Thursday, December 30, 2010

Holiday Adoption

 In journalism school they teach, among many things, that an event, by definition, is not annual until it happens a second time. There is no such thing as "first annual". Based on individual experiences, I think my Arizona family’s adopting of a refugee family will become annual.
The Welcome to America Project (, is an organization you may be familiar with through my blogs as one of my pro-bono clients.
I like what they do. It dovetails nicely with some the overseas work that I am involved in from time-to-time and so I chose to contribute the best way I can, through professional my services.

They deliver furniture and household items to three refugee families most Saturdays through the year. During the holidays, they enlist a small army of volunteers to share spirit of giving with as many families as possible in one day. This year WTAP was able to provide for 60 refugee families in Phoenix and create some moving and life-influencing experiences for the givers as well as the receivers.

I decided not only to do the usual shooting that I do, but to pitch the idea to my own family of siblings, children and parents. They immediately jumped in with both feet, looking forward to the opportunity to help out, adopting a family of nine from Somalia.

After much organizing among the families within my family, we caravaned to the apartment of our Somali family to lend a hand and help them feel more welcome in their new home.

On this day I also remained a witness, documenting the event for WTAP as a sister-in-law handed out gifts to the children and Dad showed to off the daughters how to use the electric griddle.

"Do you like pancakes," he asked the ten-year-old daughter who sounded fluent in English. "Yah!" our translator answered excitedly. 

One of the boys immediately took the the new soccer ball while another was elated with an eight-inch tall Buzz Lightyear figure. 

Several side conversations developed as one sister chatted with the eldest daughter about how she was settling in and about her traditional clothing, and a nephew demonstrated the working parts of Buzz and Dad explained, to a wide-eyed daughter, how many pieced made up her new puzzle.

After perhaps half of the gifts of fun and of necessity were distributed, as if by telepathic agreement, we realized that their dad, who had work that day, was missing out on the moment. I think as a group we became concerned that the family might feel obligated to open all that we had delivered. One of my sisters spoke up, "do you want to wait for your dad to get home to finish?" 

Their mom said she thought that was a good idea. 
The mom and children expressed their thanks and as we drifted, one by one out the door, we thanked them for allowing us into their home and allowing us the priviledge of lending a hand.

In the days that followed the feedback from family was about the same, the warmth of the Somali family, the friendliness of the children and the beauty the interaction of the two cultures and the confirmation that perhaps this rich experience needed to become an annual event for our family.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Flash takes one for the team.

Okay, so it was a last minute creation in the last few days before the big holiday that send me from store to store looking for the best size of Christmas lights that would fit with their accompanying wires into the partially-gutted shell of a Nikon SB24 flash.

It was a faithful servant up until perhaps 2001 and probably has lied dormant since then, outpaced by three or four newer generations of Nikon hardware. And yet, I hesitated before cutting the wires to remove the flash-head guts, forever turning a formerly faithful servant into a prop.

And, in case you're wondering, fire can be persnickety when you're trying for an even flame with raw firewood. The extra key, besides the usual fireplace tools, the well weathered, never-been-used, new yellow pages, tossed into the fire a couple pages at a time into the appropriate locations to turn lopsided burning into the warm and comfortable evenness that I hope has warmed you during a week that has been pretty cold all over the country.

Happy New Year to my treasured friends, followers clients and fellow travelers.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So thats what 240 bikes looks like!

I know you were wondering.
Mike McIlroy sets the brakes.
Mike McIlroy knows not only what it looks like, but what it feels like to give them all away to excited kids who have never had a new bike before.
240 Bikes.
Mike and his wife Amy founded the Pedal Power Foundation a number of years ago to get bikes into the hands of disadvantaged kids in situations during the holidays.
This year they are at it again with some help from their friends and supporters.
This is  second year I have been lending my skill to help tell their story with good photography. Last Saturday a crew spent the morning assembling 60 bikes in preparation for the giveaways that will be taking place in December. The McIlroys gave away about 230 bikes last year and hope to reach 300 this year.

All in the Family

Father and son

Mom and son
Amy McIlroy
Mike McIlroy, center with a little help from his friends.

A Pleasure to shoot

Kids are tough. Sometimes.
All that energy mixed with a short attention span can make a shoot shorter than you hope for sometimes. The window closes fast, forcing you to let go of some other ideas that occur as you shoot.  When they’re done they’re done.
Not so,  a couple weeks ago as I worked with a client and their two adorable little girls. We found a beautiful green spot that stretched time for usable outdoor light while the girls sat still for some shots and by their actions inspired others. It took 90 minutes for them to show signs of cracking. Well done, girls.
Okay, on to the next photo...

Waiting for Rick to decide what to do next.

This family shoot was an absolute pleasure.
Thanks to Randy and Terri for a great day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Serving refugees

From time to time I spend some of my pro-bono contribution time keeping the photo collection up to date for the Welcome to America Project in Phoenix. For those of you who know me, you know how this type of work, whether in a camp for the internally displaced in Uganda or an apartment in west Phoenix, is near and dear to me.
A couple weeks ago I went out again with a group of teenagers and adults on a rare WTAP Sunday delivery to bring furniture to a couple of recently-arrived families from Somalia. They had been refugees for something like ten years before finally being resettled in Phoenix so that they could get on with their lives.
One of the young teens who had been on deliveries before wanted to share the experience with friends, and so she organized the group of workers.
I was pleased with my images from this shoot and want to share some with you, 

Picturing Maricopa, the Piper Grant

Field Goals
It just kind of worked out this way. Working with non-profits, using my visual experience and skill to tell their stories has become one of the foundations of my business as a professional photographer.
It's one of the things that makes my job so rewarding and enjoyable.
Adopted Elation
So, when the Virginia Piper Trust Picturing Maricopa Grant came up last spring, it was a no-brainer for me to apply. By the time July, the slowest month of the year from my work, rolled around, I was making photographs at the Child Crisis Center in Mesa, my part of the Picturing Maricopa project. 
It was a challenging project that stretched my vision and made me work hard for every great image, whether sheltered kids could not be identifiable in the photo to adopted siblings who have settled very well into their new home. (we will not speak of enduring the heat with a broken A/C system in my truck!)
Playtime Princess
Recently the resulting exhibit opened at Burton Barr Library in Phoenix showing the results of hard work and vision of 15 talented local pros including four of my friends.

Sheltered Contentment
The exhibit was curated by Rebecca Senf
, Assistant Curator 
Center for Creative Photography at University of Arizona 
and Phoenix Museum of Art; Elizabeth (Betsy) Schneider
, Assistant Professor of Photography
 ASU Herberger Institute School of Art and Graphic Designer, Eddie Shea.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Water for Humanity

Unloading water jugs for the half-mile trek into the desert.
Last weekend I met up with a former colleague who when not writing about the activities of the faith-based communities, spend some of his time living it, working as a volunteer, assisting Humane Borders in maintaining water stations in the Arizona desert. 

It is an effort to reduce the number of deaths of illegal immigrants crossing one of the harshest landscapes in the country.
Using a specially outfitted truck with water tanks, five-gallon jugs, wheelbarrows and other gear, we set out with two other volunteers to service the stations. One of of the stations requires volunteers to wheelbarrow the five-gallon jugs to a station that is half a mile from the road in Organ Pipe National Monument.
One of the stations has to be reached by wheelbarrows.
Stations are marked by a blue flag.
 Fortunately, only two trips over rocky and sandy desert were needed to top off the barrels. The second station is near a dirt road north of the National Monument and is a little easier to service. In addition to filling the plastic barrel, the crew will check the chlorine levels to ensure drinkability, make any repairs if needed, and collect trash in the areas surrounding the stations.
In case you're wondering, HB has worked with the Border Patrol and a number of other agencies to identify where people have perished in the desert in order to install stations in areas that are most likely to save lives. 

More Humane Borders images on Corbis
Griffiths adds to a barrel before purifying the water.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New dates for the workshop

Um, okay, no post since May?! C'mon Rick get with it man!

Okay I'll fix that soon. Meanwhile Laura Martin and I have been crazy busy getting the word out on the photo workshop in Uganda. In one week, we spoke with three orgs to clarify some details and met with some photoj students from ASU AND NAU to fill them in.

The really big news though was posted a month ago on the home site for the NGO/Wildlife Documentary workshop:

If you are considering joining us in the incredible opportunity, but have a scheduling conflict, we just may have solved that problem for you. Take another look at your calendar for January 7-24 and July, 2011 and give us a call to sign up. 

Also, it takes time to get all the bookings done, and the sooner we get them done, the better. Sign up soon!

Friday, May 21, 2010

A photo workshop in Africa

One truly interesting aspect of my work has been for years the opportunity to work with and photograph the projects of international relief and development organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children and AmeriCares.

In the process of making some great images, it has been an eye-opener and truly a feel-good thing that I am, if for only short periods of time, a part of the team that is making a difference all over the world.

In the intervening years, as some of you know, I have learned to teach my craft in college and in workshops. I've discovered an enjoyment for sharing this as well with others.

Now, with the help of fellow Phoenix photographer, Laura Martin we have decided to combine the two passions and put on a photo workshop in Uganda.

In the workshop, we will team up photographers with organizations of various sizes, to spend a week photographing the work of those organizations. Through editing, coaching and critique sessions, the photographers will work at improving the quality of their images daily. The organizations will receive a collection of that photographer's images to use in their communications.

Just to sweeten the experience some more we decided to include a proper wildlife safari to the second half of the trip. We think this is going to be a really amazing trip. The full details can be found at the workshop blog at

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Natural Light and the Small Wonders Map

I LOVE natural light.

It can be so soft and inviting that you want to linger in the image.  It wraps around the subject and almost makes them glow while producing equally soft shadows that can create an intimate-feeling moment.

Natural light pouring sideways through a window  is even better.

That great window light is a classic in creating mood while opening up faces so that you can see the eyes an expression of the people in your images. It is also, by the way, is a great way to take that harsh, unflattering midday light from outside and convert it into beautiful, usable illumination inside. 

The other day I used it to my advantage while shooting a press conference.

The event was to launch a business map of locally-owned businesses in the area. The map was produced by Local First Arizona, (yes, I am a member), an organization that promotes supporting locally owned businesses, while educating government and the public about the positive effects on the local economy of shifting your buying habits to support your neighbors. The goal of course is to create a healthier local economy. The map is one tool to promote that goal.

In the many, many press conferences I have photographed over the years, natural light is rarely a part of the toolbox. In fact, even with natural light, I might normally use a flash to fill things in. 

So, imagine my delight as I arrived to photograph a little Local First Arizona presser and found a wall of beautiful, soft, natural light flowing through the expansive front windows of the venue, the Calvin Charles Gallery in Scottsdale.
The gallery walls, painted bright white, only made things more amazing, further softening the soft light as they drew that light deeper into the gallery.

It was too great to pass up.

And so, leaving the flash off, I made my images of the pre-event mixing, the announcement and comments about the very real effects of buying local.

And, it turns out, the effects of photographing naturally had a nice effect on the images of a usually common-looking event.