testing period which determines promotion to the next level of schooling. I also found that while they seemed to be better off than many of their neighbors, they were not part of the emerging middle class. They had only a few sets of clothing and their hanging-around-the-house and neighborhood clothes all had holes. (It’s okay, the organization pays them for our stay so that they can afford the extra demand on their food and time) I also discovered that my family is very close. They joke a lot among themselves and although they are divided among several rooms at night, with the walls not reaching to the corrugated metal roof, they can and do converse from room to room as they fall asleep. It sounds like a slumber party.
On the farm I found the results of a diversification of crops to help keep the soil healthy. Bananas, of course, are the primary crop.
Most if not all plantations grow four types of bananas. My family grows all four types, the long yellows, a sweet variety similar to those seen in the US; the small yellows, a very short, slightly more intensely flavored version of the first; and the matooke, a green one tasting a lot like a white potato and used as a dietary staple in the paste of the same name.

The fourth, I have been told is used in making a banana beer which can be distilled and turned into a clear, hard liquor known as Crude Waragi which is 90 proof. (a more filtered version of about 50 proof is also sold) The explanations I got were not entirely clear. Some told me that the matooke banana was used for this. Some of the beer I tasted, known as tonto was very sweet, but some was sour, so it’s possible that more than one type of banana is used in these spirits.

Growing in the shadow of the banana plants, this family has planted, beans, sugar cane, grapes, coffee, apples, green oranges (a really sour variety), papaya. They also bees and longhorn cattle. (15 of them) Of course always wanting to learn something, I accepted the offer from their second youngest, Christophe, 15, to teach me how to milk them one morning.

One of our group, Calvin can take responsibility for spreading the classic children’s game, Duck, Duck, Goose to Central Africa. The high school teacher was a natural with the children of the village, organizing game after game, as well as camp-like songs, entertaining the throng for hours during down-time. We later spotted the kids playing the game on their own when Calvin was elsewhere, so we know it caught on.

Snippets:
All of us using various forms of outhouses with dried-mud walls and a simple hole in the floor to “ease” ourselves (their term) at our various homes.

Poor Chris with the family father who was at different times trying to get him to take his youngest daughter to America (I suppose for a better life?), trying to set him up with another daughter of 16 for marriage, and always simply following close at hand.

Emily’s family who spoke no English and spoke little to her during her stay and whose daughter was cleaning a panga (like a machete) when Emily arrived which made her quite nervous. They made up for it by sending her home with papaya, avocado, a sugar cane and wanted to give her a live chicken.

Monique’s family who lived in a tiny two-room mud-block house and where all of them slept in one bedroom and would listen to the radio late at night to ward off insomnia (?!). Not to mention whose neighbors came over the first night to stare with no great effort made to have a real conversation.

Calvin’s family who hosted our daytime meals with culinary skill (the same stuff but it was somehow more tasty) were warm and welcoming and simply a lot of fun. (breakfast at 11 a.m., lunch at 3 or 4 p.m.) They cooked not only the best matooke around but added other simple things like stewed beans and stewed peas at lunch time as well as millet porridge, which resembled a very soupy cream of wheat with bread, tea with a lot of milk and sweetened with local sugar.

To my family whose mother went to town for most of my stay to participate in a seminar for women in agriculture leaving her teenage children to cook for me. They were all very nice kids who warmed up to me after that first night of some conversation in lightly broken English and a lot of sitting there, staring at each other. (the photos of family helped melt that ice).

In the end it was an experience that lasted about the right amount of time. I feel I could have gone a few more days as the last group had but was not disappointed to return to our home in Kampala. The nights were cool and peaceful with a brilliant night sky and sounds that resembled the rainforest in variety if not in decibels. The simplicity of the life and the forgoing of even the simple luxuries of Kampala made us all feel much more ready to take on the city life than we were before the week began.

PHOTOS:
Jumping rope with some of the village kids. The first rope was made from dried banana tree skins tied together before someone found a real rope.
A walk in the hills surrounding the village.
Monique is an oddity to kids in Mbarara as we made a stop before reaching the village.
The shower surround, no kidding.
Taking bananas to market.
Praise slices tomatoes and her sister Shifra watches the food cooking dinner on the family’s range: a mud platform with two rectangular shaped voids for fire topped by rebar on which pots and pans could be placed. The space is a separate structure in back of the house. A tin can parafin lamp provides light.
Christophe milking a long horned cow.