Category Archives: mission reflection

Travel retrospective 8 – curiosity

An old woman shows interest

Curiosity

It’s curious, sometimes the unexpected just appears before you and proves to be really captivating. I was on my first filming trip with BMS World Mission covering a number of projects in and around Kathmandu, Nepal. On this occasion, we were filming a public health initiative which was focusing on maternal health. Upstairs in a small brick building, babies were being weighed and checked after which there was to be a nutritional cooking demonstration in the yard at the back. I was making my way up the stairs to get some photographs of the baby clinic when I happened to look down into the adjacent property where this elderly woman had appeared and was looking up at the noise coming from the clinic, as babies cried and mothers sang.

I have often wondered what she was thinking, but she has a look of curiosity on her face, Was she struggling with her eyesight and unable to see what she was hearing? Was she fondly remembering being a young mother herself? Was she concerned about something? There’s no way of knowing, but I was immediately struck by her appearance and expression, behind which lies her own personal story. A story we can only guess at but which is real, was lived and experienced.

This photograph was originally shot on Fuji Pro 800 colour film, transferred to digital jpeg format and processed to monochrome in Adobe Lightroom. The conversion to monochrome is a stylistic reference to this being a retrospective view.

Travel retrospective 7 – super flour

Making super flour in Afghanistan

Making flour

On a visit to Afghanistan in 2003 I visited a development project in Kabul making a vitamin enriched super flour which was then used to make various food products. The aim was to counteract malnourishment in children caused by poverty and lack of access to an even basically nutritious diet.

The project covered the whole process of flour production and in this photo we see two women working in the final stage of mixing the different flours which can be seen in the layers of the large batch of flour. They would scoop up across the layers, then sift the flour through the sieves for bagging. They are wearing masks to prevent inhaling the fine powder created in the process.

It was a simple but highly effective project. One woman volunteered to work there after her child’s health improved through eating bread made from this super flour.

This photograph was originally shot on Fuji Pro 800 colour film, transferred to digital jpeg format and processed to monochrome in Adobe Lightroom. The conversion to monochrome is a stylistic reference to this being a retrospective view.

Travel retrospective 6 – Thailand

Two curious little Karen girls

Curiosity

This photo speaks to me of the beauty of childhood curiosity and innocence. What makes it all the more powerful is the context, which is simply not obvious in the photograph. It was taken inside a refugee camp in Thailand on the border with Burma (Myanmar).

There are many such camps providing a safe refuge for the Karen people whose traditional lands bridge the present countries of Burma and Thailand who have been driven from their villages in Burma. The camps are host to simply thousands of these peaceful and dignified Karen people. On a visit to one camp I spotted these two little girls completely engrossed in looking into this water tank. I was struck by the innocence and sheer humanity of the scene. In the midst of a persecution these little girls simply could not understand, they were behaving just like children of their age anywhere. There is hope expressed here, that innocence and purity can exist within turmoil and pain.

As I reflect on this image and my time visiting the camps in Thailand I think of the thousands of refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean in recent times and how sad it is that they have become pawns in a political game of “not my problem” among the countries of Western Europe. In the midst of turmoil and pain, innocence and purity can flourish, but we in the West seem to be doing our best to stifle it – however unwittingly.

  • Camera, Nikon D70S
  • ISO-1600
  • Aperture, f5.6
  • Shutter, 1/800 sec
  • Focal length, 300mm

Originally shot in colour the photo was processed to Monochrome in Adobe Lightroom with slight adjustments to tone, sharpness and grain reduction.

Travel retrospective 5 – Kathmandu

Hindu temple

Ritual

In these days following the earthquake in Nepal I have been remembering my visit there in late 2001. With so many people killed in the devastation of a natural event I wonder what has happened to the people I photographed almost 14 years ago. This particular photo was taken at a Hindu temple in Durbar Square. I believe it was destroyed in the earthquake and, looking at this photo, I wonder if it was empty at the time or if there were people inside.

Having a personal connection with a place brings a greater sense of reality when a disaster strikes and suddenly it is easier to be aware of the real people affected by tragedy; those who have lost their lives, those who have lost loved ones and their homes, their places of work, their capacity to earn a living and the stress placed on their hope for the future.

Amid the tragedy, it’s been good to know that all my BMS World Mission colleagues living and working in Nepal are safe and well. I know that they are now busy doing what they can for those in need. I’m pleased that BMS is running an appeal for help and that once the relief effort, the cameras, microphones and reporters have left, my colleagues will still be there working with people to rebuild their lives and their hope.

This photograph was originally shot on Fuji Pro 800 colour film, transferred to digital jpeg format and processed to monochrome in Adobe Lightroom.

The light of hope

Old Afghan

Contemplation

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, December 2003.

I took this photograph on a filming trip and it remains one of my favourites from the set for the way it speaks to me.

Here is a man with eyes cast down, looking world-weary. And why wouldn’t he be? Life expectancy in Afghanistan is 49 years for both men and women. And he looks to be older than that. Most of his life is behind him and here he is living in a country best known for a history of conflict and war.  Afghanistan’s location is almost asking for trouble. Located pivotally between the Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent it was centred on the ancient “Silk Route”. This geographic significance has made it a much disputed and fought-over territory for centuries.  But what’s happened within this man’s lifetime?

In 1953 General Mohammed Daud became prime minister and sought economic and military assistance from the Soviet Union.  He was forced to resign as prime minister in 1963. Ten years later Mohammed Daud seized power in a coup and declared a republic.  In 1978 he was deposed and killed in a pro-Soviet coup. There then followed violent infighting with USA-backed mujahedeen groups beginning to feature. In December 1979 Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet army which then supported the communist government.  Mujahedeen groups continued to fight the Soviet forces backed by arms from the USA, Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

In 1988 Afghanistan the USSR, the USA and Pakistan signed peace accords allowing the Soviet Union to start the process of military withdrawal. Then, in 1996, the Taliban took control of Kabul introducing a hard-line regime featuring severe punishments for disorder and disobedience, which included stoning and amputations.

In 1998 the USA’s pursuit of Osama bin Laden led to missile strikes at his suspected bases in Afghanistan then, following the 9-11 attacks, a bombing campaign began in October 2001 followed by a USA-led invasion.

Finally, in August 2003, NATO ISAF forces took control of security in Kabul providing a foundation for relief and development efforts.

So, in December 2003, this photo epitomised for me the struggles, conflicts and heartbreaks that a nation had suffered for centuries, reflected in microcosm in one man’s life. At the time I took the photo I was struck by the light falling across this man’s face. I like to think of that being the light of hope for a future that might bring a lasting peace to this troubled land and its people. I find it significant that the light is falling across his eyes in the hope that he might see peace and reconciliation in his lifetime.

Historical source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12011352

blending in

a colourful character

costumed character

Parading the icons

Catholic parade in Ecuador

trombone player

a musical reflection

It was an unexpected assault on the senses. Shouting from a gathered crowd, music from random instruments and much jostling for a better position was a clear indication that something was afoot.

This was a filming trip with BMS World Mission in December 2006 and we had reached the final stage high in the Andes in the capital city of Quito. Whilst trying to find a local contact we came upon what seemed to be some kind of festival, so we went for a closer look. The first thing I spotted was the colourful characters with painted face masks that appeared to be handing our fruit and other items to the crowd. The painted faces were resonant of an Inca tradition but the costumes seemed much more in tune with a Spanish influence. Whilst this had the initial feel of a traditional festival the costumed characters were followed by icons carried in glass cases and it quickly became apparent that this was a local Catholic festival.

Between 1544 and 1563, Ecuador was part of  Spain’s colonies in the New World after the conquistadors landed in 1531. Since the Spanish colonization, Ecuador officially became a Roman Catholic country with the Catholic Church holding a significant place in government and society.  One of the observable aspects of the development of the Catholic church in Ecudaor has been the effect of syncretism. “Religious syncretism exhibits blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions. This can occur for many reasons, and the latter scenario happens quite commonly in areas where multiple religious traditions exist in proximity and function actively in the culture, or when a culture is conquered, and the conquerors bring their religious beliefs with them, but do not succeed in entirely eradicating the old beliefs or, especially, practices.” [1]

What we saw in the parade was a living example of this religious syncretism – the blending of unrelated traditions into something that clearly made sense to the people, but leaves so many questions about the accurate transfer of core beliefs and truth.

The photo of the trombonist with the reflection of some of the crowd in the horn of the instrument summed up for me the need to reflect carefully on how we deal with change without losing the basic principles. To what extent does blending add colour and value and at what cost to the essential elements?

For those interested, the photographs were taken on Fuji Pro 800 colour film using a Nikon 35mm camera. Sadly I took no notes of the lens I used, the shutter speed or aperture and as it wasn’t digital there’s no metadata to cover for my inadequate note-taking.


[1] wikipedia.org

it’s just not black and white

DSC_Congo1 (22)Taken in Kinshasa, D R Congo in 2007, this was a spur of the moment shot. One of those situations you suddenly notice and in an instant it says so much to you that can’t be expressed other than by instinctively taking the shot. It’s only later through reflection and learning that the story behind the image emerges.

I’m still not sure what first drew me to the photo potential. Perhaps it was the composition, perhaps the obvious contrast or the expression of the girl on the right. When I later had time to reflect on the photo it was the sense of rejection and exclusion that came through strongly. I think my last post on negativity and the way we build walls in our lives reminded me of this photo in my library. It’s another expression of the potential for cruelty in human nature. It was only after taking this photo that I learned that within some African cultures albinos are very much rejected in society. As ever, the issue of discrimination is much more complex than we would ever believe it to be; it’s just not black and white. And more than that; it’s just not right.

The original photo was shot at 1/640 sec at f9 on a focal length of 300 mm at ISO-500.