Congratulations Cuba!

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Government run cigar factory in Havana, Cuba. ©Copyright 2014 David Robert Farmerie

For decades the Cuban people, who remained locked on that once-jewel of an island, have suffered greatly, and incessantly, at the domination of the United States’ embargo upon them. The embargo was held in place for far too long, under the ‘pretense’ that it was a dictatorship guilty of human rights violations, (unlike China, of course, who we have maintained open relationships with forever). Then, during the Bush Junior administration Cuba officially became classified as an “Axis of Evil”.

On every visit to Cuba I was always treated with a generosity, and openness, even when they knew that I was an American. Ironically the Cuban people were wise enough, and learned enough in the politics of the U.S., that they were able to discern the difference between the government of the U.S., and it’s people.

Now the embargo has been lifted, and Cuba is free at last to enjoy the privileges that, for so very long, it was denied – including access to medicines that work. The hardships that I encountered on my visits were vast, but the spirit of the Cuban people remained high. They found ways to enjoy life.

One of my fondest memories was when I paid for a birthday party, for a young woman in her mid-twenties, who had never had a real party – or real ice cream. The look on her face was a brilliant light in a grim darkness.

Walking the streets, well after midnight, photographing the Barrio de Revelucions, and never did I encounter a problem; only people clammering to have me make a photograph of them.

Tonight my heart soars for all those who have endured. Vive’ la Cuba Libre!

 

_David

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Walking the Streets of Chicago:

After a long, but powerful day, I needed to go out and walk. I grabbed a camera and headed out onto the sidewalks of downtown Chicago. Everything was alive, and vibrant! The air was cool, like a perfect early-Autumn evening. The streets were bustling with traffic – taxis, primarily, and every street corner was crowded with pedestrians waiting to cross.

As I approached the corner of Michigan and Chestnut, I became aware of two Chicago police officers standing on the corner. What truly caught my attention, however, was the elderly woman to was standing there talking with them – her long-haired, very tiny dog attached to the far end of a leash.

They became a focal point, with others stopping to chat briefly, or with children wanting to pet the dog. I observed for a few minutes, made a photograph, or two, then moved on.

_DSC0078 (1)Several minutes later, retracing my path back to the hotel, I came upon the same two police officers, still standing on the corner of Michigan and Chestnut. This time there was an elderly couple talking with them. What impressed me (in both instances) is that the police officers genuinely engaged the passersby who stopped to talk.

After the couple left I felt that it was my turn. I just had to get the scoop, which was no real scoop at all – yet something that I felt compelled to share. The simple story is that they were just officers on patrol – a stationary patrol. But in this day, and age, where so many police officers have become unapproachable, these officers were open, and accommodating. Even while I was talking with them, officers on the adjacent corner caught a young man in the act of a minor shoplifting crime. Rather than hauling him off to jail, or simply treating him like a common criminal, they retrieved the merchandise, and let him go with a warning. The young man, after being released, continued to antagonize the police officers who caught him, but they never reacted poorly. In fact, they never reacted at all. He was no threat to them, nor to anyone else.

I commend them. They acted, and reacted, the way a police officer should. And I must admit that, in a city like Chicago, I never would have suspected such behavior, but I witnessed it first hand.

Until next time…

 

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Photographers Start Screaming!!!

Earlier today, an issue was brought to light on Facebook – and issue that, at first, I thought ‘MUST’ be a hoax. As I researched the topic I found that it has been reported on, sadly only by ColbertThe Times of India, DPPreview, and a few other non-mainstream outlets.  The issue is Amazon’s acquisition of a patent on creating a photograph with a white background.

The patent application claims that they have ‘invented’ a ‘special means’ of creating a photograph with a white background, however, this technique, as well as subtle variations of this technique, have been commonly utilized by photographers for more than twenty years.

Many may ask, “what’s the big deal?”  Let me inform you by presenting a few non-photography related scenarios. Many years ago, Monsanto acquired a patent on the genetic makeup of Basmati Rice – a rice crop that had been grown for centuries by individual farmers, in India.  Once the patent was granted, those same farmers now had to pay a ‘fee’ to Monsanto – a fee set by Monsanto, for each crop they wanted to plant… even though they were using the seeds from the crops that they had always farmed.

Another case in point, again with Monsanto. They have now acquired patents on the genetic codes of numerous agricultural crops. Their justification is that they have ‘developed’ these strains of “Genetically Modified Organisms”. Ok, that’s fair enough. However, if any of these seeds happen to ‘blow in the wind’, say from a farmer’s field that is adjoining yours, then take root in your soil without you being aware, or if your plants are cross-pollinated by bees who are not knowledgable about these patented crops, thereby combining the “patented” DNA with your plant’s DNA, Monsanto can now come in and file a law suit to demand payment – which they do on a regular basis.

On the other hand, say you do not want to be growing anything “genetically modified”; you do not have any recourse against Monsanto if their DNA corrupts yours.

Now back to the photography industry. If you create an image, with a pure white background, and publish it, sell it as a work of art, a portrait, or any other presentation, Amazon will now have the legal authority to demand a royalty payment. And if you can’t afford to pay the fee??? You will be out of business.

Every photographer, whether a professional, or a non-professional, should be, and better be, screaming about this. For those of us who are professionals, or aspiring professionals, this pertains directly to our livelihood. For those of us who create images, this pertains directly to our creative freedom.

Start screaming!

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Realizing Mona [Leza]:

Back in May, of 2008, a friend came to visit. Her name was Mona Bethke. Several months before, Mona had published her first book of poetry – which signified the end of one long journey, and the hopes of others to follow. By the time she arrived at the house, late that evening, she was in the throes of severe writer’s block. Nothing would flow; an outward manifestation of what resided within.

Early the following day I began photographing Mona, and for several hours the sessions continued. The sessions became known as “Uncovering Mona”. DF11022_ 43997On the surface, the title would seem appropriate to the casual viewer, as the photographs were of Mona in a state of complete undress. However, if one looks deeper, one will see that the “uncovering” was intensely emotional – far beneath her physicality.

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Cover for “Naked and Raw”.

By that afternoon, sitting on ‘the deck’, Mona’s writer’s block had begun to dissolve. It was also when the transformation, of Mona Bethke, to R. MonaLeeza, began. The spark for her second book was ignited in those moments, as well – as was it’s title: “Naked and Raw”,  and the cover photograph had already been created in the sessions that morning. By the end of her week, here at Voulangis, she had written fourteen poems.

Now, five years later – as well as several additional visits, R.MonaLeza has returned to be photographed once again. There no longer exists a Mona Bethke. She began to fade that day on the deck, and has vanished into the vagaries of time gone by. This afternoon’s studio session was proof of that. _DSC0233 (1)R. MonaLeza has arrived and taken full ownership of who she is – a woman who is strong, but who no longer has the need for the anger and defiance that served her for so many years.

Now, instead, she stands steadfast, in her own skin – in her own person. Her defiance is in her peace, and in her knowing of who she is.

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An Opening to Remember:

I attended an art opening last night, here in Chicago, that was transcendent. The artist was Maya Rain Arroyo… and she is seven. When I heard about the exhibition, through my friend Carol Boss, I was intrigued – and delighted to go. Within minutes of my arrival, I realized that I was blessed to be there.

The story behind the exhibition is this: A while back, Maya dislocated her hip. Because of this, and the complications around it, she ended up in RUSH Children’s Hospital. After recuperating, and leaving the hospital, Maya thoughts remained with the children she had met there – children that had it far worse than she did, and she wanted to do something. So she created this artwork and, with the help of her dad, Tim Arroyo – a Professor of Photography, at Harrington University, she mounted this exhibition, with the proceeds going to RUSH.

"Luna the Lunar Princess" by Maya Rain Arroyo

“Luna the Lunar Princess” by Maya Rain Arroyo

The artwork, itself, was – in the truest sense of the word, wonderful. Each sketch was filled with the innocence of a seven year old girl, yet also intricately conceived in its content. Symbolism abounded in every piece of work. And when these intricacies were explained to me, I must admit that I stood there with my jaw dropped open. In addition, these ‘sketches’ were all from Maya’s journal. She uses them to illustrate her words.

And then there was Maya, herself. I don’t know where to begin. When I was introduced to her, it was not like meeting a seven year old, yet it was not like I wasn’t, either. She had the wonder, and innocence, of a seven year old girl, but simultaneously, she exuded the soul of someone that had been around since the beginning of time. She spent her time, at the gallery, with her younger sister, and a few friends, just being a seven year old, but when she needed to meet someone, or when someone wanted to talk with her, she was available without hesitation, and very present in that moment.

As I watched her interact, it was clear that she was fully cognizant of what was happening, yet had a complete balance with it. She was not over the top and acting as if it were all about her, nor was she disengaged, and not really caring. She seemed to have a complete grasp of the importance of what was occurring and what the evening was about.

Had I had the room in my suitcase, I would have purchased every piece that hung on the wall. Instead I ended up with just a notecard (for now), which she graciously signed for me, at my request.

Maya Rain Arroyo had a profound affect on me. Her work, affected me greatly, as well. I only wish that everyone could have the opportunity to met her – and be changed.

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Protesting in 21st Century America:

This morning, I was reviewing, and sorting, images for a stock submission. The body of work was from the protests, in Madison, Wisconsin, back in February of 2011, demanding the removal of Governor Scott Walker from office.

As I sorted through the images, I began to relive that 24 hour period of time that I spent in Madison, covering these protests.DF11033_ 46660 This reliving brought to light several questions that I had then, and have, even more so now; with the primary question being: “what difference did it make?”

The protesters that made their presence visible in Madison, Wisconsin, were varied – in demographic background, however, from my perspective, I was able to break it down into two principal categories: Those who had something at stake, and those who just wanted to protest.DF11048_-15900

The first of these categories was somewhat impressive to watch, and were good example of living in a democracy. They marched with their signs, seemed, for the most part, well organized, and, most of all, had something to gain, or lose.

The second of my two categories were not impressive at all. They had (as the saying goes) “no dog in the hunt”. They didn’t have Union Jobs at stake. Their livelihood was not really at stake – nor that of their families. They seemed to show up for ‘a party’. Yes, they shouted, complained loudly, clapped and cheered at speeches, but, all in all, they seemed to be more like spectators who wanted to use the spotlight, and the event, to rabblerouse.

In the end, however, nothing changed. After weeks of protesting, and weeks of national media coverage, Scott Walker still retained the Governor’s Seat. He still continued with his original policies, unabated. The unions lost their battle. The American people lost their battle. The Republic, for which we stand, demonstrated its true charter – that the sovereign representatives (of the people) have the final say.

So my subsequent question is, what is the use in protesting, or in voicing our reservations en mass, or even individually?  And as someone who, as a teenager, became a product of the 70’s – an era of mass protests, and demonstrations, which yielded positive effects, the mere act of asking this question cuts, like a dagger, into the core of my very being.

As I moved about the crowds of protesters, I noticed, at one point, while outside of the Capitol Building, a group of government officials grouped together on the sidelines of those protesting. Standing within earshot of these men, I could hear their conversation – which amounted to a laughing, and joking session, at the expense of the unwitting protesters. It became clear that they, as well as everyone else in Wisconsin government, were simply riding out the storm – without concern. They already knew, quite emphatically, what the outcome would be.

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Morning Coffee with a Splash of Advice:

An excerpt from a much longer piece…

This morning, while breaking from my morning ritual of reading a chapter, or two, from a current book selection, my wife lifted her eyes from the pages of Southern Living magazine and gazed my way.  Being the dutiful, and well-adapted husband that I have become, I paused in my actions – my actions being ‘breathing’, and waited like one awaiting the oratory of Cesar standing before his subjects.

Turning her magazine towards me, presenting to my visual acuity the page which she had been reading, she then said, as her introductory comment for the impending offering of morning advice: “I think that you need to read the work of southern women writers”. The title of the article, that was now glaring off the glossy, white, page, said something about ‘learning to grovel’. Knowing, as I have come to know quite well,that there was more… probably much more, to follow, my safest response was to remain cloaked in silence.

After interpreting my act of silence as my desire for her to continue, Stephnie’s eyes returned – in a slow, [not wanting to appear anxious], yet very deliberate way, to the page she had previously retracted from, her hands simultaneously returning the magazine to its original position. She then began to explain to me the premise of the article. Apparently the writer – a man, interviewed numerous southern women, and men, and discovered that “groveling”, by southern men, is not only common practice, but also expected. The author of this article also included many of the ‘responses’ he received after the original article’s publication. Each one strongly supported his new findings.

After reading the article to me, [knowing that, if she read it to me, as opposed to having me read it myself, all of the critical information would be passed on instead of passed over]. After finishing the article, Stephnie followed by reading the numerous post-comments, which strongly confirmed his findings.

Stephnie once again lowered the magazine, [only slightly], while simultaneously averting her eyes from its pages – allowing her gaze to return to me; this time with a smile on her face – as if it were a newly-presented merit badge. “So you see, she said, there is a big difference between women of the South, and women of the North, and if you were to read the work of southern women writers, you would understand southern women better, [meaning, of course, that I would understand her better].

“I hear you Sweetheart, and I am more than willing to follow that advice”. “In fact”, I continued…

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An Evening With the Dead: Billy

His name is Billy and, for the most part, he remains in the attic of Octagon Hall, where he died. Shot in the leg, and then bled to death when he removed his boot while hiding from Union troops scouring the house for hiding Confederate soldiers, Billy remains in hiding.  David, who I had written about in a previous post, is a great protector of Billy, seeming to keep a vigilant eye out for anyone trying to locate him.

Maria and Jimmy asked me if I wanted to go to the attic where the wounded soldier roamed. Without hesitation, I said yes. At this point no one knew the soldier’s name. All that was known is that he had been shot in the leg, and bled to death, when he removed his boot while hiding from Union soldiers searching the house.

We walked up the flight of stair, to the second floor, then entered a closet space in one of the rooms. An aluminum step ladder was leaning against the left wall. Maria was the first to climb the ladder. As she reached the top rung, she passed her upper body through a small square opening in the ceiling, then, propping her hands on the upper rim of the opening, she mantled the rest of her body up through the opening – disappearing into a dark void.

Just as I approached the ladder, Maria’s voice emanated from the void; “are you afraid of snakes or spiders”. “Not as long as they don’t bite me”, I responded. With that I began my ascent toward the square portal, and then into the lightless void beyond. As I crossed over into the blackness, I maneuvered my body so that I could peer back out through the square opening, to see Jimmy handing up my tripod. Once I retrieved it, Jimmy began his ascent.

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Maria sitting in the attic of Octagon House. ©Copyright 2013 David Robert Farmerie

The attic was open, and crisscrossed with timbers supporting the roof, which laid anywhere from several inches, to, at best, six feet at its very pinnacle, above the floor. A coating of insulation that had the consistency, and appearance, of cat litter, covered the floor, filling in all of the crannies. Trails, of where the snakes had crawled across, were clearly evident as the light from our flashlights swept across the open space of the attic. Within minutes, a fine dust filled the air, caused by our movement across the insulation.

I attempted to make a few photographs by painting the room with the light of my flashlight, but the dust was obscuring the visibility. Instead, we turned off all light sources and, for the next 32 minutes, and 33 seconds, we summoned the resident spirit in an attempt to find out more about him.

After a great deal of effort, and dialog on our part, I finally began to get a response. It was if he was looking me over. I could feel him all over me, as if standing over me, watching, analyzing, trying to determine if I was legitimate in my claims, or not. Eventually he began to communicate with me, and that is how we learned his name; Billy.  What we discovered later was equally as exciting.

It seems that, while we were trying to get Billy to communicate with us – including a bit of antagonism, on my part, we heard nothing. No voice, no tapping or thumping… nothing. We were baffled, especially because Billy has been know to lash out, rather violently, especially when confronted by a “Yankee”. Unbeknownst to us, the people downstairs were hearing heavy stomping, and walking, on the ceiling – the ceiling that separated them from us. The noise was so intense that they became concerned for us.
Yet, where we were, it was silence.

In the end, however, we had been able to communicate, and to finally know his name.

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An Evening With the Dead: Playing With Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth was the young daughter of the Caldwell family living in Octagon Hall. Maria, one of the NightStalkers team, led a small group of investigators upstairs, and into Mary Elizabeth’s bedroom – of course, I followed.

Wanting to remain out of the way, I positioned myself on the opposite side of the tiny, child-sized, bed. On the opposite side, five investigators – all members of the NightStalkers Team, sat on the hardwood floor, positioned in a semi-circle. Maria, who was leading the investigation, began a dialog with Mary. She also pulled a small, soft-plastic ball, from the baseboard near a large, white, wicker, baby stroller. She placed the ball on the floor, nearly in the center of the group, to show the natural slope of the floor – which was leaning to her left.

With that she pulled a large, soft plastic ball, from the same location as the small one. Apparently this is where Mary puts her toys when play time is over. Encouraging Mary to play, Maria gently pushes the ball away from herself. Immediately the ball just stopped, only several inches from its starting point. After several attempts, it became obvious that Mary did not want to play.

Maria asked her why. With no response – either the questions, or the repetition of pushing the ball, Maria finally asked Mary if she was reluctant because I was in the room. Interestingly I was sensing the very same thing. As it turned out, I was the only one that Mary had never seen there before.

I used this question as my queue to engage. I stood up from my position, addressing Mary the entire time so she wouldn’t be afraid. I gently walked around to the side of the room where everyone else was, and sat on the floor, directly opposite Maria’s position.
I then explained to Mary that I had missed playing ball with my daughters when they were small, and that it had been a long time since I had done so.

With that, Maria gently launched the ball again. It rolled toward me – slowly, even wavering in its course across the floor. As it finally reached near my feet, it abruptly changed direction and rolled several inches back in Maria’s direction, then stopped.
In a very non-aggressive way, I leaned forward and reached for the ball, then gently pulled it back toward me. I told Mary that I really wanted to play and, with that, I gently bounced the ball about 12 inches in front of where I sat. The ball bounced several times then stopped, and rolled back to my feet.

This repeated itself, nearly a dozen times, then, on one attempt – which was performed exactly the same, and in exactly the same spot, as every other time, the ball stopped and began to roll to another person. Mary had obviously grown bored with my engagement.

Over the course of the next 30 minutes, this pattern repeated itself over, and over, again. Yet, throughout, it was obvious that Maria was her ‘safe haven’.

At one point, I pointed the camera directly at the rolling ball, and, using an attached flash unit, I fired off a frame to see if it would capture young Mary. What resulted was far more interesting than simply capturing her ghostly facade. In every photograph, which totaled about two dozen in all, Maria’s image was obscured by, what would be replicated had I shot the light through a thin dark veil. We made several variations on the photographic technique. Each time, Maria’s surroundings – even the people seated near her, were lit perfectly, and with full clarity, yet Maria remained shrouded.

With the very last image, I had Pat sit next to Maria – shoulder to shoulder, side by side, close enough to be Siamese twins. In the resulting photograph, Pat was [very slightly] veiled, however, Maria was – as with each photograph before that, heavily veiled.

As for the rolling ball; we attempted numerous variations, throughout our time in the room, to debunk the possibility that it was, indeed, a little girl moving the ball. I can attest, without any reservation, that it was indeed, the playing of a little girl.

Part Three tomorrow…

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An Evening With the Dead: David’s Story

David, a member of the Confederate Army, lived in the Caldwell House during the Civil War and was charged with two duties: First, and foremost, David was charged with keeping a constant vigil, from the windowed vantage points of the second floor. He was also tasked with taking out the bodies as patients died.

According to accounts, David stood nearly seven feet tall. In my engagement with him, I ascertained that he was, at least, in his late twenties – possibly even thirty, years of age. He was not only tall, but he was broad. Not fat, but broad – and solid. What is generally referred to as “A Mountain of a Man.” And as David opened up to me, it became obvious that he was also a man with a huge heart – a man of great compassion. It also became evident that David carried great sadness, as well, in that heart.

View from second of David's vantage points, on the second floor of Octagon Hall.  ©Copyright 2013   David Robert Farmerie

View from second of David’s vantage points, on the second floor of Octagon Hall. ©Copyright 2013 David Robert Farmerie

Day and night, he would stand vigil at the windows. Night time was especially difficult because, in addition to the darkness, the moon would pass through the night sky seeming to always peer in the direction of his vantage point – illuminating him, and giving cover to anyone approaching. As I stood there, peering through the panes, David allowed me to feel this anxiety. On two separate occasions, as I was peering through the panes, and even photographing, David came through the device, intensely, with the words: “Danger”, “Run”, “Lay”, as well a several other warnings of impending danger.2013-04-202635_v2 The three words I mentioned here, were spoken just after I finished photographing that final vantage point, and those words were followed by the word, “Story”.

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Octagon Hall at Night. ©2013 Copyright David Robert Farmerie

David also allowed me to feel the great sadness that he felt as he watched his Confederate brethren die, and then carry their bodies outside. As we finished in the two upstairs room, David came through the device, telling me to now go outside – guiding me to specific places on the property, which I did.

I want to know more about David. I truly want to know his entire story. I want to know how he died. I want to know where he is buried. I want to know everything.

For more about Octagon Hall, visit: http://www.octagonhall.com

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