Familiar places…. Rift Valley escarpment road

The old Naivasha highway in Kenya is just northwest of bustling Nairobi.  Most of us who live in Kenya know this road that starts in Naivasha town, passes Mt. Longonot, through the town of Mai Mahiu, and ascends up the escarpment to rejoin the main highway back to Nairobi.  After years of traveling this road I am still captivated by the view, one of the best of this section of the Great Rift Valley.

As with most roads in Kenya, there can be challenges.  The escarpment road is used by many trucks, the steep inclines causing them to crawl at low speeds.  A breakdown, road repair, or rain causes a standstill in mere minutes, so it’s no easy ride, and no alternatives.  Just enjoy the view.

Lake Elementaita.

Lake Elementaita.

Matatu, Mt. Longonot.

Matatu, Mt. Longonot.

Mt. Longonot, storm approaching.

Mt. Longonot, storm approaching.

Layers, Rift Valley.

Layers, Rift Valley.

Acacia.

Acacia.

Mt. Longmont on the horizon.

Mt. Longmont on the horizon.

Curio shop, Rift Valley escarpment.

Curio shop, Rift Valley escarpment.

Trucks, Rift Valley escapement.

Trucks, Rift Valley escapement.

Mirror view, Rift Valley escarpment.

Mirror view, Rift Valley escarpment.

Sunset witness, Rift Valley.

Sunset witness, Rift Valley.

Maasai Mara, Kenya….. a pilgrimage.

The Maasai Mara… holy ground for wildlife in Kenya.

When people learn that I am a photographer living in Kenya, they assume I am a wildlife photographer, as if there is nothing else to photograph here.  No, I am not a photographer who specializes in wildlife, but I do, from time to time, find myself in the Mara region, and one cannot help but make photos of this amazing area, including animals.  Here are a few selections from a recent trip, and I often wonder: who is watching whom?

Homestead from the air, Maasai Mara

Homestead from the air, Maasai Mara

Tree from above, Maasai Mara

Tree from above, Maasai Mara

Fire in the Mara, Kenya

Fire in the Mara, Kenya

Wildebeests with smoke from brush fire, Maasai Mara

Wildebeests with smoke from brush fire, Maasai Mara

Hot air balloons, early morning, Maasai Mara

Hot air balloons, early morning, Maasai Mara

Wildebeests grazing, Maasai Mara

Wildebeests grazing, Maasai Mara

Elephants meeting, Maasai Mara

Elephants meeting, Maasai Mara

Giraffes watching me, Maasai Mara

Giraffes watching me, Maasai Mara

On any corner… Nairobi.

CBD… the Central Business District of Nairobi, always referring to the older part of Nairobi ‘in town’ now that the city has begun to spread.  The new business activity is on the edges of Nairobi, where the middle class is growing and real estate investment is in a frenzy.  In town there is a sense of another time.  Space is at a premium and the streets are alive with business, surrounded by wonderful 1970’s architecture, always busy, colourful but in a muted way, and packed with detail, hence the technique applied to these images.  Every time you turn, a new set of bodies, different surroundings… on any corner.

People moving, and waiting. Nairobi

People moving, and waiting.

Taxi drivers. Nairobi

Taxi drivers.

Along Moi Avenue. Nairobi

Along Moi Avenue.

Men and buses... CBD. Nairobi

Men and buses… CBD.

Men talking, people walking. Nairobi

Men talking, people walking.

Muindi Mbingu Street. Nairobi

Muindi Mbingu Street

Street scene, Nairobi

Street scene, Nairobi

Street scene, Nairobi

Street scene, Nairobi

Boda-boda (motorcycle transport) with passenger

Boda-boda (motorcycle transport) with passenger

Buildings, Nairobi

Buildings, Nairobi.

2 trees, Westlands (Nairobi)

2 trees, Westlands (Nairobi)

Cashew nuts… northern Togo

Finding the gems…. Cashew nuts in northern Togo.

There seems to be no easy way to process them.  As with most agricultural products in the developing world, a great deal of manual labour is needed.  Cashew nuts are especially difficult, and the complex process provides much needed jobs for the surrounding communities.  Although parts of the process are mechanized (the initial sorting of the product from the farm before removing the husk), the most efficient way is by hand.  At many stages the cashews must be sorted for quality and size and a keen eye is still required, making the cashew truly the gem of nuts.

Deliveries from farms are moved into the factory for processing.

Deliveries from farms are moved into the factory for processing.

Bags weighing 50 kg are moved around by hand.

Bags weighing 50 kg are moved around by hand.

50 kg bags are moved to various processes by manual labour.

50 kg bags are moved to various processes by manual labour.

Workers, cashew processing plant, Togo.

Workers, cashew processing plant, Togo. Loading the sorting machine.

Furnaces for steaming and drying process are fuelled by discarded husks.

Furnaces for steaming and drying process are fuelled by discarded husks.

Loading the steamers after sorting, a necessary step to remove the husk.

Loading the steamers after sorting, a necessary step to remove the husk.

Removing husks and skin from steamed cashew nuts.

Removing husks and skin from steamed cashew nuts.

Removing husks from the nuts after steaming process.

Removing husks from the nuts after steaming process.

Sorting and inspecting cashews.

Sorting and inspecting cashews.

Cashew husks are returned to the furnaces as fuel for the steaming and drying process.

Cashew husks are returned to the furnaces as fuel for the steaming and drying process.

Workers removing skin from cashews and sorting.

Workers removing skin from cashews and sorting.

Removing the cashew nut skin by hand.

Removing the cashew nut skin by hand.

Loading cashews for final drying phase.

Loading cashews for final drying phase.

Loading the chamber for the final drying process.

Loading the chamber for the final drying process.

Final sorting before packaging

Final sorting before packaging.

 

Mumbai vendors at night

Mumbai vendors at night

As night descends on Mumbai, the office workers and day workers leave the city, but Mumbai is a city that never sleeps.  Many of the small shops along the side streets continue their business, casting warm, welcoming light into the night.  It is mostly men on the streets this time of day, often congregating at small kiosks to chat with friends and business owners.  I was drawn to these pockets of light and colour, more of the complex fabric that is India.

Food vendors, Mumbai

Mumbai vendors at night

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John McCombe (Mac) Reynolds… sculptor, painter, mentor.

John McCombe Reynolds (1916-1999), or ‘Uncle Mac’ as he was known by those close to him, was my first mentor in photography although he was new to photography when we met in the 1980’s.  We were introduced by our respective families because we were both considered to be artists (artist meaning nonconformist).  His studio was at the back of his house in Toronto and was cluttered with projects in the works, abandoned pieces, and any manner of artistic evidence.  It was inspirational for me as I had never met an actual practising artist, only hobbyists.  Uncle Mac spent an equal amount of time at his old schoolhouse (more than 100 years old) outside of Creemore, Ontario, which he had made into a large open studio.  It was a place of quiet for reflection and work.

While spending countless hours with Uncle Mac in his studio, or at his schoolhouse, I learned about lighting, how to use and interpret light, that there are only two considerations for light…. direction and quality.  Sculptor and painters mostly use natural light, and see the world through that one light source, usually the light created by the sun.  He was particularly fascinated by the portraits done by Nadar.  Uncle Mac tore out a section of the roof in his home studio for installation of a skylight to reproduce Nadar’s lighting style.  Form, the shape of things, was crucial to his sculpture work and was part of his own photography style.  He was able to see the artistic merits in most anything.

Uncle Mac was somewhat technically challenged when it came to photography and the technical process (these were the days of film, long before the digital revolution changed photography), but from him I learned the importance of composition, that an interesting image need not be technically perfect.  The beauty of a painting or a piece of sculpture is not in the material used…. these are tools of the process.  The end result is a work of art that tells us something, relays an emotion or causes personal reflection.  It is something greater than the sum of its components.

These photos are my way of remembering him and his influence on me during those years I was fortunate enough to be in his company.

John McCombe Reynolds

John McCombe Reynolds

John McCombe Reynolds

John McCombe Reynolds at his Creemore schoolhouse.  People thought the figure in the clouds (in his painting) is supposed to be God, but in fact it is Karl Marx.

John McCombe Reynolds

John McCombe Reynolds at the Creemore schoolhouse.

John McCombe Reynolds

John McCombe Reynolds (self-portrait) in his home studio.

John McCombe Reynolds

John McCombe Reynolds (in the garden at the schoolhouse)

John McCombe Reynolds

John McCombe Reynolds

John McCombe Reynolds

John McCombe Reynolds, my last portrait of him.

 

Looking back…. Obama inauguration 2009

It’s 2015, and Barrack Obama’s 2nd term as president is coming to an end.  This brought to mind the trip I made to Washington D.C for his first term inauguration, and the photos I made on that trip, photos that have been sitting in my archive for the last 8 years.  I travelled with a group from Canada, members of Democrats Abroad, an American organization in the U.S. that keeps those outside the country up to date on activity of the Democratic party.

I boarded a bus in Toronto on the evening of January 19th, 2009 for the all night trip to D.C, arriving in the morning on a cold clear day in Washington.  The crowd for the inauguration was estimated at 2 million.

Democrats Abroad

Democrats Abroad preparing to depart for Washington D.C.

Once in Washington there wasn’t much of a plan except follow the crowd.  It was a long way to the actual venue.

On the way to the Obama inauguration, in the tunnel.

On the way to the Obama inauguration, in the tunnel.

Crowds on their way to inauguration. 2009

Crowds on their way to inauguration. 2009

Spectators on bridge, Obama inauguration. 2009

Spectators on bridge, Obama inauguration. 2009

Man looking for camera vantage point.

Man looking for camera vantage point.

I eventually found a place to stand, or more accurately a place found me when the crowd stopped moving.  I found myself near the base of the Washington monument.

Crowd at base of Washington monument. 2009

Crowd at base of Washington monument. 2009

'Arrest Bush', 2009 inauguration of Obama.

‘Arrest Bush’, 2009 inauguration of Obama.

Large monitors were the only way to see the ceremony.  At the time of the inauguration I was dividing my time between Canada and Kenya.  There was a special moment for me when I saw the Kenyan flag.  Kenyans took much pride in the fact that one of their own (Obama’s Kenyan roots) had made it to one of the most prestigious jobs in the world.

Kenyan flag at Obama inauguration. 2009.

Kenyan flag at Obama inauguration. 2009.

Canadians at Obama inauguration, 2009.

Canadians at Obama inauguration, 2009.

After standing in the cold for many hours, walking many miles, the deed was done.  With smiles on their faces and hope in their hearts, the crowd dispersed.  I found my group, trekked back to our bus, ready for another all night ride back to Toronto.  All these years later I am so glad I made that trip.  Obama inauguration 2009.  Been there, done that.

Slow down. Photography is meditation.

I read with great interest David duChemin’s July 5th post on his thoughts about sharing, or ‘over-sharing’ as he puts it, and how he thinks some of our new ways of connecting can, and have, affected the photographic process.  David raises some interesting questions about the value of photography and how the nature of social media has accelerated the pace of photography, and does that increase in both producing and sharing photographs have a negative impact on the process itself.  I would say in many ways, yes.  Even as we are making photographs, we are now predisposed to be considering when and how best to share them, get them into the photographic stream.  As David says in his piece, we all like to share and welcome comments and messages that tell us others are looking at our images, but that has with it a sense of immediacy, a feeling that is contrary to some of the reasons we make photographs, and art, in general.  The phrase that really caught me, though, was: “But I do not love those things the way I love the quiet making of a photograph, the private wrestling with the muse that happens while I write a paragraph or a book. I don’t love those accolades the way I love holding a print in my hands the first time and knowing I made this new thing.”

That phrase of David’s made me think about some of my own experiences making photographs, the “quiet making” of them.  There is also the quiet consideration of images where for a time they are just resting, waiting to be discovered.  The act of making photographs can be a solo, meditative experience, whether shooting landscapes in a remote area or watching a street corner in a busy urban area.  For most of us it is the landscape, escape from distraction.

In 1988 I was in Peru, and like most travellers, made the trek to the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu.  Arrival is usually around midday and the area is covered with tourists, visitors and travellers.  As the noon sun beat down on the mountains, cameras were ablaze in less than dramatic lighting conditions.  I opted to find a shady spot behind a wall (within the ruins), and rest while I waited for the light to change.  By late afternoon when the sun started to drop the thousands of people were gone, few spending the night at lodging nearby.  As I began another walk through the ruins I was keenly aware that there was almost no one else around, perhaps a few in the distance, so for the most part I was alone.  A solo, meditative moment, with no concern for the after (what will I do with this image).  The photograph shows the silence, the calm.  On the staircase (lower right) sits a lone figure, thus establishing scale.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru ©RILEY

The following year, 1989, I made my first of many trips to Canada’s arctic region, landing in Cape Dorset on Baffin Island (eastern arctic, province of Nunavut).  When I was not in my temporary studio making portraits I was out on the land, travelling by snow machine, sleeping in a tent, trying to capture the vastness, the subtlety of the landscape.  I often thought about one of my mentors, a painter/sculptor, John McCombe Reynolds (or Uncle Mac as he was known).  I learned about portraits by photographing his busts.  Sculpting requires meditation, putting a project aside at times to allow for consideration or reworking.

John McCombe Reynolds, sculptor and painter

John McCombe Reynolds, sculptor and painter (self portrait)

Mac was a landscape painter, too, and painters have such a strong sense of the delicacies of the landscape.  Again, a slow process sometimes to get the vision onto the canvas.  So I often thought of him when looking at the arctic, trying to compose, to see.   Soft light on an overcast day, gentle pastel colour.

I could spend a long time in one spot, appreciating the quiet.  Like David says: “the quiet making of a photograph”.  As many of the early images were film, time would be taken to pour over contact sheets, considering each frame as film was precious (and expensive).  Even in the early stages of digital photography we weren’t producing the quantity that we are now, and there was no place to rush to for sharing.  It all took time.

arctic landscape, Baffin Island

arctic landscape, Baffin Island ©RILEY

arctic landscape, Baffin Island

arctic landscape, Baffin Island ©RILEY

arctic landscape, Baffin Island

Iceberg on the horizon ©RILEY

arctic landscape, Baffin Island

Arctic moon ©RILEY

arctic landscape, Baffin Island

Open water, Baffin Island ©RILEY

Sunrise, Cape Dorset

Sunrise, Cape Dorset ©RILEY

The same process of looking, seeing, and contemplating occurs everywhere.  The photo below was taken in Kenya, on the road to Lake Magadi.  I would always stop at this spot, breathe deeply, take a quiet moment.  I did this a number of times before I made this image, always waiting for the right day when the photo would appear before me.  As with the previous images, these are not ‘new’, they didn’t find their way into the technological stream with any urgency.  They are shared when the time is right.  We must not always cave to the pressure that one must share quickly.  I know many successful photographers who do very little social media, bucking the trend.  What is paramount is making good, or important, images and maintaining balance in your life.

Road to Magadi (Kenya)

On the road to Magadi (Kenya) ©RILEY

Looking at Nairobi

Views of Nairobi…… I never tire of photographing Nairobi, all of its different layers, points of view.  It is an interesting mix of old and new, some parts remaining the same, some ever-changing.  Each of these photographs has had a different treatment because each photograph of Nairobi brings a different feeling, a different texture.  I think the last 2 images show the extremes of Nairobi: a man crossing the new roadway with his mkokoteni (hand cart), and construction workers on their way to build office towers.

Nairobi

Nairobi, Central Business District, rainy day.

Nairobi, Central Business District

Nairobi, Central Business District

The new Nairobi, with cycling lanes.

The new Nairobi, with cycling lanes.

Mkokoteni man, Nairobi

Mkokoteni man, crossing a new highway

Construction workers, Nairobi.

Construction workers, Nairobi.