Monday, March 05, 2007

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on assignment

i have started taking on some photo and design projects. it's nice to get some income (new lens, trip to scandinavia) and i imagine that international experience will look ok on the CV and help round out the portfolio when/if i apply for photo jobs. really though, it's just a big learning experience all around. there are technical issues - black skin and equatorial sunshine is a difficult combination for correct exposure. there are political issues - a sudanese mentioned that "if you want us to relate to the photo promoting mosquito nets, you better show it hanging from under a truck, because that's where we sleep." there are cultural issues - in uganda alone are there a large number of tribes with different dress and language, and promotional and aid materials need to have relevance to each. and on and on.

my first big project was a family planning calendar for paige's organization. they had a number of sayings to promote family planning, so my job was to photograph scenes depicting those sayings and put a calendar together with the photos. their main health educator did a great job of setting up the shots and getting the models together and all the other things that would have been way over my head. he took care of things like making sure that the skin colors on the husband/wife and child made them look like they were related and from the right tribe, making sure the settings fit the income level of the people we were trying to portray and the target audience, getting the costume right. he has worked for some 10+ years in the communities that this calendar will target, so he knew what would work and what wouldn't in terms of getting the message across to the audience. all i had to do was make photos. which is as it should be i guess. i had fun with the models - a lot of community-based health education here is done with drama troupes, so we had a great group of actors to play the scenes.

here is a .pdf of the calendar
. it's 4MB so you and your connection speed can decide if you want to just open it or right click and "save as".

over the past week i did two days of photoshoots for a health commnications NGO working on a campaign on malaria prevention education. especially after how smoothly the calendar project went, this definitely seemed like an exercise on how not to run a photo shoot. coming in to it, i thought i was just going to be shooting pregnant women, children and families of different ethnicities sleeping under a mosquito net. as it turned out, there were a number of different scenes to shoot, many involving young kids, and many outdoors. getting a kid to not stare at the mzungu taking his picture with $3000 of shiny camera equipment is yeah a challenge. i had to shoot outdoors in sun directly overhead, in clinics where they tried to shoo the actual sick people out of the waiting room so we could use it, all while trying to accurately depict africans of 11 different nationalities and who knows how many ethnicities.

to put that last point in a perspective americans might relate too: "you need a photo of a sioux indian in his home? here is an inuit model, that's the same right? they're all native americans."

the boy child was completely out of control and never made it in to any photos. one of the actors took to calling him bin laden. "he is a little terrorist!" bin laden's crowning achievement was wetting himself while playing in the dirt parking lot, making mud balls out of the urine-soaked dirt, and then throwing them at us. it was hilarious i think in part because it was so completely opposite the demeanor or behavior of every other african child i've seen or met. the happiest kids anywhere.

the shoot coordinator had come from a commercial advertising background and definitely didn't have the experience that paige's health educator had in depicting accurate scenes. i was taking the stance of "i'm the photographer, i just take the photos." that attitude was great for the calendar because the director knew his stuff, but this time i didn't trust that what i was shooting was correct. i spent the day thinking that i was going to have to re-shoot all the scenes with competent art direction or that the photos i took were actually going to get used and would have no positive effect at all. lose/lose.

i got through it unscathed and am happy, visually, with enough of the photos but i'm still not sure whether they will work for what the NGO has in mind. we'll see.

a couple photos from the days of shooting are over at philsgoodphoto.blogspot.com

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