HeadStrong: The Women of Rural Uganda

HeadStrong: The Women of Rural Uganda is a storytelling project combining portraiture and first-person biographies about a cross-section of working women in rural Uganda. These women have shared their individual stories of war, perseverance, determination, family commitment, and hope. The portraits emphasize each woman's personality and occupation. Using the women's names, ages, and trade for the titles acknowledges the women and their agency. By incorporating the women's experiences, HeadStrong creates an intimate documentary context for the portraits.

As a volunteer at an NGO in Northern Uganda, I undertook this as a portrait project but soon realized that the women had compelling stories that could benefit from being heard by a larger audience. Wary of foreigners, few of the women had ever shared their stories or had a photographic portrait of themselves. Aware of my outsider status, when I returned to Uganda, I partnered with Beatrice Lamwaka, an award-winning Ugandan author, who engaged with the women in a manner that allowed them to confide in her.

On my next two trips, Lamwaka interviewed each portrait subject in her local dialect; She then wrote narratives to accompany the images, maintaining vernacular cadence and expressions without modifying them for Western audiences. In conjunction with the portraits, their stories help us better understand their personal histories and present challenges.

From the start, I encouraged the women to express themselves through their demeanor and personal choices of work clothing and accessories. Their direct gaze powerfully conveys their sense of self and ownership in presenting themselves to the viewer while allowing the viewer to engage with the subject in a meaningful way. In addition, the mosquito netting backdrop creates a protective environment for these women, allowing the eye to rest entirely on the subject without being distracted by elements in their chaotic background.

One of the common threads in the stories is the lack of equal education for girls and women. Education is the only sure way out of the cycle of poverty in which women find themselves entrenched. I hope that HeadStrong provides a platform for these women to tell their stories by highlighting the barriers that prevent them and their children from fulfilling their true potential.


Cat's Cradle

My parents were Holocaust survivors.

My maternal grandmother witnessed the spread of Nazism in Poland: a widow, she left Danzig on the eve of WWII with her three children, traveling to the only country she knew would allow them to enter, Palestine.

My father, aged 19, and his older brother Max left Vienna after Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) on an overcrowded boat that traveled down the Danube to the Mediterranean and ultimately to Palestine. Tragically, their mother and sister decided to remain in Vienna, thinking that they had nothing to fear; they died in Theresienstadt's concentration camp.

My parents’ struggles as Jewish refugees and immigrants created a strong emotional bond between them that I could never comprehend as a child.

When my father died in 2014, I came across original documents in several languages that they transported across many borders: photographs, birth certificates, school records, entry visas, etc. These documents anchored my parents’ history and underscored their tenacity and courage to migrate, adapt, and prosper in Palestine, later Israel, then Canada, and finally in the United States with their two children in tow.

How could I embrace and fully comprehend this familial history of immigration and cultural adjustments when memory and time shift the truth? Cat's Cradle provides the opportunity to explore this conundrum. I wanted to delve into each parent's history as well as my own by illustrating the common threads of their journeys toward a new life. Their need to emigrate was not unlike the needs of millions of people embarking on migration journeys today.

It's my hope that “Cat’s Cradle” might empower other first and second-generation immigrants to explore their own family journeys while there is still time to solicit answers.

By combining multiple images of skies taken on different continents at various times, I hoped to capture the transience of Time and Place. Their documents add a historical dimension, serving as evidence of their lives and struggles. I chose photographs from our family albums that conjure an idealized past to illustrate both their identity and humanity.

Like the childhood game for which it is named, Cat's Cradle enables one to weave a singular, circular thread into multiple enigmatic stories, revealing tales about survival, tenacity, loss, and love.

"Thing II Resting" Delaware County Fair 2001

Till the Cows Come Home: County Fair Portraits

County Fairs have been part of the American way of life for more than 160 years and have existed because of the family farmers that choose to participate in the agricultural arena of these fairs. Yet, as family farms disappear at the rate of hundreds per month, family-based farming is struggling to retain its relevancy in rural farming communities and hold on to it’s disappearing cultural lifestyle.

My objective was to capture the essence of this lifestyle through portraits of the participants, as well as the fruits of their year long labor. Every summer since 1998, from July to September I sought out these three to ten day events hoping to document in portraits and still life’s, an agricultural tradition that may be in its sunset years. Aware that others have looked through a lens at similar subject matter, I did not want to beautify the experience or trivialize it through sentimentality. My love of irony, of circumstance, and of the candor of the moment, guided my photographic journey. I hope that when county fair participants look at these photographs they can say to themselves, “Yes, this is truly how it is.”

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Demo Derby: Heat #4

Smash'em Crash'em

Before extreme sports, there was demolition derby. A quintessential American populist pastime, that celebrates the deliberate destruction of America’s 20th century symbol of mobility, the automobile, by bringing it quite literally to a complete Smahalt. Dangerous, unpredictable, even gravity-defying at times. Demolition is not just for the young, or the fit, or the well trained. Anyone with enough guts and a "derby car" can participate the demolition derby reeks of bravado and irony because of it's dangerous, unpredictable, even gravity-defying nature.

What is feared the most in the real world – the terrifying, ear-splitting sound of cars colliding – is applauded, encouraged and sanctified in the derby ring. This is where the video game bits the dust and balls to the walls ferocity begins. Demolition is not just for the young, or the fit, or the well trained. Anyone with enough guts and a "derby car" can participate the demolition derby reeks of bravado and irony because of it's dangerous, unpredictable, even gravity-defying nature.

Time is suspended for audiences and drivers alike. Hours are spent in anticipation: waiting to get a bleacher seat, to register a car, to pass inspection, to root for the best decorated vehicle and finally the wait between matches seems interminable as wrecks from each heat are hauled off to the auto graveyard. Till finally the waiting participant's turn is at hand.

It can take months to prepare a car for competition, and only minutes to annihilate it. Strapped into stripped-down shells of cars, competitors purposefully attack and destroy each other’s vehicles with impunity, hoping to survive the destruction by piloting the last car moving to become the winner of a heat. The technique is simple to grasp and difficult to master: aim for a target, hit the gas peddle at full throttle and move in reverse. Even the most intrepid competitor will rarely risk certain immobility by using his front end to take out others.

Buoyed by a grandstand audience inured to flying mud, noise, smoke and diesel fumes, the heats slowly progress from small 4 cylinder wrecks to V-8 clunkers until the best of the heats enter a final “smash-off” to become champion destroyer.

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