Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Ren Village kids have their own blog

Julianna, the woman working with the children on developing their stories about New Orleans, has helped them set up a blog. It's a great way to encourage their writing, reading, and growth. These entries don't have to deal with New Orleans but the things that make up their everyday world. Photographs aren't yet included, but we talked about that possibility.

At the end of our visit yesterday I walked into her area where she works with the kids and watched as a few of them read other's entries out loud. I was honored too once I plopped on the couch as Joseph sat next to me so that I could read his entry. As I read it aloud to him he smiled and looked quite happy to share.

Please visit I'm sure that the kids would love comments from you. :)

Missing today's volunteer work, 3/24

Today the crew is heading back into New Orleans to continue work. A few will be visiting Augusta to bring the house gutting and cleaning to near completion which is great news for her. I keep hearing her voice saying, "I just want to get this done..." so that she can really target taking care of her other house and getting out of that trailer.

I'm not able to go so I feel a bit off today. Taken we have to prepare for my niece and nephew arriving from Japan tomorrow, but my instincts would rather have me there. We'll be taking them into New Orleans during the week so I'm going to see if we could see Augusta then.

Power to you in your work today Warriors.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

For the kids

Two Fridays and two visits to Rev Village and the children continue to get super excited about using my camera. They want to hold it, use it, pose other children, and run all over the place with it. :) It's been quite the transformational tool for some of them, and they become a new little person when I put it around their neck.

Imagine, one camera and more than a handful of interested children. More than a few small head-on disagreements that have brewed with the camera being tugged this way and that. Imagine too the feeling once a little boy's insistance, Timothy, revealed that he didn't want to photograph at the moment but TEACH a younger boy the art of holding the camera and finding the shutter release. Timothy reveals plenty of confidence and also a willingness to learn, and his pressing desire to teach was more than a pleasant surprise and gift.

There have been other gifts like these that are centering for me and possibly for them too.

Javonte, who LOVES to have the camera in hand, felt so spirited that he spun around and around while shooting images and screamed, "Ooo-hooooo!" When it's time for him to pass it on to someone else he always spreads his sweetness on thick to get just a few more shots.

Another little boy, who has a tough time settling into just about anything, stopped with my camera and wanted to take pictures of some origami paper folds. When he placed the folded paper cup over the flash and snapped a few I realized that he didn't understand how the camera worked. I showed him that his image didn't appear in the viewer, and then proceeded to take apart the camera to show him the lens and mirror that flips up. He held up that lens and looked through it with the hugest smile. He was so engaged, the most I had ever seen him before.

Last week when Nisha ran out to meet her mom and dad picking her up at the center, she ran back in and asked, "Oh, could I please take a picture of my mom and dad?" I gave her the camera and suggested we step outside into better light. She kicked into little photographer and set them up in a spot that she liked. I showed her how to view and set up her image and she continued to direct the scene. She was so excited that she insisted I get into a picture too. What a love. I also took a family portrait that they all liked, and Nisha then said out loud, "I've asked my mom for a camera but...".

Other moments like this replay themselves in my mind and heart, and more and more I find myself saying to myself, "I have to figure out a way...". A way to get more cameras, more hands, and more time for the children to get involved in not only the art of photography but the experience of sharing their voice and perspectives about their world. Others individuals have made this phenomena happen with children and continue to do so today. The New Orleans Kid Camera Project is beyond inspirational. A lecture given by Jim Hubbard that I attended over 10 years ago planted the seed that stirs in me now. Instead of saying that "I want to do that one day" from the outside I now find myself in the process of beginning the doing from the inside. The children's pure curiosity and teachers like these help me continue feeling the 'why' and learning the 'how'.

I'd like to start sharing some of their images, but I'm wary on posting pics of the children without parental/guardian awareness and permission. I'm working on that for our weekly visit.

In this set, the cover image is of an Arts Council storyteller photographed my Timothy. You'll see Nisha's of her parents waist down. I do not edit them either because of the value in seeing their original form. The other few were taken by me and include the new trailer row "street" signs that now appear.

Rue de Desire Ren Village

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Nawlins' Fun - Decatur Street, New Birth, and Mr. Sakamaki

In the midst of my volunteer work in New Orleans and here in Baton Rouge, there's plenty of Nawlins' fun too. It's not just our hands that will revive the city, but our visits as well. The music culture of the French Quarter is the heartbeat of the place, so it's time to include our visits for that kind of fun too. :)

Our visit on 3/3 was highlighted by a surprise encounter with the New Birth Brass Band and then later in the day with a photo assignment pair from Japan and NYC. Here are my blogs from other web pages.

When waiting to hook up with my friend Nancy on Saturday in New Orleans I had an extra hour or so to myself. I ventured out to nearby Decatur Street for the first time, and found myself in a good sized crowd at the Music Factory record store. It was their 15th Anniversary celebration and there was plenty of great live music and music sales.

I didn't grab a good spot for the first band that was performing, so I headed upstairs to peruse their vinyl and used CD collection. I bumped into a fellow volunteer who is friends with Augusta, the woman whose house I usually work on, on my way up. It was a bit strange seeing one another in regular clothes without being covered in grime. LOL.

After a bit I went back downstairs and grabbed a pretty good spot for the next band. When they started coming out with their brass and percussions one by one I laughed out loud. It was the New Birth Brass Band! I don't head into New Orleans too often to check out the music scene, but when I do I somehow find myself movin' and groovin' to these guys. Last March we had an amazing night with them at the Preservation Hall before it officially reopened. We then 2nd lined with them, Wynton Marsalis, Trombone Shorty, and other brass bands at the French Quarter Fest in April. They were one of the bands playing with U2 and Green Day in the Saints are Coming live performance at the Dome too. :)

I had LOTS of fun dancing to their tunes, and this time around I did get to chat with Corey the trombone player after the performance. I found out that they play at Preservation Hall so for sure we will be heading in again.

Crossing paths with an amazing photographer

I met a photographer named Q Sakamaki last night at a small random Japanese restaurant in New Orleans.

I went in with Nao and Grace yesterday to meet my friend Nancy in for business from Philly. At the end of the day Nance returned to her hotel, and Grace was too tired to survive the scene in a decent restaurant, so we jumped into a small Japanese place for a quick bite.

Two Japanese men sat next to us, and we had seen them earlier in Jackson Square. They had caught our attention with their impressive photography equipment.

Nao started chatting with them in Japanese and found out that they were in New Orleans for a magazine assignment about the recovering music culture. One was the editor and the other a photographer from NYC. Nao mentioned something about my interest in Music Rising, and the photographer immediately mentioned the name of the photographer working with the Edge while in New Orleans. Nao also let them know that I enjoyed photography and that I had noticed his cameras. The man proceeded to pull out his Holga in order to show that it's not about fancy equipment. I smiled and just knew that he was very into his art.

Nao did speak a little bit more before they left, and I asked to have their names so we could check out their work. They gave us their cards, and I thanked them, especially the photographer, very much.

Needless to say that when we came home and checked out Mr. Sakamaki's work I gasped. It ends up that he's a photojournalist who has studied international affairs and human rights, and he's out there revealing the human side of political conflicts through his powerful imagery. I would really appreciate another opportunity to speak with him about his work and just tell him "thank you" for all the he does. As for now, I'll take the meeting as an inspiration to do my best to give voice to others in need, and a reminder to appreciate the people doing work that I respect.

Wow. This will stay with me for some time.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Up With People in Renaissance Village

I've been visiting Renaissance Village, FEMA's largest trailer park here in Baton Rouge, every Friday with Grace. We spend time with the children at special programs and on the playground. I'm really, really growing very fond of the children and staff there.

On Fridays the program directors have set up "Fun Fridays" for the children to unwind after their busy week at school and working hard in the after school program. For the past few weeks the Baton Rouge Art's Council has visited, and yesterday an international group called Up With People was there with Baton Rouge's City Year group too. They travel promoting group efforts to improve lives and working together.

At first I thought they were there to play and spend time with us on the playground with some pa systems set up with background music. Well, I was in for a surprise once one of the reps took the mic and asked us to gather around for a performance.

This amazing group of adults ranging in ages 20 - 29 coming from the US, Belgium, Brazil, and China, to name a few, kicked into an energized singing and dancing routine. They rapped uplifting lyrics and created rhythms that had the children jumping off of their feet with huge smiles on their faces. A group of boys sat with me in the front begging to use my camera to take pictures of all of the action.

I giggled when I heard them sing Up With People as their finale since I have known those lyrics since my childhood. I think that I had learned the song from my elem school teachers, but never had we made the sounds funky enough to dance to.

Up, up with people
You meet them wherever you go
Up, up with people
da da da da da da da...(can't remember this line)

If more people
were for people
all people everywhere
there'd be a lot less people
to worry about
and a lot more people who care

Following their performance Cynthia, the after school director, presented the children with framed achievement awards. She announced their names in the microphone and they came to the front. The Up With People and City Year gave each child such a HUGE round of applause and cheers. Each moment for each child was special in its own way, and I will never forget how excited I felt for them. Was this their first time being such a star? I do believe it was a first for the Ren Village community, and I feel that it brings hope and pride to everyone involved.

At the end of the event, the crew of performers and volunteers got together for a follow-up of their experiences. When asked to hold up fingers 1-5 to show their rating of the day, they all put out their hands. I jumped below them with my camera to get a shot, and the woman above me held out both hands with all fingers. I have ten she said because this was just so great.

I had a chance to to take a group shot of all of these fantastic adults. It was fun for some of the children still there to jump in too.

Every Friday I leave knowing that I'm very fortunate to spend time with the children there, but on this particular day I know that we all shared in something very special.