Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My thoughts and best wishes are with the Egyptian people on this day of great change - it is a Berlin Wall day - a Prague Velvet Revolution day... on those days there was great uncertainty what would come next... but the will of the people prevailed... Like Berlin and like Prague this revolution was remarkably peaceful. There is a lesson here for all of us on the power of peaceful change - the power of brave committed people to come together and stand firm. The Egyptian people are coming out from under a dark cloud that has covered them for 30 years - and my wish is that a moderate democratic government can be elected -there will be challenges ahead - but tonight all I can do is rejoice with them.

Faces and Who we are

Curandera - village folk healer

Nothing tells a life story like the human face – The face with which we are born is conditioned by everything we experience - our daily loves and hates, the disciplines and bad habits we impose upon ourselves, the good times and the bad, the environment in which we live … our face shows it all. There is no escaping our wrinkles - they are formed by the habits of our daily life - laugh lines, frown lines, lines of tension or relaxation –But they are honest and good - they tell our story.

Sisters - Zapotec birthday party

I want to share with you a few faces that we encountered in Oaxaca and Chiapas states in Southern Mexico. These faces belong to people whose lives are quite different from ours. They belong to people that do hard physical work, eat a restricted diet, face uncertainty... but they share life within close family and community groups, some show the genetics of Indian ancestry and genes from Spanish ancestors. These are the faces of survivors who have prevailed despite great challenges.

Musician - Mayan facial features -

Our face is our announcement to the world – this is who I am! When I are far from home and see a familiar face…I say "I know that person" ...Imagine how many facial memories are stored in my brain – If I can see someone for a few hours, I can recognize them years later – Human evolution placed great value on us as social animals – We value kinship, friendships, as well as those that may be a threat… It is the same with people in other cultures.

Daughter of a "squatter" family eking out a living on the river flood plane

'Taking good photos of people is not easy. Have you taken a picture and said, “Oh I dont like that picture" What is it that makes a good or bad picture of a human face? When I was a child I was conditioned to always smile when I had my picture taken – Say “cheese”. What kind of photos would we take if we tried to capture the genuine character of the person - dour, joyful, sad, or complacent.

Dona Francisca - 93 years old

In many societies people know who they are because of their families, their age, their sex, their occupations, their religion. Many people in this world accept this as a given. Particularily in affluent countries people are often driven to push boundaries and seek a different identify through education, moving, work training.

Wood carver - making Alabreas figures from copal wood

In the west we often say that we respect those who "make something of themselves". That is commendable - except when we move far away and lose contact with our extended family roots. I feel envious of a large Mexican family celebrating a Sunday afternoon with a gathering of people, shared foods, music, and laughter.... I remember as a child, family gatherings that felt like this - gathering at a family member's farm and sitting around a large table - eating fried chicken and gravy, fresh fruit pie - talking and laughing into the evening...I miss it in my modern life.

Three elders sitting together at a party

What makes a good photo is cultural – With Mexican Indians, most people made a neutral face when being photographed – no concept of smiling –

When I face a camera, I put on my “photo face” – and it is not really me. Judy, my wife, says that I put on a "just off the boat" face. Once in a while I see a picture that someone took candidly of me and I feel like saying – is that really me?

Indian boys

If my goal is to capture in a photo the essential character of a face – of a person – if the smile is a false mask then I have failed. A good photo may even be troubling if it shows more of life than makes us comfortable.

Two indian teenagers sitting in the front seat of a visitors car - imagining...