The Story from Down Here

I am currently sitting in Australia, on the Gold Coast, waiting for a cyclone to hit. This cyclone has been talked about by most residents and news anchors for about 3-days now and although I have never been in a cyclone, I imagined it would be more intense than what I am experiencing at this moment. But, who knows, maybe the weatherperson was wrong – maybe he/she wasn’t. What I can tell you is that there are big waves and the surfers are loving it. I am here for the next few months, living, working, vacationing – it’s strange to be sitting in shorts during the month of February. But, on this end of the world I guess that is the norm.

I have taken to the beach on most of the days since my arrival. A few times to swim, a few times to start my surfing career (learning is a good start, though), once to go paddle-boarding, once to walk, and once to take photos. I hope to have my surfing up-and-running by the time I leave, there is also the matter of fishing, and working on a few photo projects. Let’s see how this all goes.

On my “photo-walk” down to the beach I was hit with a wonderful sunset, it was quite stunning actually. But the truth is that I am not much of a landscape/sunset photographer. It’s not that I can’t do it (I’ll let you be the judge), because I have a few tricks under my belt for these sort of things. It’s more that it doesn’t excite me as much as other things I could be photographing at a given moment. While basking in the glory of late day sun I attempted a few shots of surfing, but I don’t have the proper equipment with me. The truth is that what I enjoy photographing the most is the story leading up to the surfing, the story leading up to the sunset. Although sunsets are beautiful, for me it’s not about the sunset, it’s about the people surrounding me – who are they, what are their stories? It’s not about the surfing (although it would be awesome to shoot) it is about how the person got there, why a surfboard, what excites him/her about the water, the waves? For me it is about culture and story, I feel if all I am shooting is the end product of the story, the end of the day or the dropping in of the surfer, then I am too late.

Let’s see if I can find the story, I got a few moths to do it.

After saying all this, I shot some landscape. But the photo’s I like most are the surfers standing on the shore waiting to jump in – the end to their day of story and probably the moment they have been looking forward to since their last ride on the water.

The Other Side of Society

What I have always found amazing about photography is the people you end up rubbing shoulders with. For me, I started off shooting weddings and engagement portraits, but I slowly realized that this is not what I wanted to do and changed my focus. As I started getting calls to photograph events, concerts, and conferences (which is also not my focus, but a regular income generator for many photographers!) I noticed that as the hired photographer I was able to go almost anywhere. Backstage, onstage, in the green room, within the cordoned off area at the very front of the stage, around the crush of people trying to see what or who you are hired to photograph. This means that I have to engage with the people who everyone is there to see – the musicians, the speakers, the comedians, the athletes, the politicians, the radio and TV hosts – it’s a special thing.

But, beyond the celebrities and the public figures – most of whom I lacked an overarching interest in but was intrigued to have interacted with – are the people who are ordinary, yet extraordinary.

Over the past few weeks I have had two portrait sessions, and the two individuals I photographed are on quite the opposite sides of society. One is an CEO, and the other is Michael Bull Roberts.

Michael Bull Roberts is a former white supremacist gang leader. He joined a gang after a childhood of extreme abuse by his father. Being part of this gang meant he was running drugs and constantly dodging, or fighting, rival gangs and the police. His life became filled with extreme violence which is reflected in the tattoos that cover his body. There are photos I have seen of him with blood, cuts and bruises covering his head and fists. On one specific day, his gang decided that he was no longer fit to be the leader, so they beat him up and left him for dead. However, he survived and is now a youth worker, an artist, an author, a motivational speaker and a hopeful pastor. You can see a bit more of his story here.

His story is quite full and I don’t do it justice here in these few sentences. But, beyond the works there is something very telling about a simple portrait that I have only just began to appreciate. It is the story of a person in a single image, no fancy backgrounds or special angles, just a good mix of light, character, and patience. Michael Bull Roberts gave me all three (well, all two – I had to worry about the light).

Where I’ve been Since Zimbabwe

March 13th, 2014 was my last post. That was just after I came home from a trip to Zimbabwe and just before I left on assignment to Albania. This, now, seems like a lifetime ago and I assume that the next few posts will be a bit of catch up.

The reality is that not posting to the blog means that I am too busy to post, which in the world of a freelancer is a good thing. However, even when I am busy it is not like I can‘t find an hour in a month to sit and write. But, more than just finding the time there is also the issue of figuring out what I want to say. Time has been short over the past 8 months, yes. But so has my capacity to think about things other than what was happening in right in front of my face, which included new life, death, marriage, new business endeavors, travel, and most recently, a fire. Crazy. But what’s funny is that although I often think this list to be exceptional in comparison to the lives of others, it isn’t. I just have to ask around a bit to realize that my list looks eerily similar to the list other people carry around in their lives.

It’s life, I guess – take it or leave it.

Since my last post was just after a two-week assignment in Zimbabwe I figure that the best thing to post is the final result of that trip, which is a feature in World Vision Canada’s magazine publication, Childview. Many of my trips with World Vision are with Childview Magazine. But also, many of the photos I take end up somewhere within its pages. The story is of a girl name XE, she was an amazing girl to spend 5 days with. She was energetic; she never sat still, and had a wonderful demeanor. This being my second trip to Zimbabwe, I have to mention the sky. I don’t know what it is about Zimbabwe’s sky, but I noticed it on my first trip in the middle of the night looking up at the stars, and I noticed it on this trip while it gave me the most wonderful evening light.

I often wish I could take you all to these places, but I guess the next best thing is showing you my photos.

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.