How storybook-like is this?! I’m currently in Port-au-Prince in the Caribbean nation of Haiti, having just arrived from London via New York. This was the view from my hotel room at dusk this evening. The sky was so beautiful that the view merited a photo, even without the colourful houses. When I saw how the suburb of Jalousie had been painted, I just had to capture the scene and send you a postcard.
The colourful hillside suburb of Jalousie looks down over the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.
Unfortunately, I later learned that the slum painting initiative, part of a project to relocate people from the 2010 earthquake displacement camps, has been somewhat controversial. You can read about this here. I also heard that the slum was painted this way to give visiting tourists and businessmen the impression that Haitians live a colourful lifestyle, and not in unserviced, deprived slums. Indeed, this is the view not only from the hotel I was staying at but also from other luxury hotels, such as the Royal Oasis, infamous for being built with post-earthquake loans from leading development organisations. Sigh!
Anyway, let me just add that I’m in Haiti for two assignments, one for the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) and another for SmileTrain. For the IAF, I will be shooting here in Port-au-Prince and also in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, covering the work of three of the organisation’s grantees. Then I’ll be staying on in Cap-Haïtien, where I’ll be joined by a team of surgeons, anaesthesiologists and nurses when SmileTrain come to town. Stay tuned for the stories!
So after a month in Southern Africa, where the temperatures were rapidly rising with the onset of summer, here I am in Russia. I must admit that I was expecting it to be considerably colder than it has been while I’ve been in St Petersburg and Volgograd. I thought there’d be at least a foot of snow on the ground wherever I went, but no, they’ve not yet seen any snow at all this winter. Sadly, this is yet more evidence of climate change, which I see everywhere I go. Just three weeks ago, I was hearing how rain and drought at unexpected and untypical times is wreaking havoc with Malawian subsistence farmers’ efforts to keep themselves fed throughout the year. I’ve told similar stories before from both Thailand and Kenya. On the face of it, it would seem that Russians have considerably less to complain about; let’s hope they don’t get an even deeper, more severe winter when the sub-zero conditions finally come.
The Motherland Calls in Volgograd, Russia.
Anyway, on a more cheerful note, here’s a postcard for you. It’s of ‘The Motherland Calls’, built in 1967 to commemorate the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II, one of the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare (did I just say ‘cheerful’?!). At the time, it was the world’s largest statue, though it has since been trumped by 11 others. I captured the image after completing the first day of my current assignment for SmileTrain (who I was recently shooting for in Malawi) here in Volgograd. “There’s only one sight to see here”, I was told by my host. So off we trotted, shortly before sunset. And what a sight it is! From this angle, it appears to dwarf even the clouds.
I have the impression that most people in the West can think of two reasons for a photographer to go to Africa: one being to photograph the many less than positive things this continent gets into the news for (civil wars, starving children and so on) and the other being to capture images of its bountiful wildlife, much of which exists nowhere else on Earth. In my case, neither of these two motives brought me to Malawi. Many of the children I have so far photographed for EveryChild may indeed be hungry at times owing to the protracted ‘lean season’ the country goes through most years. Nevertheless, my focus was of course the tremendous difference this organisation and its partners are making in enabling disadvantaged children to live secure and dignified lives. So why, you may wonder, does today’s postcard feature two zebras?
Zebras at Game Haven Lodge near Blantyre, Malawi.
A hard-working photographer needs a break from time to time, doesn’t he?! My typical day in the field starts early, perhaps before 6 am, and after the long, bumpy and often dusty drive back to wherever I’m staying after sunset, there tends to be several hours of desk work to do (backing up images, initial selecting and rejecting from the hundreds of shots I captured that day, charging drained batteries, etc.). To recharge my own batteries, I like to head somewhere peaceful wherever I get the opportunity. Last weekend, that ‘somewhere’ was Salima, on the shores of gorgeous Lake Malawi. And today, it was Game Haven Lodge near the country’s second city and commercial hub, Blantyre.
Sometimes, I love how interconnected the world is these days (though sometimes I curse it). It was after a recent meeting in New York that the lady I’d been talking with told me I must contact her friend in Malawi if I had any time on my hands. I did just that, and received a really warm welcome to her home in Blantyre as I was travelling south en route to my next assignment (which starts on Monday with Concern Worldwide). Today, I enjoyed a very civilised lunch at the lodge - including Greek salad beautifully laid out on a slab of glass – followed by a short game drive. It was just what the doctor ordered after a couple of weeks’ intense (but thoroughly rewarding) fieldwork.
Today, I visited the Smithsonian National Zoo in the United States’ capital, Washington, DC. If you know anything about me and my photography, it will not surprise you that my postcard to you features not an animal – not even the famous giant panda Mei Xiang or her new cub – but a little person. Meet Maxwell Gedan, aged 1.
Maxwell explores the Smithsonian National Zoo’s Amazonia Exhibit
I met Maxwell at the zoo’s Amazonia Exhibit, where he was pressed up against the glass of its massive aquarium, fascinated by what he saw before him. “We spent August in Panama”, his father Benjamin told me. “Maxwell shared his backyard with 11 roosters and hens, agoutis, armadillos and hummingbirds. Nearby, atop Ancon Hill, he visited a nature reserve overlooking the Panama Canal that’s home to sloths and toucans”. The little boy was clearly in his element among nature. “When we returned home to Washington, DC”, Benjamin continued, “we wanted to make sure Maxwell still got plenty of time with wildlife. So that’s why we came to the see the Amazonia Exhibit today”.
Here’s something you wouldn’t ordinarily expect from me. It’s a cityscape I captured tonight in the Gulf city of Dubai, featuring the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. It’s taken from the balcony of two Pakistani friends of mine – what an incredible view to have from one’s own balcony, eh?!
Burj Khalifa, Dubai – The world’s tallest building
I’m currently stopping off in Dubai, en route between an assignment for HelpAge International in Thailand (check out my album of images from that here) and the United States. These past few days, I’ve been working on the desk-based portion of my work for HelpAge and also starting what I’m calling my ‘Summer of Conversations’. This is essentially a big networking and business development drive, and I’ll be continuing it during the next couple of months in the USA.
So for several weeks at least, it’s big cities for me! Hence, the unusual image. I hope you like it.