Gallery Exhibition at the University of San Diego showcasing my photos from Rwanda, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Genocide.

I was truly honored to be asked to be part of this exhibition at the University of San Diego  to mark the 20th anniversary of the Genocide, a milestone on the path of reconciliation in Rwanda.   Images from 7 photographers including myself, Fazal Sheikh, Robert Lyons and others, span two decades showing both what unfolded during that dark April in 1994 as well as the road that Rwanda has since taken to move forward, to develop their country,  and to try to live in peace with their fellow Rwandans, many of whom played some role in the mass killings.

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Radio Girls, Kigali, Rwanda, 2012

 

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Musical artist on red carpet at Salax Awards, Kigali, Rwanda, 2012

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Mural outside Ivuka Arts Center, Kigali, Rwanda, 2012

 

http://www.sandiego.edu/about/news_center/events/events_detail.php?_focus=47525

The gallery opening is Thursday April 24th at 5, followed by a panel discussion: Preventing Mass Atrocities:Lessons Learned from Rwanda

Joining me on the trip will be my dear friend Dida, who is a genocide survivor, though that is a small part of who she is and if you know her you know what I mean because she radiates a light, an energy and is a bright spot of love and compassion in this world.  Though I know what she has been through and often wonder how any person can be asked to bear as much grief as Rwandans have been handed, she has never once seemed like a victim to me, but instead is on a mission to do her part to help propel Rwanda forward to a brighter future.  She has been generous enough to join the panel to speak about her own experiences as well as what she and other young people want for Rwanda now and what they are working so hard to achieve, a peaceful future for the country they dearly love.

It was quite humbling to be asked to speak on the panel as well, since compared to Dida and others such as Philip Lancaster, an aide to General Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda during the genocide, I do not consider myself an expert on Rwanda.  But what I can speak to, in addition to representing the photographers’ work in the show, is my experience living and working in Rwanda and what I took away from that in terms of where things are now as they continue to try and move forward from their painful past.  Particularly because the focus of my teaching and of my personal photography work there was on young people, and the ways in which they are learning to use the arts to communicate with each other and express themselves.

I no longer look at the Rwandan genocide as a far off, distant human crisis, like we often do with the many humanitarian crisis around the world, understanding only so much as the media tells us about them, and usually having very little context for the country or for the people who are going through such massive traumas.   To me now the genocide is personal because I know people, I love people, who lived through it, who lost those closest to them and who saw their country fractured into a million pieces.   And I love Rwanda and feel a deep desire for it to be able to continue on it’s path of healing, something that I feel like this younger generation is very much capable of helping to bring about.  My friends deserve that, all Rwandans deserve that.

 

 

 

 

 

“Finding Beauty in Breast Cancer”, video on Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/12/kimberli-ransom-breast-cancer-photography_n_4256728.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

Kimberli’s fabulous project, “Finding Beauty in Cancer” was featured on the Huffington Post and I am so proud of the impact she is having on so many people.  We have all been touched by cancer one way or another, and the way in which she has decided to deal with her diagnosis by collaborating with other photographers to create these expressive and beautiful scenes, reminds us all that even when so much is out of our control in these situations, you can still seek out joy, laughter and beauty in your struggle.

I am continuing to document her journey and she and I will be showing more of the images from that part of the project soon.  I will be accompanying her during her surgery tomorrow in what was yet another very brave decision on her part that if we were going to show the reality of her situation, that her mastectomy needed to be part of that.

Kimberli has a huge circle of friends, a new fan base online and a great photography community here in Portland that I know will be sending her lots of love and good wishes tomorrow.

Documenting a friend’s battle with Breast Cancer

I am honored by the opportunity to work with my friend and fellow photographer Kimberli Ransom, to help her document the day-to-day experience of her fight with breast cancer.

It is an act of trust to be allowed into these very real and difficult moments of her life and a show of her bravery to be willing to open up this way to the world.

I think we sometimes feel we have to protect people from the really difficult stuff, the reality of battling cancer, of being sick.  What it does to our spirit, our bodies, and our view of ourselves and our world.  We strive to put on a happy face for everyone, to show how tough we are.   Certainly Kimberli is one tough lady, and she has decided to use her art to help process her journey, with her project “Finding beauty in Cancer”.

She has partnered with many of her photographer friends here in Portland to create these fabulous fantastical photo shoots, playing with some of her dreams, fantasies and ways in which she can create narratives with them that speak to her search to find beauty even in her difficult battle with breast cancer.  www.findingbeautyincancer.com

But being strong and brave doesn’t mean you don’t also feel vulnerable, scared and overwhelmed.   The face you put on even for your close friends, often belies the truth of your daily reality, the moments behind the scenes, when you are alone with yourself, your daily challenges and thoughts, the constant doctor appointments and medication schedules.    The range of emotions that accompany a battle like this are staggering and unpredictable, changing from moment to moment.   Kimberli and I agreed that it would be an important piece of her project to also document the “real” moments, both good and bad, the daily reality that is her life battling breast cancer.

I understand some of these moments first hand from having walked this path with my Mom during her battle with Leukemia.  That has allowed me to have a connection with Kimberli about her journey, and though everyone experiences illness differently, to have at least some idea of what this is like for her.

Shooting this project has really taken me back to moments with my Mom, being in the hospital with her for chemo and being in her house surrounded by the towering piles of medical paperwork that make an already overwhelming situation even more daunting.

It is rewarding to know that while I will sometimes take a certain shot based on my own experiences with illness, when I show the image to Kimberli, it often resonates with her as well.   That’s why Kimberli’s project is so important, because so many cancer patients and survivors will be able to relate to her moments.

Our first shoot was during one of her chemo treatments, which began with walking down one those many cold and sterile hallways Kimberli finds herself in often these days.

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I took the shot below because it reminded me of the feeling of being in the hospital for hours and days on end, where your life has largely come to a grinding halt and most things you do now revolve around this battle you are in.   Your world looks completely different now, but outside things go on as usual, the drumbeat of day-to-day life.  I distinctly remember during my Mom’s illness and before I went in for a surgery myself for a brain aneurysm a few years ago, looking out the window and feeling a disconnect from the world that was moving along outside.  Realizing that everyone else was going about their life as they always had, but you were inside this hospital, with everything riding on this surgery or this treatment.   We all go about our lives as if we are invincible and you just never know when your life will change in a moment.

The flip side to that is that when you come out the other side and are able to go on with your life, you will probably never take the day-to-day routine for granted in the same way again.

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This photo is about the way you look at each treatment and the people who are caring for you.  You wonder will this drug do the trick, is this the one that is going help me win this war?   And how is going to make me feel, what will my body do with this drug in it, will I have a bad reaction to it?  You look to treatments with such hope and dread all at the same time.

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You develop special relationships with the people who administer the drugs and help you navigate the medical maze, and your doctors who see you week in and week out, because you literally are putting your life in their hands.

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Shared moments of humor help you get through it.

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This one speaks to me about Kimberli and who she is.  At the end of the day here she is looking right at us, showing us her both her strength and vulnerability, that she doesn’t intend to hide away but is facing this head on and asking us to come along on the journey with her.

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As an artist I suppose there is a willingness and even a need, to explore these difficult and complicated aspects of our lives and our experiences, for Kimberli and I this is an opportunity to do this together.

I hope in our collaboration I am able to capture some moments that will help her to tell her story.

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I will continue to post pictures of Kimberli’s journey and updates about how she is doing.  So many of us have been touched by cancer, and so her battle is also our battle.

Please check out her project, and follow her blog.  http://www.findingbeautyincancer.com/ You can also donate to help with her medical expenses, since as a self-employed photographer she has limited insurance benefits and has only been able to work limited hours since her treatments began.

Thanks for joining me in sending Kimberli lots of great energy and support!