Njoroge meets Salgado in Goma

•January 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by Sebastiao Salgado, 1994

Fascinating exhange (on Facebook) with my old friend and partner in crime Andrew Njoroge the other night. We came together in the early 1990s when I was running a series of photography workshops out of the French Cultural Centre in Nairobi. Andrew and I basically turned the darkroom in the FCC loft into our own thingira, and shared endless misadventures . . . . Today he is the owner of http://www.africancolours.net, an organization and website that does an excellent job of promoting African art of all stripes….


Young and erstwhile in Goma

Shortly after I had left Kenya for good, Andrew began working as a videographer for Reuters. I remember hearing some horrific tales, including a night of terror when he and several others found themselves in the still-infamous Goma, surrounded by the notorious panga-wielding Hutu’s responsible for much of the worst carnage in the Rwandan Genocide. When he posted a somewhat overexposed version of this image a few days ago, I took the liberty of performing a little digital retouching, mainly just darkening some washed out areas. His reaction led to this exchange, concerning his time in Goma, and his experience working with Sebastiao Salgado:

DB:  A little Photoshop magic….

AN: Coolest… now i notice i was walking without shoes and the socks were white. not sure what i was shooting at night. Thanks much, RRM (my nickname, Race Riot Man, taken from an old Lenny Bruce bit we used to laugh at)

DB: That was just after I left Kenya for the US…. was this the time you guys were surrounded by bloodthirsty Hutus?

AN: Went to Goma soo many times…Not sure if this was the time they wanted to lynch us…scares me to recall the incident… they wanted to see blood, our blood…

DB: Fuck those guys…. didn’t you also meet Salgado on one of these adventures?

AN: Yes, we hang out with Salgado for about a week in a refugee camp with half a million Hutus, mostly genocidaires. One early morning i left camp to go see where the refugees were getting water from and what an amazing sight it was. Thousands of men, women and children fetching water, bathing at a lake. It was misty and crispy, the light was glorious…It was the story of mankind right in front of my eyes. Humanity and colour sorrounded me. It was fantastic video…!!!! 
It was horrifying, it was beautiful. Only regret was that I did not have a camera with black and white film to record it. 
Had left the big boys at camp, they must have been making breakfast or something or nursing hangovers from the previous nights excesses for they needed to numb their senses to deal with what was happening. I decided that I would share the secret location with a photographer. He was Sebastio Salgado and the rest is history. Some of the most breathtaking images of his career were taken that day under my supervision and direction :))

DB: That’s an incredible story and if you will verify that it is all very true and there is no fog of war revisionist history in your startling yet believable claim that you helped guide or direct Salgado, I will share the story with others…

AN: Of course it is true….i remember very vividly what happened that day..
i was out to scoop everybody else. i had it in the bag but i was frustrated i did not have a stills camera. i decided to give the best among the group the opportunity. obviously i did not share the location with the rest. i needed to have exclusivity and wanted to see my video as the number one story in the networks i.e. cnn, bbc etc.

 He was shocked that i shared the spot with him… he was looking at me with disbelief.. he must have been wondering what was my motivation. I was content in the knowledge someone had recorded on film what i had not been able to do… he just happens to have been Salgado :)) 

I knew the pictures would be incredible and with his brand name they would become iconic…

DB: Anyway a tremendous experience you had, and a credit to your professionalism and presence of mind. That must have been incredible intense…


Goma, by Sebastiao Salgado


AN: This was that day

DB: That’s one of his? Outstanding….

AN: This was our reality, days on end for weeks at a time. We lived in our tents among half a  million thugs. we even hired them to do our laundry and keep our space clean…

DB: Wild. On a Salgado web link about his time in Goma, it says “Through his work, Salgado had seen so much horror – in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he witnessed 10,000 people die in one day in the refugee camps of Goma.”

AN: That’s a bit exagerated’. he couldn’t have possibly been able to count them. they could have been more, you know…


Photograph by Sebastiao Salgado


Photographing the Big Apple with a little Apple

•January 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment


“New York’s all right if you want to get pushed in front of the subway.”


Photography has increasingly become the most ubiquitous mode of visual expression, yet it also remains a fortuitous and often randomly exercised medium. For all the billions of moments rendered permanent by camera lenses, there are infinitely more that are missed. That I happened to spend a week in virtual anonymity on the island of Manhattan, with little more to while away the daytime hours than a willingness to walk and listen and observe and record, is nothing short of accidental. And as it turned out, a fairly happy coincidence and equitable replacement for another opportunity missed. Long story short, I was supposed to be in Dakar that week, working on an urban anthropology project, but found myself grounded en route. Blocked ear passages brought on such pain during the landings in San Francisco and again in Newark that I skipped the flight to Senegal to seek medical relief in New York. Suffice to say I couldn’t fly back home either, so I waited out treatment in the small Chelsea apartment of a generous friend.

I could not fly, but I could walk, and the evidence of my meanderings and short sprints is here. A meager representation of the megalopolis to be certain, one week in a world the size and breadth of New York City amounts to both nothing and a powerful dose of humanity. Long walks punctuated by short subway rides took me from the Brooklyn Bridge through Greenwich Village, Broadway and Times Square, Central Park West and Harlem, though always just barely enough to leave me wanting more. I studiously avoided becoming a nuisance, and rejoiced in this unexpected opportunity to become a street photographer in a city that provides endless energy and fascination, and where like myself, people seemed so at home lost in the crowds.


Photographing the Big Apple with a little Apple

“The best camera is the one you have,” or “is the one that’s with you” are partial truisms. To insist that good photographs aren’t dependent upon megapixel size or ISO, dynamic range, resolution, and everything tied to superior optics is in itself myopic, though similar demonstrations of enthusiasm have led to worse sales pitches. Nevertheless it is apparent that the photographic qualities rendered with the better cell phone cameras– such as the iPhone 4S used for the images in this collection– are sufficiently resolute and (like any camera for that matter) laden with formal and narrative potential, however flawed. There are apps and accessories for almost everything. The filters available to treat, enhance and correct images that are astoundingly nimble make it deceptively simple to emulate or even invent photographic processes and looks. Wonderful for abstractions and for simulations of vintage and vernacular nostalgia.

Harlem Tax SoliciterWhile I would still recommend traditional gear for subjects that require more technical and optical versatility, iPhoneography, to my pleasant surprise, suits the street photography aesthetic very well. Portability is convenient in public places, as is wielding a cell phone in place of a more professional-looking instrument. In “development” I settled mostly on the Snapseed’s aptly named “Drama 2 filter, providing a high contrast rendering. The filter gives a photojournalistic “dodged and burned” look to the image, with the same exaggerations in both the highlight and shadow tones areas. Altering the color value to an almost painterly look nudges documentary-style images (to use Walker Evans’ definition) closer to Art, as formal considerations jockey for equal footing with the narrative content. It also translates very well to black and white (to the point where it just seems like cheating to someone who has developed and printed thousands of negatives). For the photographs I visualized primarily as black and white, I used the MPro app with nice results.

All of this made for a very pleasant surprise during my lonely week in New York City. The photographs in this collection have a look and feel to them that is not necessarily better, but fresher and visually intriguing. I put them together in this volume in the hope that they stand on their own as viable photographic records.

See the best of the New York City iPhoneography



New York City

•January 7, 2013 • 2 Comments

New York City


How I left my blood in Manono

•June 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment

From a journal written in January 1987. This is part of an ongoing project, compiling the written and photographic records of the years I spent in Africa, 1987-1994.

My final day in Manono has been, perhaps fittingly, the hottest and most humid. I leave Zaire optimistic—my coverage of ICA’s medical and child sponsorship programs has been successful. And my spirits are bolstered by a nice experience I had this morning—I was allowed to give a little of myself to the never-ending battle here.

Ka Ku and her mother, on the ferry crossing back to Manono.

While in Ankoro, we picked up a skinny young girl, yet another victim of a poorly-executed delivery. Ka Ku dji Ngoy is 16, but with her slight build (no more than 5’2”, 90lbs), she could pass for 12 or 13. As is often the case, her hips are too slim for a normal delivery, and as a result she has been permanently damaged below. Serious infection has occurred, and hence Dr. Steiner has brought her back with us to Manono, where he will operate on her this Friday.

Knowing her predicament and loving her innocent face, my heart has gone out to Ka Ku.  I smile and wave when I see her—sometimes across the street at the market, more often in her hospitable bed with her mother (who also made the trip from Ankoro). She returns my greetings with a pretty, unblinking stare, which usually turns to a smile and a wave. I know she sees me as someone quite strange to herself, yet she likes me.

This morning I was sitting around the hospital grounds, taking photographs and writing notes, when Steiner rushed up to me. “What blood type did you say you have?” (We had discussed the possibility of my giving blood in Ankoro, during that emergency operation). Now he told me I was needed to give blood to the girl—she couldn’t afford the meager blood bank. My heart soared at the prospect—I didn’t care to be a hero, but really welcomed the opportunity to help this village girl.

My blood was tested and as suspected was O-positive; the most common, and right for the girl. The only condition, I implored, was for a new, sterile needle. I received the doctor’s word on this, and two male nurses took my blood.

A little while later, Dr. Steiner led Ka Ku and her mother to me, explaining what had transpired. The girl sat close to me, thanking me in Swahili. We sat together for awhile, not really talking.  As word spread around the hospital, there was discussion, and softer looks in my direction. Finally, instead of always taking, taking, taking with the camera, I was able to give something back.

Photography Restoration and Archiving

•March 24, 2012 • 1 Comment

Today’s digital technology makes it possible to restore and enhance old photographs with an eye to detail not previously imaginable. 

  Treat your aging or damaged photographs and  negatives with the respect your memories deserve. Restore, retouch and enhance them when possible. Or let us simply scan all of your film-era photographs and help you create a digital archive for online viewing and storage.

Send us your negatives or prints, and we will do everything we can to bring out the clearest and cleanest versions of the photographs possible.

Quite frankly, we have an appreciation for family photographs and other such visual documents that makes doing this kind of restoration work an honor. To be entrusted with restoring your precious memories is a responsibility we don’t take lightly. We’ll handle your photographs with great care.

•March 24, 2012 • Leave a Comment



Outdoor Photography Workshops

•March 22, 2012 • 1 Comment

It’s on! The website is finished, and registration is open for the first series of Outdoor Photography Workshops.

I’m finally getting around to doing something I’ve thought about for years– finding a way to combine my love of hiking with my interest in teaching photography. After all, I’ve been hiking up in Griffith Park since my days as a camp counsellor back in the 70’s y’all…  I can’t think of any better way to spend a Saturday morning than to share my love of this incredible park with like-minded individuals.

 OK that’s not me . . . it’s Paul, one of my university students on a hike we made to Bee Rock in Griffith Park  . . . . but it could be you!

Anyway, all the information concerning workshop dates, descriptions of the hikes, a resources page with all manner of useful links and info, and of course the prices, can be found at www.resolutionclasses.com. There’s also information about street photography sessions, which I hope will consist of very small, intimate groups interested in venturing out into some of L.A.s more visual neighborhoods . . . .