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Students Bring Home the Passion

Students gather a lot of useful information at the NextGen graduate preparation fair.

Students gather a lot of useful information at the NextGen graduate preparation fair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LAS VEGAS — What happens this week in Las Vegas probably should not stay in Vegas!

That’s because one of my favorite clients, the 7,500-member American College Personnel Association, is meeting here and I am lucky to be shooting their conference. This group represents some of the less visible heroes of the American university and college experience. ACPA represents the professionals in higher education who are not faculty, such as housing administrators, guidance counselors and academic advisors.

A name tag with memories and accomplishments.

A name tag with memories and accomplishments.

Simply stated: These are the folks who make it possible for students to show-up for class ready to learn.

No where is the passion for students more lively than at the group’s NextGen Conference, a two-tab confab held during the week for students contemplating careers in student affairs. It’s fun watching and photographing the students as they get to know each other and have some good conservations with the various educators about where they might pursue graduate study.

For me, it is gratifying to work with an organization that appreciates having good photography for their events. They use the images throughout the year and know that strong imagery advances their mission, keeps sponsors informed and shows donors that they’re succeeding in their work.

The graduate preparation fair gives students a chance to meet with a variety of graduate programs.

The graduate preparation fair gives students a chance to meet with a variety of graduate programs.

Prospective graduate students get to hear from their peers about their experiences.

Prospective graduate students get to hear from their peers about their experiences.

The students come ready to learn -- and have some laughs, too.

The students come ready to learn — and have some laughs, too.

Students from different schools and different geographic locations get to share their campus experiences and make new friends.

Students from different schools and different geographic locations get to share their campus experiences.

The NextGen Conference is a time to make new friends who are likely to be future colleagues.

The NextGen Conference is a time to make new friends who are likely to be future colleagues.

Each school has literature on hand and the students scoop it up like snacks.

Each school has literature on hand and the students scoop it up like snacks.

The conference gets underway with a day-long workshop.

The conference gets underway with a day-long workshop.

It's time to listen, learn and hear a pitch from a college recruiting graduate students.

It’s time to listen, learn and hear a pitch from a college recruiting graduate students.

 

Finding Direction in a Puddle of Sweat and a Shared Video

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The second of an occasional series

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This just in: I am 16 weeks into my weight-loss and fitness program and I have lost 35 pounds. That puts me more than halfway to my goal of 150 pounds. And I have sufficiently reduced my body mass index from being classified as obese to just being overweight.

Hold your applause. It’s not over yet.

Like anyone who is struggling to change eating habits, drop weight and get fit, I would like to reach my goal tomorrow. But I learned from a wise friend years ago that “life is 99 percent process and 1 percent results. If you don’t learn to enjoy the process, you are going to spend life miserable.”

And so, I endeavor to find insight and learn lessons from my six-weekly workouts, which include four grueling one-hour sessions of High Intensity Interval Training with my trainer. Over the weeks, I have gotten stronger, slightly more coordinated and no longer associate a good workout with how much rest time I get, but with how hard I breathe and how much I sweat.

Yeah, I am getting addicted to that endorphin high, and the benefit of feeling tremendously better 24/7 keeps me looking forward to each workout with a weird combination of eager anticipation and a little anxiety about what new exercises my trainer will introduce.

I started blogging about this experience because I believe that fitness can make a difference in the lives of creative people. That’s right: Being in good shape can enhance your creativity. And there is even some science to back that up.

A 2005 study by researchers at Rhode Island College found that creative thinking was measurably enhanced among 60 student volunteers after they completed aerobic exercise. This squares with anecdotal reports by subjects in fitness programs who report that exercise clears their minds, helps balance emotions and opens the pathway to creativity.

Debra Atkinson, who holds a masters degree in kinesiology and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, maintains that exercise is the best way to quiet the chattering of the left side of the brain. It is the left side, she says, that allows us to function well at school or work, focusing on problems and tasks to be completed. She maintains that sufficiently intense exercise will quiet the left brain, allowing the right side to step forward and offer up its abundant supply of creativity that produces music, art — and yes, great photography.

“The key is finding an activity intense enough to force you out of your pattern of thinking,” she wrote in a recent article.

My trainer, Dat Dang, enjoys coffee while I workout. My job: Sweat!

My trainer, Dat Dang, enjoys coffee while I workout. My job: Sweat! You tell me who’s having more fun.

For my part, I have learned a technique that I have dubbed, “reaching deeper!” It’s a place inside me that I tap when I am being called on to pump out more reps when I am exhausted, the muscles burn and I feel oxygen depleted. I get there by closing my eyes and reaching into what seems like an ethereal place, perhaps the place where the soul and the subconscious are linked and taps my deepest inner strength. If you are spiritual, you might say this is the energy of the Universe or the God spot.

I often know it is time to “reach deeper” when I hear my trainer beckoning: “Come on, Robert, you got this. I know you can do it.”

This special place, which I believe exists in all of us, has been at my disposal and drawn on throughout my life. But never before have I been so aware of its existence. It was the source of resolve that propelled me to break stories as a journalist. And now, I know I can tap that energy source to put forth the extra effort to capture images that not only better serve my clients but also create higher achievements in my personal creative projects.

But not all insights come from “reaching deeper.” Some come from the personal connections you make from like-minded souls in the gym. A couple of weeks ago, my trainer sent me a video with a message, “This will make you cry.” Indeed, the story about the Sports Illustrated 2012 Kids of the Year is tear inducing. And it reminded me of the children I photographed a year ago when I was on a photo workshop In Dehradun, India, with the Momenta Workshops.

Each of the seven photographers in the group were assigned to shoot images for a local non-profit. My non-profit provided early learning care for severely disabled children who have conditions like autism, cerebral palsy and down syndrome. I was very moved by the dedication and patience of the staff as they worked with challenging children, pushing them to slowly learn basic life skills like walking, feeding themselves and using a toilet. (You can see those images on my website under the “Portfolio” drop-down menu at the top of the page).

One day after I had been shooting images of the children being picked-up by their parents to go home, I had time for a moment of masala tea in a quiet sunlit room. Reflecting on the portfolio that I was compiling, I slipped into that “reaching deeper” place and realized how tremendously rewarding it was to be creating images that my host non-profit could use to raise funds and support its important work. I was creating images that would ultimately make a difference in the lives of these children and their families.

I felt a special calling: Humanitarian photography projects should be a big part of my future.

But I’ve realized that over the months that I’ve lost my direction. The need to pick-up quick commercial assignments to pay the bills, my book project and the demands of daily life have diverted my attention. I knew this when I watched the the Sports Illustrated video. That inner voice returned.

It’s possible that I just needed time to get fit and improve my health. After all, I also recall while being in India that being heavy made the work far more difficult. After a day of shooting and carrying around 216 pounds of myself, I was exhausted and every weak muscle in my body was in agony. Now, I can shoot weddings, events and model photo shoots without being exhausted and in pain when I am finished. In fact, I have plenty of extra energy reserves to keep shooting, going for those extra images that finally produce an exceptional shot for a client or for my own personal project. And my mind seems clear, focused, processing at a faster clip and more creatively than before.

My experience is not scientific and only anecdotal. But I know that I have found renewed direction. By “reaching deeper” in a puddle of sweat, and through the thoughtful sharing of a video by a good friend, I have found renewed direction in my creative life.

Some additional resources:

Body Mass Index

Rhode Island University Study

Momenta Workshops

High-Intensity Interval Training

Project India I

Project India II

So God Made a Farmer

Images in the Chrysler commercial offer slices of American farm life.

Images in the Chrysler commercial offer slices of American farm life.

 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An action-packed Super Bowl game is truly a video type of event. But last night, Chrysler Group LLC chose to use a beautiful series of still photographs in a lengthy, two-minute commercial that will probably be more memorable than any key play or touchdown by either team.

Titled, “So God Made a Farmer,” the commercial drew on the work of 10 photographers whose stunning still images were narrated with a passionate 1978 speech by the late commentator Paul Harvey. His speech was recorded at a National Future Farmers of America Convention.

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Chrysler’s Ram Truck brand commissioned 10 photographers, including National Geographic icon William Albert Allard and documentary photographer Kurt Markus to document American farm life. The images provide visually strong slices of farming life that remind us of our shared identity and character with farmers, the values of perserverance and determination and hard work.

The presentation obviously stands out because the still images are part of a video and were first aired during a football game known for action on the field and lively commercials in between plays. But the compelling still images in the Chrysler commercial are more notable for providing dramatic, story telling photos that drive home the truly American values one can find among farmers.  It’s a feel-good piece that makes a connection between being American, a farmer and driving the company’s trucks.

“For the past two years, we have used the largest television viewing audience to highlight the pride, the resilience and the determination that form an integral part of the American character,” said Sergio Marchionne, chairman and CEO of Chrysler.

Simply stated, Chrysler’s advertising agencies did a masterful job of using strong photography to tell a story and one that weaves RAM truck ownership into the fabric of America.

The Chrysler brand commissioned 10 photographers to produce images for the commercial.

The Chrysler brand commissioned 10 photographers to produce images for the commercial.

The images offer slices of American farm life with powerful portraits and scenes from the heartland.

The images include powerful portraits and farm scenes from the heartland.

 

 

 

Oxygen: Elixir of the Creative

My fundamental problem is I love to eat. My friend and fellow photographer, Khoa Tran, caught me enjoying noodle soup and Coca-Cola for breakfast during a 2011 visit to Haiphong, Vietnam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first of an occasional series

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today is the day that millions of Americans will begin a diet, join a gym and make one more attempt at losing weight, reducing their waistline and getting in shape. Most will fail.

I got an early start on my program, beginning 12 weeks ago with a fitness trainer. Since then, I’ve worked-off 17 pounds and trimmed my corpulent waistline by three-and-a-half inches. My goal is to lose another 48 pounds and bring my waist down from its current 42.5 to 30 inches.Target date: Sometime around October.

Those are lofty goals. And, having done the weight yo-yo most of my life, I know I could fail again. Indeed, a survey by Harris Interactive found that only 27 percent of people who begin a New Year’s fitness program meet their goals.

But I am more optimistic I will be among the successful this time for several reasons. First, this has been the most difficult round of weight loss I have ever experienced; I don’t want to do this again. Two, my cardiologist has told me that if I don’t significantly improve my fitness and cut weight, I might not live beyond my sixties. And finally, I have discovered something I will reveal here about fitness that would probably motivate more people if it got the same prominent attention as promises of quick weight loss remedies, six-pack abs and getting into a sexy summer swimsuit.

And that gets to the reason I decided to blog about my experience. My intention is not to write a “biggest loser” testimonial, although I will talk about my exercise, diet — and my angst. Instead, I want to talk about the important contribution that fitness brings to the creative process — hopefully valuable insights for the photographers, designers, marketing, advertising and pubic relations professionals and other creatives that read this blog.

But first, my back story.

Last September, I had become quite frustrated about my increasing weight as I hit 215 pounds and was headed back towards an all-time high of about 225. That’s a lot of girth on a guy who stands just five-feet, five-inches. I desperately wanted to find my way back to healthy eating and kick the daily pizza slices, vanilla ice cream and cheeseburgers. But each week, I would return to my therapist to lament the previous week’s indulgences and my increasing frustration over not being able to stop eating and go to the gym.

In fact, I had gotten into quite a rut. I would eat badly, figuring, “I’ll work this issue out in therapy.” Then I would go for my session and gripe. And then I would repeat the cycle. I needed an intervention.

And that is when I met my trainer.

Enter Dat Dang, 145 pounds of muscle, determination and fierceness. I met Dat about 15 years ago when he was a 20-something immigrant from Vietnam, starting a new life here and trying to navigate engineering school at a local university with less-than-perfect English skills. Dat, today a brainy engineer with a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, was a fitness model for one of my photo shoots. And now, at age 36 and just 4.5 percent body fat, he remains one of the most truly fit, dedicated and focused athletes I know.

Since that first photo shoot, Dat and I have just been acquaintances, saying hello at the gym or trading pleasantries online. More recently, we had been talking about him modeling again for a shoot I was planning when our conversation turned to working out and I mentioned my ongoing frustration.

“I will be your trainer, as I am now certified,” he said, an offer that seemed more of a command and left little room to decline.

Indeed, my list of excuses had just run out. A chat about a photo shoot had turned into my divine intervention.

At that moment I had to face a hard truth. I could start working out with a friend who genuinely wanted to focus his fitness knowledge, skills and enthusiasm on helping me get fit and healthy. Or, I could continue down a path of impending diabetes, heart disease and early death. I also was increasingly aware that I was becoming something I never wanted to be: A fat old man.

The consequences of not accepting Dat’s offer seemed horrific. In addition to the health consequences, I was painfully aware that getting heavier made me feel like a social outcast, especially in a gay community that is beauty and youth obsessed. Fat men don’t get dates. And I still have hopes and dreams of finding Mr. Right and getting married.

And so I said “yes” to Dat.

I knew it was going to be tough but I really didn’t know how tough. We’re doing a regimen called high intensity interval training. It’s a series of intense exercises performed one after another with very limited intervals of rest. The program improves cardio capacity, strengthens muscles and improves flexibility. This is not about building mirror muscles. It’s the real deal — exercise that truly improves fitness and health.

And it was grueling. I was heavy, weak, stiff and lacking balance and coordination. I sweated buckets, my chest heaved for air and it just plain hurt. It seemed hopeless. Dat made brief videos of me exercising, and I looked like an aging circus elephant doing its last pathetic act. The first week or two I wanted to just sit down on the gym floor and cry like like a five-year-old.

I considered quitting, as I thought my trainer was pushing too hard and fast for someone of my age and fitness level. We argued about this a bit. But he continued to encourage and push and I refused to be a quitter.

And then one day just three weeks into the program I experienced what seemed like a miracle. I noticed that I was feeling very good, not just in the gym but throughout my day. I had new energy, real pep in my step. I felt clear headed and my mood was positive and upbeat. And I was getting more done with my work and had a renewed zeal for my creative projects.

It just so happened on that day that I ran into a friend who is a physician. I told him about my fitness program and about my new found energy.

“I can tell you why this is happening. There is real science at work here,” he said.

My friend explained that when a person gets fat and out of shape the heart follows the rest of the body, becoming flabby and inefficient. It’s stroke, or the amount of blood it pumps with each beat, declines even as it is being called on to pump more blood to support the extra fat tissue.

Essentially, your body is oxygen deprived. And so you get tired, depressed and you have little enthusiasm for anything except your next meal. Eventually, simple things like getting up from your desk and walking to the next office produces labored breathing. You’re exhausted before the end of the day. How can you be doing your best work? With your mind clouded by fatigue, where will you find your next creative idea? How can you even be a supportive participant in your relationships with family, colleagues and friends?

In our culture it is easy to find yourself at this crossroads. Over time, many of us creatives put on pounds as we sit at our computers, toil on our latest works and nibble on awful snacks loaded with fat, salt and processed carbs. And it is a lifestyle choice that robs us of the one vital element we need to be our best: Oxygen.

“And so, after just three weeks of vigorous exercise my heart is doing a happy dance?” I asked my physician friend.

“Yes, exactly!,” he replied.

I noticed my energy level on photo shoots, too. In November, just four weeks after starting my program, I shot back-to-back events over three long days and evenings that would have previously left me aching and exhausted. At the end, I was tired but not devastated, as I had been in the past.

I cannot point to any great creative epiphany in the last few weeks that I attribute to my new energy level. But I can tell you that I used down time over the holidays to map out a business game plan for 2013 with more energy and sharp, critical thinking than I have experienced in a long time. I also started digging into a batch of about 20,000 images that I shot during a 2011 trip to Vietnam that have been waiting for me to rekindle my energy and enthusiasm. And I have energy left over to give my studio space a thorough cleaning and reorganization that will make me more efficient and comfortable throughout the year.

I begin the new year with a sense of self-confidence and optimism: I know that if I stay committed to my program more great things in and outside the gym are coming.

So, here is your takeaway: Oxygen — a magical elixir that is free, in abundant supply and is not only going to make you feel better, it’s going to make you feel fabulous. Forget all the reasons people say you should loose weight and get fit. Feeling great is the best reason you’ll ever need.

Some additional resources:

Library of Congress Acquires Vietnam Prints

Boys At Play, 2008, Cao Bong Province, Vietnam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(My studio issued the following news release today.)

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 7, 2012 – The Library of Congress has acquired 10 color fine art prints from photographer Robert Dodge’s Vietnam 40 Years Later portfolio, Robert Dodge Photography announced today.

The images come from an ongoing project by Dodge that documents what has happened to Vietnam since the end of the war with the United States nearly 40 years ago. Dodge made the images acquired by the library during multiple trips to Vietnam between 2006 and 2011.

In a separate acquisition, the library has accepted Dodge’s gift of 165 digital images captured during public and Congressional memorial services for gay civil rights leader Franklin Kameny. The images will be added to other papers and historic documents from Kameny’s life now held by the library and the Smithsonian Institution.

“In both cases, I am very proud that my work will add to the historical record of our country,” Dodge said.

A freelance journalist, Dodge captured images at two memorial services for Kameny, which were held following his death in October 2011 at age 86. Kameny, who was fired in 1957 from his job as a government astronomer for being gay, was a trailblazer in the gay rights movement. Kameny contested his firing with the U.S. Civil Service commission, pressed a legal case to the U.S. Supreme Court and later co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.

The Kameny images are in digital format. The Vietnam images are 13×19 color digital prints. The prints are on a 100 percent cotton substrate of Moab Entrada matte paper made by Legion Papers and printed with Epson UltraChrome K3 pigment ink.

Dodge’s Vietnam project is coming to fruition at a time when the United States is starting to focus on an important series of anniversaries around U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. During the Memorial Day weekend, President Obama recognized the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the war and called for a 13-year period by federal, state and local officials to honor those who served in Vietnam.

As 2015 approaches, American’s will focus on the 40thanniversary of the end of the war, a time when 77-million Baby Boomers and 2 million Vietnamese Americans are likely to contemplate on how the war affected their lives. Dodge’s project encourages Americans

Floating Markets XXVII, Nga Nam, Soc Trang Province, Vietnam

to replace their violent and vivid wartime memories of Vietnam with an updated view of the emerging and vibrant Southeast Asian country. Dodge’s photography provides a compelling and colorful story of a nation at a crossroads, a country with rolling tropical mountains, clear-water beaches and bustling cities, a country with one foot firmly anchored in the traditional life of ancient Asia, another leaping forward to embrace the modern world.

The acquisition by the Library of Congress will help the institution update its own collection of Vietnam imagery and keep abreast of these important milestones in U.S. history.

“When Americans hear ‘Vietnam,’ they need to start thinking about a country and not just a war,” Dodge said. “By updating their own awareness about Vietnam, they will find the United States is again deeply connected to this faraway country culturally, politically and economically.”

The 10 images acquired by the library can be seen on Dodge’s website at http://bit.ly/LeSB8i. Dodge’s full website can be seen at www.RobertDodge.com. All the Vietnam images can be purchased as limited-edition, fine-art prints. For more information, contact Robert Dodge Photography at 202-986-1758 or Robert@RobertDodge.com.

Robert Dodge is an award-winning photographer and writer with more than 30 years experience as a journalist, media relations expert and photographer. He accepts personal and corporate commissions and assignments, mostly from Washington, D.C.’s advocacy industry of non-profit associations, non-governmental organizations, trade associations and political/lobbying firms, as well as local and national corporations.

Mekong III, 2006, Chau Doc, An Giang Province, Vietnam

See all 10 prints acquired by the Library of Congress: http://bit.ly/LeSB8i

Using Photography to Show Your Group’s Passion

Students, some wearing school colors, check-in at ACPA’s NextGen student conference.

 

 

Louisville, Ky.

I am happy to be photo shooting this week for a great organization that makes it possible for so many college students to be successful in student life, academics and ultimately in earning a diploma — the American College Personnel Association.

You might think that a professional association’s annual conference would be kinda boring, unless it was your own. But ACPA’s meeting is all about helping students and

It didn’t take long before students to find something in common and start getting acquainted.

provides an opportunity to use photography to help illustrate the important work the organization’s university administrators, faculty and student affairs officers do at about 1,200 private and public institutions.

Just check out the images from ACPA’s NextGen conference, a two day-event held during the convention for students who want to enter the student affairs profession. Their energy comes through in the photos and shows how an organization can tell its story in a way that is energizing to its members, supporters and donors.

The organizers and staff gave students a warm welcome and encouragement as the conference opened.

Students came to the conference from universities throughout the country.

Bagels, Diet Pepsi and an Internet connection…what more could a student conference need?

Breaks provided an opportunity to prep for the next session or catch a few winks.

 

 

Project India: The Comeback Kids

Family Portrait: Rizvan, Rihan and Faizan with their parents before leaving for school.

Dehradun, India

Rizvan Praveen is a charmer. He may be too young to be fully aware of his allure, but his irresistible smile, warm brown eyes and happy disposition could take this sweet-natured 15-year-old a long way in life.

Or maybe not.

Rizvan faces formidable challenges in becoming successful in life. His family, which includes younger brothers Rihan, 12, and Faizan, 10, live in the worst slum in Dehradun,

Rizvan often smiles when he pleases his tutor.

a city of 575,000, located six hours north of New Delhi by train. All the boys are about two years behind in school, their father is unemployed and the family’s only income comes from a part-time job their mother holds cooking lunch for local government bureaucrats.

The family lives in a two-room house built from loose bricks, largely stacked without mortar and held together by gravity and a prayer. The roof is made from plastic sheets and one room has a dirt floor. The family of five all sleep in one bed and there is no electricity or running water. Like many people in their neighborhood, they live on the banks of a river that provides polluted water for drinking, bathing and waste disposal.

To be sure, the brothers are at risk of falling hopelessly behind and being condemned to life in the slums. But there is a silver lining of hope for the Praveen family that comes from a local non-governmental organization (NGO) called Astitva. The NGO has been successful in getting the boys enrolled in public school and is providing an intensive tutoring program so they can get caught-up with their peers.

Astitva’s intervention stands as an example of the plentiful good-news stories many non-profit organizations have to tell about their worthy deeds. Identifying stories like this one and using strong photography and multi-media resources provide powerful tools that NGOs like Astitva can use to show their donors and other constituencies that they are fulfilling their mission.

Whether an organization is raising money or trying to influence policymakers, its staff cannot just talk about what they do. The group needs to have an effective communications strategy that shows real-life examples of what it’s doing.

Astitva is not a rich, multi-national NGO with a sophisticated communications staff. Far from it. But it does have Preeti Kirbat, Astitva’s director, who understands the power of

Astitva's Preeti Kirbat

photography. “Our donors are always saying, ‘Show us more pictures,'” she said. Kirbat was keen on hosting me for the better part of a week during February to shoot photos at Astitva under the auspices of a program sponsored by the Momenta Workshops of Washington.

I spent two weeks in India working with two non-profit organizations, creating a portfolio of images for each of them to use in their communications work. It was during my time at Astitva that Rizvan’s charming smile jumped through my camera lens and gave my heart a big squeeze. After I spent some time photographing him working with his tutor, I learned two of the other students were his brothers and that’s when I knew we might have a special story.

Kirbat’s association helps women from abusive homes become more confident and take control of their lives by helping them improve their economic standing. She found out about the family when she was approached by the mother who had heard of Astitva’s program for helping abused women.

While Astitva’s focus is on being an economic incubator for women, the organization also provides family support services so women can invest time in a job or start a small home-based business. And for the Praveen family, that meant intervening to rescue the boys from a free fall. “We have enough schools here,” Kirbat said, “but not all children are going to school.”

In addition to supporting the women, Kirbat sees Astitva’s work with children as an opportunity to end the cycle of abuse that is handed down from one generation to another. Through its youth programs, Astitva also reaches out to boys to show them they do not have to adopt the violent behavior of their fathers.

The Praveen family came on hard times a little over three years ago when the mother was hit by a car while walking alongside a road. A surgery and other medical care wiped out the family financially. And with the father out of work, they decided they did not have money to send the brothers to school and pulled them out of classes for three years.

The brothers are probably at a critical juncture in their lives. If things do not go right, they could fall further behind in school or even drop out. Kirbat worries that Rizvan is getting old enough that his father might be tempted to pull him out of school and make him work to support the family. “There is a lot of pressure to drop out of school,” she said.

The father examines his latest haul of scavenged tools.

But the things I saw were encouraging.

The brothers work hard during their tutoring sessions, each bursting into smiles each time they please one of their teachers. They seem to enjoy learning and the tutors said they are reasonably smart and learning fast. “We like English,” said Rizan, who often acts as a spokesman for his younger brothers. “Math is interesting, but it is very difficult.”

Their economic situation and standing in school have not been lost on Rizvan. He seems to understand the hard work he faces. Asked what he likes to do after school, he responded: “We have no time to play. We wash clothes and help our parents.”

Once the boys get caught up, Kirbat hopes that she can get them enrolled in a private school. That would cost about $15 a month for each child, but for the Praveen family, that is a fortune. Kirbat would like to raise scholarship money, but for now, does not know how that will happen. There also is hope the father, a mechanic, will be able to find a location to open an auto repair garage. He currently scavenges tools, keeping the best ones and selling the others.

On a recent frosty February morning, I accompanied the boys’ tutor from Astitva on her weekly visit to the family home. The Praveen family generously welcomed me so that I could take photos of the brothers getting ready for school. And even though they have

Elements of style: A shared comb and an auto rear view mirror.

little in this world, they still insisted on brewing chai tea and offering little glazed doughnuts.

The brothers start their day helping their mother with household chores. Then they each take turns washing their feet, faces and hair. After drying off, they get dressed, sporting western-looking jeans and other garments with fashionable logos. Economic circumstances aside, they are like youth the world over in wanting to look sufficiently cool in the eyes of their peers.

And so, in a final act of grooming, each of the boys takes a small pour of corn oil kept in an old plastic Coca-Cola bottle and rubs it thoroughly into their hair.

And with that, we’re ready for the walk to school.

The brothers take turns washing up before getting dressed for school.

The morning sun pours into the small home as the boys get dressed for school.

The brothers insist they take turns carrying their two backpacks. But today, it seems Rizvan pulled rank on the younger ones.

Rihan, center, puts pressure on his older brother Rizvan to produce an answer for their tutor's question.

Youngest brother Faizan is deep in thought as he seeks an answer to his lesson.

 

 

Project India: Photos Show Early Intervention at Work

Kindred spirits: A child arriving with his mother stops to offer a proper Indian greeting to the gatekeeper. The man was once a student at the special needs center and now maintains the front gate.

Dehradun, India

Not long ago, disabled children in India had not a scintilla of hope. They often were abandoned by their families and cast aside by society. But now, thanks to organizations like the Latika Roy Foundation, many children with mental and physical challenges become more self-sufficient, are supported by their families and have the opportunity to live more fulfilling lives.

Latika Roy was started nearly 20 years ago in this northern India city by Jo Chopra, an

Learning to walk is a priority but not always easy.

American who moved to Dehradun with her Indian husband. Chopra started Latika Roy after discovering there were no schools for disabled children when she adopted a daughter with special needs.

Today, Latika Roy has a family of facilities that work with children and adults with developmental and other disabilities. Its centers provide early intervention services, education, livelihoods development, training and awareness. And if you want to see an example of a mission-driven non-profit association that understands the power of photography, check out the Latika Roy web site. The organization’s use of full-screen, color photos paints this NGO as a dynamic, credible and highly engaged organization that is making a difference. See it here!

During my second week in India, I got to work with one of Latika Roy’s project organizations, the Early Intervention Center, which works with small children who have mental and physical disabilities. The center is located in a two-story house in a neighborhood of Dehradun, a city of about 575,000 located six hours north of New Delhi by train.

The two dozen children at the facility, who are mostly age 5 and younger, have conditions like autism, cerebral palsy and down syndrome. When they come to the facility,

A therapist sings a song to a troubled child and eventually turns tears into a smile.

many cannot walk on their own or perform daily self-care tasks like getting dressed, feeding themselves or using a toilet.

“Many of the parents are just hoping to see their children start walking or talking,” said Aarti Nair, the project head.

My charge was to show the center’s counselors at work with the children and their parents. Initially, parents attend sessions with their children, leaning how to follow-up at

Wtih Mom watching, a therapist works with a child to develop touch and eye coordination.

home and reinforce the daily lessons. Having the parents attend also gives some comfort to the children, who often have trouble adjusting to new environments and challenges.

Much of the therapy and training is designed to make the children self-sufficient with daily living tasks. And that often can start with learning to walk. Each of the counselors is usually working with up to four children, performing exercises as simple as strengthening leg and torso muscles to more complicated tasks such as eating and returning plates and glasses to the center’s kitchen.

As I shot photos for three days I saw frustrated children erupt in tears and then just seconds later be smiling and laughing again. As I watched all this through the camera

After the morning sessions end, the staff has time for lunch.

lens it was apparent to me these children are in excellent hands. I’ve never seen such patience as I saw in the therapists and teachers, and judging by the plentiful spontaneous smiles, these people find true joy and meaning in their work.

My favorite image for the week is the one that starts off this story. A young child accompanied by his mother has arrived for his sessions at the center. He spontaneously stopped to greet the gatekeeper, an expression of kinship that most of us will never fully understand. Mayank, the gatekeeper, is an adult with special needs and was enrolled at the center many years ago. It’s now up to him to mind the gate and make sure the children are secure, and serves as a reminder to parents about why they make the daily trek to the center.

“He does it well,” Chopra said, “and in the process, he reassures many parents that their own children can also succeed in life.”

Blowing bubbles may seem like play but here it is a skills-building exercise.

Eating is not always pleasurable for the children and requires work with a therapist.

A child smiles as his therapist helps him identify objects in a children's book.

Clockwise: A child's feet with walking braces; a father works with his daughter; a counselor and child play a computer game and a boy shows he's ready to answer a telephone.

The children loved playing in this box of colorful balls.

Left: This child is not happy about doing walking exercises. Right: Lost in his own world, this boy waits for a parent.

At the end of the day, braces rest on a cabinet. They give children the support they need to take their first steps.

 

Project India: Empowering Women with Economic Success

After lunch, teachers at Astitva tuck children into blankets for an afternoon nap.

Dehradun, India

Preeti Kirbat believes you cannot just treat symptoms. You must intervene and address the causes of a problem. And that is what she and her staff are doing at Astitva, a small but vibrant non-profit association that helps women become more economically independent as a way to break the cycle of domestic violence that is endemic in their community.

“We do not want to do the victimization thing,” said Kirbat, who started Astitva about four years ago. Instead, Astitva helps women put their domestic skills to work, knitting and

The kitchen always seems busy at Astitva.

sewing clothes to sell in local markets, as well as cooking lunches delivered to office workers in a traditional Indian container called a tiffin. Kirbat said women who have economic means feel more confident and strong and can stand up to abusive husbands.

Astitva is located in Dehradun, a city of 575,000 about six hours north of New Delhi by train. Nestled next to the Himalayan foothills, it’s a little off the path for most tourists. Astitva is located in a neighborhood where poor and upper class people live within close proximity. Many of the poor live along a polluted river that is used for waste disposal, bathing and drinking. Many of the men here hang out in the mornings on a nearby bridge where local construction contractors come looking for day laborers.

I spent five days at Astitva, photographing the organization’s activities as part of a workshop with six other photographers under the direction of the Momenta Workshops. During our two weeks in northern India, we each spent time with two non-profit associations, also known as non-governmental organizations (NGO).

The idea is to create a portfolio of images about each NGO’s work. The NGOs, which usually would not be able to afford to hire a photographer, gets a portfolio of images they can use to show prospective donors, beneficiaries and other constituency groups. For us photographers, it was an exceptionally rewarding boot-camp experience in learning how to support NGO clients with our photography. By day we shot photos. By night we drank Kingfisher beers, ate curry dishes — and had many late-night editing sessions.

“People are always telling us, ‘Send us more pictures. Send us more pictures,'” said Kirbat, explaining that the photography portfolio will be a key component of telling Astitva’s story. “You can tell them what you are doing,” she added, “but with photos you can show them.”

To be sure, the NGOs in Dehradun do not have the global reach of big, international organizations. But the directors of the local NGOs are no less sophisticated in

Keeping up with the day care toddlers keeps the program's teachers in full motion.

understanding that photography is a powerful tool in building donor support to fund their activities. They have learned this by working with photographers and using their images, as well as from training they received from the folks at Momenta.

“We have a very strong mission to educate the non-profits on the value of photography,” said Jamie Rose, director of the Momenta Workshops. “They are invited to a one-day intensive seminar on digital communications. We help to train them on the importance of using local photographers after we leave to keep a sustainable photography program going and use multimedia in their promotions, marketing and fund raising. We do not just hand over the pictures and say, ‘Good luck.’”

For Astitva, the photography is an opportunity to show its donors and local community the range of work it is doing for women and their families. As Kirbat was building her NGO, she found it was not enough to show women how to put their home skills to work. Women also needed day care for their youngest children and some of their middle school children needed remedial tutoring.

Astitva also started a youth program. The program aims to instill young people with healthy ideas about family relationships and head-off future violence. As part of the youth

The student fellows at Astitva.

program, Kirbat found funding for a student fellowship program that now includes two boys and two girls. They work on projects that raise awareness among their peer group about gender equality.

Kirbat said poverty often makes the men in the family feel inadequate about their ability to support their families. With too much time on their hands, they spend their days playing cards with their friends. Then the drinking starts and the abuse follows.

“Sometimes they just get fed up and they get in the drinking mood,” she said.

With all these programs, Astitva, which occupies the first floor of a large duplex, is busy all day. In addition to the day care and student programs, the women who knit and sew make weekly visits. They get tips on techniques and also check-out Astitva’s store to see how their sweaters, scarves and other garments are selling.

And Astitva’s kitchen is always busy, starting with morning coffee for staff, a light breakfast for the day-care children and lunch for everyone, including the office and home

Lunch includes a colorful and flavorful entree of vegetables.

customers who purchase daily tiffiins. Food preparation is a for-profit enterprise where two women operate the kitchen as a business.

As toddlers from the day care program chatter over a french toast breakfast, Kirbat tells me she understands that she cannot change the world or even her country. But she’s gratified that she’ll be able to have an impact in her neighborhood.

“We are just working in this pocket of the world,” she said. “This is a place where we can do something.”

And now, with a fresh portfolio of photos, she’s got the communications tools she needs to have an impact on her pocket of the world.

Preeti Kirbat outside the Astiitva facility as student fellows hold a meeting outdoors.

There is plenty of color, aromas and action in the Astitva kitchen.

The knitting women meet weekly to socialize and get tips on knitting techniques.

Most of the knitting is done at home. Here women congregate on the roof top of one home.

Kirbat and a volunteer at Astitva's retail store coach a young seamstress on her apparel and price points.

The knitting women visit Astitva's store to see how their products are selling.

Mornings are very busy at Astitva. But when the toddlers settle in for their naps, the day begins to wind down.

 

Project India: Changing the World with Photography

New Delhi, India

I am again fortunate to be traveling abroad, this time to Dehradun, India. As I write this, I am in New Delhi and preparing to take a six-hour train tomorrow morning to our destination.

I will be participating with six other photographers in a project to support some non-profit groups in Dehradun, a city of about 1 million people in northern India nestled in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains.

Each of the photographer will be assigned to work with a non-governmental organization (NGO) and produce photo stories about their work. These are small NGOs that are doing exceptional work in education, health care and other social services but would otherwise never be able to afford the services of a professional photographer.

The NGOs can then use the photos to show their donors and other supporters that they are fulfilling their mission. It’s a project that demonstrates that visual images can and should be part of any effective public affairs program.

It is a time for us photographers to get some boot-camp training in shooting for worthy NGOs plus give back to the community where we are working. We’re not only taking photos, but hopefully making the world a slightly better place for having been there.

The two-week project takes place under the direction of the Momenta Workshops, which brings the photographers and NGOs together. (To learn more about Momenta, see the Q&A below with the organization’s director, Jamie Rose).

I will be assigned to work with a small, one-room school for deaf and handicapped children. I’ve been told it will be a challenging assignment. But I also know that it will be one that makes me grow as an individual and a photographer. While Internet connections in Dehradun will be sketchy, I anticipate you’ll be able to follow my adventure by tuning in here. As you can see, I’ve already posted a couple of photos from my walk about New Delhi on Saturday

Fabrics are dyed at a shop in a busy New Delhi market.

Tailors finishing up work for the day.

Rush hour commuters stop for a tasty fried snack.

Rush hour commuters stop for a fried snack.