Striving to use photography to connect the humanity of people around the world and bring about a more just society.

Palestine || People of Pride

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Palestine. I got stuck. I meant to stay only one month and then I extended it to two. Palestinians are a people of great pride for their region. And with their resilience, they have great reason to be. The Palestinians inspired me so much to take my story-telling to another level. Here is a preview of some of the photos that I’ve taken, but many more stories are to come. These photos simply show the beauty– I recommend everyone to visit Palestine to truly get to know its heart.

Rwanda || Gardens for Health International

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Gardens for Health International (GHI) works in Rwanda to provide lasting agricultural solutions to chronic malnutrition.

I can’t think of a better way that I could have spent my first week in Rwanda than with Gardens for Health International. Their farm outside Kigali is like a big family that is always smiling. Every day they have a community lunch for all of the staff at the farm and some of the staff’s children. I love food, but I prefer to eat it rather than cook it so this was a perfect arrangement for me. It turns out that I love Rwandan food. Of course, it helps that most of what they serve is fresh-picked right there on-site! Here are some of my favorite shots that I hope will give you a good idea of the daily life at the farm.

After a few days at the farm, we then traveled North to the region of Msanze. There we attended a graduation program for the 40 women who had been taking part in the trainings at this specific health center. The woman began by weighing and measuring their children to check for progress in their growth. There were smiles all around as mothers saw that their children had gained weight and sometimes even gotten taller! Following the check-ups was the ceremony that included dancing, and certificates of achievement.

Lastly, we traveled back into the village to meet with a family who had been apart of the graduation the day before. There I was able to connect with them, and the mother in particular, as we put together a photo story about her journey through the program. While I posted a preview from this story here, you’re going to have to check back to see the rest of the photos when the story is finished later.

Cape Town || The Mother City of Many

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Cape Town is beautiful. I’m not sure if it’s possible to take a bad photograph there.

100 People Project || Hanna on Lion’s Head

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One of these days I’ll get around to profiling an actual local that I’ve met on my trip, but so far they’ve been really shy! Today I’m featuring the beautiful and joyful Hanna from Norway. I had my best living situation yet when I was in Cape Town. I lived with in a house with 4-8 other volunteers (people moved in and out a lot). We were all new to Cape Town so it was nice to have other people to explore with. None of them were American either, which was nice because who wants to hang out with their own people while they’re traveling?

Hanna just graduated from university in Oslo, Norway where she studied drama and theatre. She is now taking a few months to volunteer in Cape Town with an organization that provides tutoring in several of the townships outside the city. I loved hanging out with Hanna because she is so good at making friends wherever she goes. She’s also genuinely interested in getting to know people’s backgrounds. I got to witness this as she sincerely discussed Zimbabwean politics on the train with our friend Comfort.

I’ve always considered myself adventurous, but I quickly learned that South Africans take physical activity to another level than most Americans I know. Nearly everyone I met was into hiking, running, lifting or some other kind of workout. I thought that the 2-hour climb of Lion’s Head would be a walk in the park, but it was more like a walk up a vertical slope! I found that carrying a camera can be a good excuse to stop and catch your breath. I just had to say, “Wow! Look at this view, I need to capture it!”. Still, I got pretty far behind the group at times.

As we were reaching the top, I was shocked that some people began climbing down as soon as they got there! We were right on time for sunset so it only made sense for us to stay and watch. We had to hike down by the light of our cell phones, but it was completely worth it. Some people also bring picnics and bottles of champagne to the top with them. I brought a small sandwich with me, but I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to carry an entire glass bottle up that mountain!

Lion’s Head is known for it’s 360 view because the peak is so small. Above you can see the city center and the bulk of Cape Town. Below is Table Mountain and below that is Camp’s Bay.

Belongings || A Photo Series on Refugees

As I tied up my last semester at university this fall, I worked on a project that was a bit different from what you usually see on my blog. I took inspiration from a few different photography series’ that I had seen and produced my own from what I am passionate about. Scroll past the photos to read my full description on the project and my inspiration.

This series is now on display at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois if you would like to stop by and check it out in person.

Refugee Family from Burma

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Refugee Family from Nepal

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Refugee Family from Somalia

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Belongings
by Katy Carlson

It’s hard for me to pinpoint the first time that I learned of the refugee crisis around the world. The summer of 2010 I began volunteering with a ‘Girls’ Club’ at an apartment community that is about 50% refugees. I had previously thought that only a few refugees from Sudan were resettled in the area by a group of do-gooder missionaries. That summer I began to learn that refugees come to from nearly every continent of the world and the US resettles around 80,000 every year. In Dupage County alone around 300 refugees are resettled every year. As I began to build more relationships with refugees I learned more about the organization that resettles them in the area, World Relief Dupage. The summer of 2012 I interviewed and was accepted to participate in their internship program as a medical caseworker intern.

As an intern I learned about the process of resettlement as well as all of the medical ins and outs of refugee care. My day-to-day tasks generally included driving large groups of refugees to their initial health screenings, arranging for and providing transportation to follow-up appointments and helping them with registration, following up on positive TB tests and showing refugees how to fill prescriptions at the pharmacy. I also had the opportunity to pick up arriving refugees at the airport and provide initial home orientations. I was able to visit some of the ESL classes and provide nutrition information to refugees who are not accustomed to American food. Through all of these experiences I had the incredible opportunity to interact with and talk to refugees from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Burundi, Bhutan and Burma, to name a few. Many of them had very little English ability but I was still able to communicate with them through gestures and kindness. I tried to understand how daunting the experience of moving to a completely different culture was for these individuals. I made it my goal everyday to be a positive part of each refugee’s day in the hopes that I could brighten their view of America and their outlook for the future.

One of my most memorable experiences occurred on one of the first days at the internship. I picked up and drove a family from Iran to the community clinic to have their daughter’s TB skin test read. When we pulled up to their apartment their family of four walked down to the car. A mother, father, five-year-old Gita* and a baby girl. Gita held her dad’s hand while her mom carried the baby. In that moment I was struck by the importance of their family bond in the face of all the changes going on in their lives. I drove them to several other appointments in the following months and the amount of care they showed to each other in the midst of a brand new culture and health system astounded me. Later, as I was doing airport pickups, I realized how very little the refugees actually bring over to the US with them. Both times I asked the refugees if they had any bags we would need to get from the baggage claim. They looked at me confused and showed me that they were carrying all that they had. For those that were lucky enough to come with family members, or be reunited with them after arriving, this concept of family was nearly all that they had.

After my my internship ended I became interested in how I could stay connected with refugees while I was at school in Michigan. I did some research and discovered that over 400 refugees are resettled in the West Michigan area every year. Several organizations work directly with refugees in the Grand Rapids area. Additionally, two organizations in the area provide services and support to refugees after they have already been resettled.

As a photographer I have had the desire to take family portraits for refugee families ever since I met Gita’s family. For this project I connected with one of the refugee resettlement organizations, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, to provide family portraits to several families. To further convey my belief that family is one of the most valuable possessions that a refugee brings to their country of resettlement, I photographed the entirety of the possessions that these refugees bring with them. These possessions are laid out on the ground and photographed from above. The resulting exhibition is comprised of a series of photographs arranged in pairs. Each pair contains a photo of the family and a photo of their belongings. Each image is printed to 16” x 22.5” and framed with a 1” black frame.

Several photography series have inspired me in creating the concept for this project. In 2012 photographer Brian Sokol worked with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to create a series titled “The Most Important Thing” where he traveled to refugee camps in Syria and Sudan and photographed refugees with their most important object. Refugees held objects such as a diploma, an ax and a mobile phone. One person chose to pose with their wife however. Another inspiring photo series is that of Peter Menzel’s “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats” where he photographed average families in 30 places around the world with their groceries for a week. I liked how this series told more about the family than just what their faces looked like. Lastly, Jiang Jian’s series “Archives on Orphans” struck me when I ran across it last spring. In this series Jian exhibits full-body photographs of Chinese orphan children juxtaposed next to a color photograph of their files. By showcasing them in this way each file is given a face to it and vice versa. The viewer recognizes that they are looking at both an individual and one of many.

*name changed

100 People Project || Emilie

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I am finding that South Africa is a whirlwind. Oftentimes you will be waiting for someone to arrive for nearly thirty minutes. Then, once they have arrived, it will be rush rush to complete what you had planned to do. For me, my days tend to reflect this on an even larger scale. One day I will be waiting for plans to get in order and they never will. Instead of leaving the house I will spend the whole day doing work online (still being productive!). If I’m lucky I will still go out that night for dinner or a drink or two. Just wait until the next day comes around though… I will do more things than I thought possible and end up taking 10 pages in my journal just to record all of the memories.

Last Friday was a day like this. In the morning I traveled to Khayelitsha to work with a Children’s Home that is building a website. We had laid down the basic foundations for the site and Friday was spent taking photos for the site. We did portraits of each of the kids there (19) and then some group shots, candid shots and photos of the staff and facilities. After the photos were done, I was able to rush back to my home just in time to visit this vineyard for some wine tasting. It was so beautiful to get out of the city and into the vast open air. The mountains were still visible, as they are nearly everywhere around Cape Town. There were rows of grapes and two horses in a great green pasture.

After a few sips of wine I decided to hijack Emilie to act as my model. Emilie has been one of my wonderful housemates for the past two weeks. She has already been in Cape Town for two months volunteering with an organization that does after-school tutoring in the townships. Emilie is from France and says everything in the most darling French accent. My favorites are “smoothie” and “hummus”. If you ever make friends with a French person, please ask them to pronounce these words. Luckily for us, Emilie is passionate about smoothies so we get to hear that word often. Emilie isn’t just passionate about smoothies though, she’s passionate about many of the simple things of life. It has been a pleasure being reminded by her about being thankful for the sun and the wind, the open spaces of the vineyard, good wine, friendly people and quality art.

I’m so pleased about the way these photos turned out and I hope that I can continue to find time to photograph the beautiful people that I have been meeting along my way.

Virtual Postcard II – Cape Town

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

Nelson Mandela

Street Art in Montevideo, Uruguay

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I had a few unique experiences in South America that really stand out as ones that I want to remember forever. Stumbling upon this street art event is probably somewhere in the top 3 (I can’t really decide where because commitment is scary). My last weekend in South America I traveled to Uruguay with a girl from Spain and a girl from Germany that I had both met through my hostel. Our trip to Uruguay was only three days long but it felt like five because of how much we did. As our last hours were closing in (it was 6pm and our bus left at 1:15am) we dragged ourselves out the door one more time. Our intentions were to go to a Couchsurfing dinner gathering. We had our tourist map and a route drawn but you can just say that we got a little bit distracted before we made it to our destination. As we rounded a bend in the road an empty lot opened up ahead of us. The lot wasn’t empty though, it was filled with somewhere between 25 and 50 young people doing street art or watching as street art was being done. Graffiti, or street art, is extremely common in Uruguay, as well as in Argentina, but I never actually saw it being created. Without saying a word, I took a few pictures from afar and then walked up closer to snap a few portraits. The German girl immediately made friends by using the little Spanish that she knew to try to locate a recently legalized herb. While her search for the herb was not very fruitful, she gained us some new friends.

After I took a few pictures I opened up and said “Hola” a few times. While some people hate being recognized as a foreigner, I don’t always mind it. When a person realizes that I’m not a native Spanish-speaker it saves me the confused looks and mumbled “No-hablo-mucho-Castellano” that I have to give after they ramble off a paragraph’s worth of questions in Castellano (what they call Spanish language). Still, after three weeks in the region, I am proud when I am able to recognize and respond to “Where are you from” and “How do you like Uruguay?”. In fact, it was here that I was even able to give my facebook to a guy that asked me where he could see my photos. I then told him to feel free to “Look my pictures to all of the people here!” which I can only hope that he understood as “Feel free to share my photos with the others”.

Luckily, Uruguay’s education system is doing extremely well and many of the people that I met here had really great English! The guy in the picture above explained to me that this gathering was not a normal thing, but a special event they were holding in response to some political goings-on. Unlike North Americans who only know graffiti as a sign of gang presence, most other parts of the world know graffiti as an art form. Still, there are a few people that object to it. One of the candidate’s for this fall’s Presidential election has been vocal about his desire to whitewash all of the graffiti in the downtown area of Montevideo and enact stricter fines. In obvious protest to this, these kids organized this gathering to make a point of their graffiti being an art. Most of the pieces here have some sort of political message about freedom of expression when you spend a moment looking at them. Looking back on this day, one of my regrets is that I didn’t ask if I could join in by coloring in a few lines myself.

“Freedom of Expression”

After the sunset, we continued to hang out with our new friends until late in the night. We bought junk food at the corner store, passed around a liter of beer on the city bus and sat on a hill watching little kids roller skate at the skate park. There are so many things that I want to bring back to the US with me from South America. The street art is definitely one of them, but so is the willingness to make friends with strangers on the street and then show them a bit of your life and passions.

Don’t Cry for Me Argentina

Somehow I’m not quite satisfied with this post. I’ve been spending all month thinking about the best way to blog my photos. Should I do a new post for each shoot? I think its a bit too late for that. Every day was different for me so I don’t feel like this blog is cohesive at all. There are too many tourist shots and not enough intimate shots of daily life. Hopefully that will become more natural for me in the upcoming months. If theres a photo in particular that catches your eye here, don’t hesitate to ask about it. Almost all of them have stories behind them.

Virtual Postcard I – Buenos Aires

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.

― Laozi

I’m now on day 8 of my travels and I realized that I haven’t posted anything here that shows that I’ve left the States. Buenos Aires has been both beautiful and very kind to me. I’m saving up most of my photos for bigger, more magical posts, but you can have a peek at this one as a sort of virtual postcard. If you’re not already, follow my twitter, instagram and facebook page for more frequent posts. Also, don’t forget to let me know if you want a real postcard too! I’ll be sending out my first ones pretty soon.