Without The Frame, IV
I shot this image on my first assignment for World Vision Canada. It hangs large on my office wall and reminds me of a time in my life that will remain a peak in my memory forever. It was shot in Malawi after three days of travelling just to get where I was going. It was my second trip to Africa, and my biggest fear was screwing up the assignment. Those fears faded once I shot this image. I realized that it was all coming together and if I could manage to pull off this shot I could just repeat it until I’d shot the brief and filled my hard drive.
The most amusing thing about this assignment, and all assignments of this nature, is the juxtaposition we are trying to present. The need is to capture an image that reflects, with total integrity, beauty, and hope, a reality that in some ways doesn’t truly look like this. African children do not have the luxury of treating their animals like pets, they do not cuddle with them, they do not name them cute names like “Sparkle”. They raise them, they breed them, they feed them, they kill them, they eat them. End of story. But for these families a goat represents great hope and it is a gift of astonishing proportions – and totally disproportionate to the money it takes us to give the gift. And so these images need to reflect that relationship. This one is my favourites.
What is most amusing is the list of shots I had to fulfill. Happy Child holding Rooster. Happy Child Riding Ox. Happy Child milking Dairy Cow. For the record, no african rooster likes to be held and they don’t take it lying down. No african ox would allow a child, happy or otherwise, to ride it. And african dairy cows are scary. So I revised my list. Happy Medical Worker Stiching Child’s Rooster Wounds. Happy Oxen Stampeding Village. Happy Dairy Cow Running for the Hills, Followed By Happy Child in Hot Pursuit. These assignments never turn out quite like you think. (For the record, no child was ever harmed in my shoots. The oxen did, however, stampede and nearly kill us all, but that’s a story for another time. Perhaps when the memory is less painful to me and my therapist says it’s ok to go there…)
In this case we were riding towards a farmstead, with a truck-load of school-kids in the back. As we passed a small group of huts I saw the kid (goat) that you see in this image. Young, beautiful, clean, and as I was soon to discover – very unhappy about his impromptu photo shoot. I’ve been told that a previous shoot like this ended with the goat eating the little girl’s (only) dress and having her burst into tears. So I was keen to avoid that. What I got instead was a truck load of children chasing the goat round and round a hut while the mother goat chased them and the local dogs followed suit. It was like some glorious scene from an African version of Keystone Cops and the adults sitting under the eaves of their huts had front-row seating to the premiere. I love – LOVE – the laughter these shoots kindle in people. And if it takes me playing the clown to so do, so be it.
We ended up catching the goat and getting off about 50 frames. The little girl was gorgeous, but shy. The goat pouted the whole time. The kids ran amuck and through the frame, the dogs chased each other – too riled up to stop. It was, in short, total chaos. And I loved every moment of it. The image itself gives no hint of what went on just without the edges of the frame. To me it’s a reminder of the nature of peace – that the chaos is only ever at bay for a short time – it’s always there just out of line with your peripheral vision, but it’s there. The peace and tranquility that this image evokes in me is only ever just a calm within the storm, not the absence of it. And that makes it all the more welcome when it comes.
In October you will begin seeing the 2008 World Vision Canada Christmas Gift Catalogue. Some of the images I’ve taken this year actually turned out to be well-exposed and mostly-focussed. They will appear in that catalogue. Please get one, but don’t treasure it and hide it away. Thumb through it, dog-ear the pages, and buy as many goats, chickens, alpacas, deep wells, mosquito nets, as you can possibly buy. Your great aunt Sally doesn’t need another scented candle and your brother doesn’t need another tie. But these kids are dying for some of this stuff. Literally. Dying. Look at this little girl and tell me she’s not worth it. I’ve walked hand in hand with her. And hundreds of others, all just as beautiful. I can tell you from looking into their eyes and seeing them laugh and play and hope and dream – they’re worth it a hundred times over.
EXIF data: Canon 5D, 24-70/2.8 @ 39mm, iso400, 1/2500, f2.8. Image processed in Lightroom.