The D.R.C

I just returned home from Zimbabwe. The trip was 11 days in total and I was there with World Vision to get a story for the winter issue of Childview, their bi-annual magazine for donors. I am somewhat biased because a lot of the photos I take for World Vision end up in this magazine, but Childview is a great publication with great writing and even better photos (wink, wink) that has just recently been redesigned and has a new fresh look to it. Check it out if you get a chance, there is always something to learn within its pages.

However, this blog post is more about my trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C) back in December with World Vision and a journalist from CTV news, Vancouver. Really, this post could be five-pages long because the D.R.C is anything but a well-run country. It is big, it has mines that are full of all the stuff we need for our smartphones, computers, and our vanity. The D.R.C should be the richest country in Africa, unfortunately for reasons that are countless the money doesn’t trickle past the warlords who run the mines and the politicians who take a cut. I was in Goma, which is a city in the eastern part of the country right on the border of Rwanda. Goma is surrounded by camps full of internally displaced people running from the rebel groups that are fighting for control of different regions that house different mines. Sexual violence in this area and in the country is matched by no other country in the world. The stories I have heard from women during my several trips to the country are shockingly disturbing and unsettling. It is unbelievable what humans can do to each other in the name of whatever we convince ourselves should be the proper outcome of any given situation. In this context, World Vision has started an initiative called Raw Hope, which gives people the chance to donate to a country that is considered a fragile state. It is an interesting idea that works, you can read about it here.

Each and every time I come home from the Congo I am perplexed, I am confused, I am frustrated, but I am also amazed at the resilience of the people who live there. With no attempt to avoid an over-repeated cliché; amongst all the destruction and hate, the Congolese are people who are kind and who can still put a smile on their face. Probably more than I could say for myself if I were in their situation.

The photos you see here are Neema, whose story you can read here. There are photos of Mugunga IDP camp, which is a camp made of internally displaced people fleeing the violence within their own villages, which are usually several days walk away. And, there are some portraits of kids that I had some fun with while waiting for an interview to finish. If you have time, do some research on the D.R.C. It is an incredibly complicated situation, part of it stemming back to the Rwandan Genocide that happened in 1994. Sadly, much of it continues because of stuff we use everyday.

More links to stories from the trip with some photos I took are here and here.

The Concert

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Last week I posted a group of photos that showed some of what I have been up to over the past three months or so. There was a concert, a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and some portraits with an old lantern. As I mentioned in that post, I am going to take some time and get into more detail about these photos – and I will start with the concert.

Before I left for the D.R.C I was asked to photograph a concert for an up and coming artist named Rachael Bawn. The opening act was Neverest, a high energy band who were great for the cameras. The concert was quite a production in all aspects, there were LED video screens, lighting setups and smoke machines all meant to support a video/documentary that was being shot of the concert. This involved dozens of camera guys, sound technicians, video cameras on huge booms, a documentary film crew, and a lot of guys running around talking on radios. In the middle of all this was me, dodging and weaving all this to make an attempt at getting good photos. It occurred to me at the end of the show (I will blame it on Jetlag since I was way out of sorts) that I didn’t even introduce myself to Rachael throughout the entire night. I will make sure to fix that the next time I see her. Either way, I was shooting both the concert and the behind the scenes/back stage aspect of the show and these are different scenarios that require different thought processes (and require a brain that is working well – something mine wasn’t due to the aforementioned jetlag). The concert itself is reactionary; it was well lit, well produced, there was always something happening on stage and the fans were engaged with what was happening in front of them. Behind the scenes takes more thought and patience, the lighting was a bit subdued and dark (as it always is, and can create great imagery if you can make it work for you), and there isn’t necessarily the intense energy of performing, it is more of the quiet anticipation of preparation. Two different scenarios, two different types of photography, two different ways to think.

In the end it was a great show, and although it all seems like a bit of a blur at this point – I enjoyed being a part of the production and I do like the images I got. Especially the back stage work – it reminded me of those shots in Rolling Stone Magazine from the 60s by a photographer named Jim Marshall. I don’t want to compare myself to such a great photographer, though, because all I did was copy a style invented 40 years ago.

An Overview of Photos

It has been an exceptionally long amount of time since I have posted any sort of photo or update here. I just looked at the date of my last post and it is October 23rd, 2013! That is three months ago and is so last year – seems like a lifetime ago. The truth is, though, that I don’t really feel bad about it. I have this blog to keep people updated on my work and what I am doing, if I am not posting it means I am busy working and that is a good thing!

Since the portrait session with Bri and Ali (which was my last post) I have travelled to the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C) with World Vision and a journalist from CTV Vancouver to gather stories for CTV, but also for a new initiative by World Vision called Raw Hope. I have travelled to Kenya and Uganda with Save the Children and Imprint Media to collect resources for Save the Children’s Canadian office and also tell the stories of people in their programming in East Africa. Here in Canada I photographed a concert for a talented up and coming artist named Rachael Bawn. I was asked to do both the show and some behind the scenes photos of Rachael off-stage. To keep myself practiced I took some friends deep into the forests of Toronto (note the sarcasm) and did some evening light photography with lighting gear and a really cool gas lantern that is over 60 years old. This is something I have not done in years but really enjoyed and hope to continue when the weather is warmer. I created a video for World Vision about a family I met in Ghana back in June that I will post this week sometime. I have also been organizing my social media presence and have a new Paul Bettings Photography facebook page (take a moment to like it, I would appreciate it). I am also planning two more trips, one for the end of February and another potential trip for the end of March. Add to all this is the fact that we went through Christmas and New Years, and my household has two birthdays in that timeframe – it has been busy!

I figured the best way to show you some of the photos I have taken over the past few months was this slideshow that shows an overview of my work since October. The next few posts I write over the next few days and weeks will be more detailed about these jobs and where the work is being used.

Click through the images and enjoy!

A Portrait Session?

I am not one to do a large amount of portrait sessions. Its not that I don’t like it, its not that I don’t think I can do it, it is more that I have chosen not to pursue it. However, recently this has changed and I have taken a few opportunities to flex my portrait taking muscles.

The reality is that people know I am a photographer, and because of that I get asked on a fairly regular basis to take family portraits, photograph newborn babies, shoot weddings and or couples portraits – lifestyle photography is the best term I have heard for it. And I do it for two reasons; 1. I need to make an income 2. I want to help friends out who want photos. There was a time that I would have pshawwed (my made up word for that face you make when someone asks you a question that you think is stupid) the request of a portrait session, “No! I don’t do that! But I can, and I will.” Really, in essence, I was just being ridiculously “holier than thou who be-ist portrait photographers” and am embarrassed whenever I think back to this reaction. Beyond the fact that I look up to many photographers who can put themselves in the widely-overarching categories of portrait, wedding and/or lifestyle photography my thought process has been this; when I am photographing overseas, really, what I am doing is trying to get good portraits of the beneficiaries of whatever organization I am working for and backing them up with a few photos that are more photojournalistic in nature. So, I am taking portraits. Secondly, the only difference between the portraits I take here and the portraits I take overseas is that the portraits overseas have a story attached to them – and the photos are as much about the people in the photos as they are about the story itself. When doing a portrait session here in Canada, it is true that a story exists but I am not there to photograph the story, I am there to photograph the couple. Not that this is neither good nor bad, it just is. I love the idea of story, and without it I feel a bit lost – which may be the reason for the slight avoidance of portrait sessions. For me, good portraits draw the story out of the person or couple, or family, being photographed – without story, a large element of the image is missing.

I don’t know that I have ever posted photos from a couples portrait session on my blog, but I recently took photos of some good friends of mine and had a good time photographing it and editing the photos. The light was great, the colours were great, I tried some new things with my flash, it was enjoyable! As for the story, well, I said story is essential for me – which it is. I have known these two for a long time and the story lies within my head, a story that I hope is visible (even slightly) through these images.

El Salvador

For the last week of September I was shooting for El Salvador for World Vision. It is nice getting work in Central because the time change from Toronto is not so bad, it doesn’t take to long to get there and often it is a direct flight to your destination. Besides, I enjoy going to this area of the world because I do not get the opportunity to travel there often. Usually my work brings me to Africa or Asia, and sometimes the Middle East. The last time I was in Central America was to Haiti a few weeks after the earthquake, which until this trip to El Salvador, was the closest I have ever been to South America, a part of the world I have yet to visit.

I can’t say much about how these photos will be used by World Vision, but I can say that I wish I had another week to take these photos – the visuals were amazing and I would have taken even a few extra hours if I could have made it work. But, time is always in short supply. These boys fish from a small dugout canoe (which almost flipped when I sat in it) and they dig for crabs in mud that seemingly has no solid foundation. These boys were extremely hard working and welcoming to us disrupting their day and the crabs they dig for are on an island of mangrove trees that exists in a saltwater river that flows from the Pacific. This tiny island houses snakes, crocodiles, poisonous spiders, and an immense amount of mosquitoes (or something that bites and flies – not sure if they were mosquitoes). Because of the terrain it was extremely difficult to get my “photography bearings”, by which I mean my exposure, the best angles, the methods I would use to illustrate the work the boys were doing in the surroundings they were working in, how I would navigate over the mangrove roots so as to not sink in the mud, how to get my camera to the level of the workers, etc.. And, once I finally started to get into the flow, it was time to go – ugh.

How do they catch the crabs you ask? I will tell you. The boys look for signs in the mud that say a crab has potentially dug himself into the ground – an air hole, or claw prints. With their hands the boys dig two holes, one to dig down and reach the crab and the other is attached to this one a few inches down and reduces suction. Then they reach into the mud, sometimes as far as their arm can go, lying right down on their side until they find the crab in its pocket of water and they drag him up to the surface and tie him up for sale. Amazing! (and muddy).

I suggest you all try this at some point – reaching into the unknown to pick a crab out of its underground haven of saltwater.  Nothing will go wrong…nothing at all.

Forgotten Education in Lighting

Since I left photography school back in 2001 I have had little interest in doing much, if any, photography that required any sort of external lighting by means of external flash units, soft boxes, or wireless triggers. This lack of interest existed mainly because I did not have the money to invest in lighting equipment, but it also existed because I was on a bit of a high horse and felt that adding external light eroded the opportunity to show reality. I equated flash units and softboxes with a world that was setup. And yes, I agree there is a certain amount of setup required for lighting a portrait or a scene, however, this setup does not remove the ability to capture a moment or the character of a person, or to be creative

Somewhat recently, my interest in external lighting has been reinvigorated and over the past 2 years or so I have worked to re-learn what I had un-learned through my lack of interest. I purchased some flash equipment, portable softboxes, some wireless triggers, and started to play.

The reasons for my newfound interest are several; one was that I realized I was unable to move forward on some creative ideas that I had been working through in my head because I knew my skills in the realm of flash equipment was lacking. Another was that I saw the work of several photographers (both local and international) including Andrew McConnell, Joey L, and Brooks Reynolds, and I thought they had some great images and amazing ideas. And, not to downplay their abilities in the least, but I had the base knowledge needed to create the images they were producing (in regards to lighting, their ideas and creativity are their own and quite extensive I would say). Lastly, after working for years in the world of photojournalism I thought that pursuing knowledge that I could then add to my already existing photo-knowledge could not hurt in the least.

All this to say that these photos are a product of several months of testing and practicing (in-between my regular work) portraits with external flash. I don’t want to assume that these images are as good as the examples from the photographers above, and I also don’t want to assume that these are the best photos you have ever seen. But, from where I began 2 years ago I would say that I am happy with this on-going second round education I have given myself.

Angkor Wat and so Forth

I just returned from a trip to Cambodia. This trip is the first of four trips I will be doing over the next 3 months, next week I am heading to Eastern D.R.C and then will be returning home for 2 weeks before I head out to El Salvador and then (potentially) East Africa.  So, really what I should say is that this trip to Cambodia was the first of 3 confirmed trips, and 1 potential trip. It has ended up being a busy summer, with June and July being busy here in Canada and August, September and October being busy overseas. However, this amount of travel does not help my ability to fight jetlag and stay awake throughout the day. I figure that, for the next three months, I will live life in a perpetual state of being several hours ahead, or several hours behind, the time zone I exist in at any particular moment.

Because I cannot post photos from the actual story I was photographing, I thought that I would show some photos from my day off in Angkor Wat. I am not really sure how I know about this place, maybe it was that crazy gorilla movie, Congo, that came out when I was in high school, but Angkor Wat is a place I have always wanted to visit. It was a 2-hour drive from our hotel, but it was definitely worth the time. What I didn’t know is that the site houses many temples and to see them all would take a week or so. Either way, from the 3 temples I did see I somehow managed to get a few photos with no tourists in them, which is a feat in and of itself.

There is a strange push and pull in Cambodia. In amongst the amazing people, the ancient temples, and the wonderful landscape is a history that doesn’t seem to fit. This history involves Pol Pot who led the Khmer Rouge, and between the years of 1976 and 1979 he oversaw the killing of about 1/3 of Cambodia’s population. Over my past two visits to the country I visited the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields, and these places seriously mess with a persons faith in humanity. The ways in which people were killed and tortured in this time were unbelievably horrible, and worse is the fact that Pol Pot and most of his leading generals died of old age because of complete failures in foreign governments to act. The unfortunate thing is that I don’t assume that these acts of torture are not happening today – they may not be as medieval, but that just means that are more sophisticated.

(I wish I could go on about this subject, because I think have a lot to say about it, but I think I should leave it for another day. In the meantime, watch the movie The Killing Fields. It’s from 1985, but it is still good and provides a good view of what happened in Cambodia in the late 70s)

If you ever find yourself in Cambodia – go to all these places. Prepare yourself for the bad, because it is horribly disturbing at times. But, balance it out with the relative peacefulness (I say relative because of the amount of tourists) of Angkor Wat – it a truly amazing place.