My friend Aude Guerrucci and I were setting up for a video interview when we found out a reflector, some tripods and a set of headphones got locked into a room for which no one around had the key. You hear about these things happening but you never think it will happen to you – until it does! We scanned the office we were working in and got creative. Our setup wasn’t elegant, but it worked. Here’s what we did:
• We put a 5D Mark III atop three cardboard boxes, but then the lens pointed too low on our interview subject. Aude scrunched up a small, drawstring bag and propped it under the lens. After that improvisation, the lens pointed too high. I grabbed a few credit cards and slid them under the back of the camera. Perfect.
• Though we used a wireless Sennheiser lavalier microphone on our interview subject, we wanted clean backup audio, just in case. I stacked up four cardboard boxes (two medium, two small) and positioned my Zoom H4n recorder and Sennheiser ME 66 shotgun mic atop it, the mic pointing at the interview subject.I set my audio levels at the beginning of the interview.
Then I did what I always tell people not to do: I monitored the audio without headphones. I didn’t have a choice since Aude needed our one available set of headphones to listen to the lav audio. But I also felt OK monitoring without headphones because I know my recorder well. Throughout the interview I adjusted the shotgun mic, recorder and audio levels from my perch behind the cameras and boxes.
• We had four mics receiving audio: the Sennheiser shotgun, the 5D Mark III onboard mic, the Rode mic plugged directly into a 5D Mark II, and the wireless Sennheiser lav plugged into a second Zoom H4n. Overkill perhaps, but audio is super important and I’m pretty crazy about recording clean audio.That said, I don’t consider the Rode mic an ideal audio backup for interviews unless there’s no other choice. In my experience, the Rode picks up too much noise. However, it’s a great microphone for ambient sound. I love recording with it out in the field.
As for the on-board camera mic, I would rather cut an interview from the final video edit or – preferably – reschedule the interview than rely on the low-quality sound from that mic.
• Very luckily, there was a large flipchart and stand in this office. We moved it to the left of our interview subject for fill light.
The results were good. I know we’re not the first professionals to have to improvise an interview setup like this. I’d love to hear what others have done in a pinch.
Have you seen the Everyday Africa photo blog? I like it. A lot. It aims to show mundane, normal moments in Africa, not just the poverty, disease and strife that seem to dominate much visual imagery of Africa in the West. So, inspired by “Everyday Africa,” I’ve been looking for those mundane, normal moments here in Rwanda and in my travels. I shot all these photos with my iPhone, except for the first one, which I shot with Mr. P’s point-and-shoot.
If I had to know only two French phrases (and really, I know only about five), then I’m glad I know these:
- Ou se trouve _____ ? — Where does one find _____ ?
- C’est bon. — That’s good./It’s OK.
They’ve come in quite handy, these two phrases, in my first 48 hours in Burkina Faso. I’ve asked people where to find the bathroom, the ATM, the church, water and tennis balls. How do I know all that French vocabulary? I don’t! Well, except bathroom and water. I’ve been looking up words on Google Translate and picking up other words as I go about my day. For everything else, I take a Spanish word and “Frenchify” it by dropping the last syllable and trying on a French accent. I sound horrible, I know I do, but I’m trying. And the kind Burkinabé who encounter me and my weird Spanish-French mix have all listened politely and helped decipher what I need.
I’ve wanted to learn French since I was 10. Back then, my family was living in Jeddah, which had a sizable expat French community. I somehow found a free French class near my house, and excitedly walked to my first lesson one evening, my notebook and red plastic pencil case in hand. I was the youngest student by far. The teacher handed out worksheets with pictures and vocabulary words: work, office, children, cooking. Boring. I wanted to learn how to talk about my favorite colors and playing tag with my friends. I hung on for a couple more classes before dropping out.
We moved back to the U.S. when I was 12, and I thought this would be my chance to learn French. Nope. My school offered only Spanish. Crazy American school system. So I took Spanish, enjoyed it and minored in it in college. I should be a fluent Spanish speaker by now, but I’m just conversational.
I wish I could be even slightly conversational in French. I feel bad for being in Francophone Africa and not speaking the main language. I feel I’ve got to explain to the smattering of English-speaking Burkinabé I meet, “I really do speak languages other than English! Just not your language. Don’t judge!” This urge to explain is my own insecurity, of course.
Anyway, I still want to learn French. The French Cultural Institute in Kigali offers classes that I’ll be signing up for when I’m back in Rwanda. For now, I’ll continue picking up what French I can and I’ll stumble along in my Spanish-French mishmash. C’est bon.
I had just arrived home from my morning run today when I heard an air raid siren. I knew bombs couldn’t be imminent. But it sounded just like it does in movies about World War II in London. It sounded just like when I lived in Seoul and sirens blared occasionally in drills meant to remind citizens of the North Korean threat. Was this a drill, too? If so, for what? As the second siren went off, I looked out the apartment window. Hordes of energetic kids ran into the neighboring schoolyard, jumping all over the playground. The air raid siren is the school’s bell. Of course.
One of the most popular songs in Rwanda right now is a catchy tune about EDPRS sung by Knowless and Riderman Jay Polly. EDPRS stands for Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy. Can you imagine a top American pop song about TARP or Obamacare? Me neither. My husband has seen the EDPRS music video a couple times. We’re hoping to catch a live performance of the song at a concert tomorrow. Be sure to watch the video below (in Kinyarwanda). My favorite part is the construction workers holding hands and raising their arms as they sway to the music. There’s a story here that I may dig into once I’m more settled.
Here in Rwanda (and much of Africa), you pay for Internet access based on how much data you consume. Since that’s not how we pay for Internet in the U.S., I’ve never given a thought to my consumption numbers. I know they’re probably high. Before arriving in Kigali, I worried that the cost of Internet access here would gobble much of our expendable income. So I was thrilled to find that MTN, a national telecom company, offers a 30-day unlimited data plan for just RWF 21,000, or about $33. That’s less than I paid in Washington, D.C.
Still, I’m watching my numbers. When I connect to the Internet, a little MTN window pops up that shows how much data I’ve used each day. On Wednesday, it was 22.5 MB. Yesterday it was 852.3 MB. Today it’s likely to be even more than yesterday. The reason? We’ve had to download a 4.7 GB file to fix an issue on my husband’s computer. So far the file’s been downloading for 17 hours. We’ve got another 14 hours to go. I hope MTN doesn’t cancel our unlimited data plan after this.
I shot this picture not knowing what was happening. Sometimes you do that: photograph first, ask questions later in the interest of capturing the moment. These young women staying at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home in Dhangadhi, Nepal, weren’t sure what they were looking at either. Then they found out: A dying person being carried into the hospital next door. Heartbreaking.
My colleague Molly and I walked among the thatched homes in Char Baria, talking to people about their lives – one of my favorite things to do, ever.
We had come to this small village in southern Bangladesh looking for a good person to profile for a story about maternal and child nutrition. When looking for the right person, the idea is to find someone who’s active, will be comfortable with the camera and is a good storyteller. That last detail is crucial. It’s hard to create a compelling film from someone who can’t talk about his or her life in a relatable manner, i.e., stories.
That first evening, as a curious crowd gathered around us, I asked our translator to ask everyone, “Who do you think tells the best stories in this village?” I’ll never forget the sight of about 25 people, mostly women and most of them shorter than I, simultaneously nodding their heads and looking toward Tohomina and saying her name.
“OK, then,” I said to Molly. “Looks like it’s unanimous!”
From a recent outing with friends in California: Good friends like Amelie and Cora are always happy to see each other.
Sometimes I like to think purely artistically when I’m photographing — you know, forget about moment and photojournalism and emotion. What are the things around me? How beautiful does the world look? From top to bottom: outside Alewife Station in Arlington, Mass.; sunset on Block Island, Rhode Island; the Atlantic Ocean, Block Island, Rhode Island; and somewhere above New England. Thanks to my dear friend Abby for help with this edit.
Lawrence (right) is one of those charming kids who knows he’s charming and uses his powers for good. He’s always making people laugh with his silly faces and funny gestures. One evening when I was photographing at Omoana House, a child health rehabilitation center in Jinja, Uganda, Helen (left) sat alone on a back stoop, looking a little lonely. Lawrence sauntered over with a water hose. He stuck it in his mouth and stood a few feet from Helen. “What’s he doing?” I wondered. Helen looked perplexed, too. Lawrence pretended he wasn’t doing anything strange. He looped the hose over his head, not looking at Helen, who cracked a teeny smile. Grass crunched under Lawrence’s feet as he walked closer to Helen. He sprawled out on the stoop next to her, hose in mouth, eyes fixed on her to see her reaction. He got it: A genuine smile. Helen was charmed, as was I.
Neelum Chand carries her son, Shuvam, 1, through the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home (NRH) in Dhangadhi, Nepal, after lunch on Sunday, April 29, 2012. The NRH, a project of the Rural Women’s Development and Unity Centre, a Nepali NGO, works to restore malnourished children to health. Forty-one percent of Nepali children under age 5 are short for their age (stunted), according to the preliminary 2011 Nepal Demographic and Health Survey. Stunting is an indicator of malnutrition, and ensuring children are properly nourished in the 1,000 days between pregnancy and age 2 are vital to a child’s development.
Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World
Swayambunath, a grand Buddhist temple overlooking the Kathmandu Valley, is a wonderful place to contemplate life. I was lucky enough to visit two weeks ago while on a reporting trip to Asia for Bread for the World. My colleague and friend Molly and I spent one morning here during our brief sojourn in Kathmandu before heading out west.
I visited the temple when I lived in Kathmandu five years ago. As I walked around Swayambunath this time, I thought about how to photograph the scene differently than before. Did I succeed? (Apologies for the strange formatting of the archived post.)
I’m glad we detoured through the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks on our way to Santa Fe. I’d seen pictures of these before but I couldn’t have imagined the beauty and wonder of hiking through the rocks myself. We hadn’t planned to hike to the top. I hadn’t planned on taking hundreds of pictures. Afterwards I wished we’d brought a picnic and I’d taken more photographs.
I didn’t imagine that owning an iPhone would change the way I photograph.
Pre-iPhone, I carried one of my big pro cameras with me everywhere. Bringing my 5D Mark II to a birthday party or a friend’s barbecue automatically put me in “professional photographer mode.” Every picture had to be perfectly composed, in perfect light, at the perfect time. I photographed many memorable moments but wasn’t really in the moment.
A couple years ago I bought a Canon G11, a small point-and-shoot camera. Since this wasn’t a professional camera, I thought I wouldn’t feel compelled to make perfect pictures with it. I would photograph on program mode, let the camera control everything. Wrong.
Last year I bought an iPhone. I didn’t give a thought to the phone’s camera, which it turns out produces pictures that are as high-quality as the ones that came out of my first digital SLR (the Canon 10D, for you gear geeks out there). I love the iPhone camera. I have almost no control over the exposure settings. Turns out this was what I needed to set me free. Now I’m more experimental. I make more photographs. I still think about composition, light and moment; I think it would be impossible for me not to think about those. But I don’t obsess over them. I just let the pictures happen and I’m more willing to make mistakes.
Riding the bus from Sokcho, on South Korea’s far northeastern coast, to Daegu, I took this picture where everything seems to bend toward the center of the photograph. I still can’t figure out what happened but I like the effect.
He was totally into Little Women. Then he noticed me photographing him and smiled his big smile.
Pittsburgh, Penn., October 2011
When you first see the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, it’s amazing to think that these islands and the homes on them and the boats next to them are all constructed from the tall totora (reeds) growing everywhere in the water. But it’s true. And it’s been true for hundreds of years. The islands slowly sink, so the people living there constantly lay down new reeds to build up the “ground”.
It’s been almost one year since I traveled to Lake Titicaca but I must say sleeping overnight on one of the islands is a must. Just make sure your visit is sustainable. I stayed on Isla Khantati with Cristina Suaña (the link is in Spanish and about 10 years old) and her husband Victor. They’re both Lake Titicaca natives. Cristina is listed in Lonely Planet as “highly recommended by readers.” I recommend her, too. She was incredibly welcoming, smiling all the time and adjusting her dinner menu to accommodate the fact that I’m vegetarian. That was so very kind of her.
Cristina lost no opportunity to educate me and the other tourists about her culture and her life. Especially interesting was how she got started hosting foreigners in her home: Cristina had seen tour operators taking advantage of the Lake Titicaca islanders. She didn’t like it. So she talked with her husband about starting their own operation. It would cater to foreigners but be more of a cultural exchange than a typical tourist visit to the islands. Cristina attended culinary classes so she could learn how to cook for western palates. A volunteer created a brochure. Slowly, tourists started calling her. Then she got written up in Lonely Planet a few years ago and business boomed.
There were four of us tourists all together. Two men and one woman from Portugal and one man from Germany. The Portuguese people spoke Spanish but not the German man. I had to translate from Spanish to English for him. We all sat huddled in a hut around a reed table, sharing travel stories as we waited for dinner. Periodically Victor or Cristina would appear to talk with us. That night and during a fishing expedition the next morning we all learned so much about the history of the area and the struggles the islanders have faced balancing tourism with maintaining their cultural roots. I stretched my Spanish to its limits during these talks.
I just looked in my journal to find the exact facts I learned during my 24 hours on Isla Khantati. All it says is:
I’m about to go to bed on a floating island. It’s been an amazing day. I’ve learned so much. It’ll have to wait until later, though, because I’m exhausted. I could feel the island moving when I was in the bathroom.
Then I never wrote about Lake Titicaca again. Let that be a lesson to me to stay up late and just write. Well then. I did learn a lot. I remember feeling overwhelmed by all the facts given to me by Cristina and Victor. Maybe that was why I went to bed instead of wrote.
I don’t want to write wrong facts, so I’ll write about feelings instead, like the feeling of being on a floating island. When you’re standing or sitting still you can sometimes feel the island gently bobbing in the water. I remember standing in the toilet stall (like a luxury port-a-potty) and feeling the ground undulate. I carefully stepped out of the stall and into complete darkness except for the stars twinkling above. I felt the bobbing again. So lovely and wonderful.
Be prepared to be cold when you visit Lake Titicaca, especially if you stay overnight, especially in winter. I froze during the night even though my sleeping attire consisted of pants, long johns, a long-sleeve shirt, a sweater, a scarf, a wool hat, my knee-length down coat, eight wool blankets and a hot water bottle at my feet (provided by Cristina and Victor for all the guests). The blankets were so heavy that I couldn’t move. I decided it was better to be cold than to smother to death, so I kicked off a few blankets.
The next morning all us tourists set out to go fishing with Victor. He caught lots of little fish whose name I can’t remember. Cristina had a western breakfast ready by the time we returned. After breakfast came a surprise: Cristina wanted us all to sing and write down the words to a song from our home country. First went the Portuguese people. Then the German man. Everyone wanted to hear a Korean song from me, not an American song, so I sang a kids tune called 나비야 (Butterfly) and – surprisingly – everyone hummed along. Even Cristina hummed! Turns out the song’s melody is one that’s used in a lot of countries. And to think I had to travel all the way to Peru and spend a night and morning on Isla Khantati in Lake Titicaca to learn that. Life is amazing.
So the interesting thing about Jinja, Uganda, is the strong Indian influence on the city’s architecture and atmosphere. Until Idi Amin expelled all Asians from the country in 1972, Indians owned many businesses that made up the backbone of the Ugandan economy. Now, walking around Jinja, you see Hindu temples and men wearing turbans (you can see both in the photograph above). Indians began returning to Uganda in the 1980s, including the Madhavani family, which owns one of the largest business groups in Uganda. In fact, Patrick and I stayed at a beautiful safari Lodge that the Madhavani’s own in western Uganda – but more about that later.
Back to Jinja.
It is really a picturesque city, kind of quaint, actually, even though it’s nestled along Lake Victoria and the source of the Nile River. Patrick lives just outside Jinja, but we didn’t spend much time there and I didn’t take nearly as many pictures there as I imagined. I also didn’t go rafting – which is what most people do in Jinja – or visit the Source of the Nile Gardens (which Patrick said is kind of a rip off considering you can see the source of the river from other places). All in all, I wish we’d spent more time just chilling in Jinja. Next time!
I’m not sure if we were really supposed to wander around the kitchen, but we did. The Tan Ky House is over 200 years old and still home to members of the Tan family. The architecture was an interesting mix of Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese – reflecting Hoi An’s days as a major Asian seaport – but what interested me most was the colorful kitchen and the pot boiling on the stove, simple reminders of every day life still going on in the old home.
All photographs shot from the back of a moving motorbike taxi during a 20-minute ride with my Canon G11. I didn’t crop any of these!