Monday, February 22, 2016

Picture Story: The One-Day (5-points of view) - Columbia's Swahili Church

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Pastor Nene Peter Rwenyaguza, a former farmer and school teacher from the Congo, made his way to Columbia in 2008. Rwenyaguza now leads the a Swahili church service at First Baptist Church with Rubin Byishimo, who plays the piano and sings during songs.

First Baptist Church's weekly Swahili service has a congregation of about 80 members, consisting of people who've come from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and the Congo. Many of the members knew each other before coming to Columbia. The entire service is given in Swahili, with periods of song and dance interspersed between scripture readings.

Swahili, also know as KiSwahili, is a language spoken by about 80 million people and is the official language in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Comoros and Zanzibar.

Critique: I tried to cue in on the different aspects of church, the different ways a photograph could tell a story about the service. I struggled trying to understand the "Five points of view" concept, so mu brain wandered through different ways to do that throughout the shoot, whether it was showing one aspect five different ways or having five pictures from different angles are with different lenses.

Another struggle was that it snowed before the service, which I think dropped attendance and created a lighter presence than I expected.

Overall, I think I'm happy. I wish there were a better caption that I could come up with, but this is what I have to fit the story that these images tell.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Picture Story: Take a picture, tell a story - Frankie Humphrey

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I was fortunate enough reconnect with Frankie, who I met and briefly photographed on New Years Eve, but didn't really talk to. The internet is an amazing place from which I was able to track him down through Twitter and arrange a shoot and interview for a Picture Story assignment called "Take a picture, tell a story," based on this project by Robert Gumpert.

I think both the shoot and the interview went well. Frankie was really open with me and has a great voice and some interesting stories. I wish I'd taken a couple more variations of the close-up, but I was feeling a bit nervous because we were running behind schedule (because of me) and Frankie had to leave town at 2.

I should have slowed down, but I'm always feeling like I'm inconveniencing my subjects and I still haven't realized that I'm the photographer and they're just listening to my instructions - I have the power.

That led to me forgetting my wireless transmitters as we ran out the door to shoot in an alleyway. I think that actually ended up playing out in my favor, but it was still a mistake.

Originally I was hoping to photograph Frankie in his home or a studio, but I didn't realize he didn't live in Columbia and with the way things played out, this is how it was. When I said we should shoot in a studio, he said the dance studios were "basic" and that we should shoot in an alley.

I was hesitant at first, trying to remind him that I was a photojournalist and it wasn't a commercial shoot; I wanted the background to say something about him. Then he told me that he grew up dancing on the streets and I figured an alley was perfect.

We turned on some music, he did his thing, I did my thing and this is what resulted. Below is a second version of the video I edited in a little different fashion, with a larger selection of photos.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Forgotten Post: Condemned Housing in Columbia

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Following images ©Justin L. Stewart. Do not use without proper licensing. 

Last spring my roommate Luke told me about some condemned houses near Columbia Community College. He said he was going to photograph them and he wanted to know if I was interested in joining. It was a warm spring afternoon and, seeing a good opportunity to delay any work that was beckoning me, I said yes and we drove over to Rodgers Street, parking in the new parking spots at Douglas Park.

We wandered through each of the condemned houses, photographing and discussing why these houses might have been condemned, wondering where their former occupants had gone and why anyone would feel the need to spray paint a penis on the wall.

We found some names and discussed trying to track some of the people down to figure out what had happened — why their houses were condemned and why they had left so much behind — but, with the spring semester being the hell it was, we never got around to it, just like this post.

I think there's always a fear related to photographing something like this. It's not that it's scary to shoot, but that you're wondering if there will be blow back. The words "ruin porn" like to be thrown around willy nilly, and I'm not keen on being associated with them. 

This isn't the first time I've documented housing that people were forced out of. I think it's an important thing to photograph. It raises important questions. Why did this happen? Why are so many things left behind? Was this fair? Are the people OK? What if something like this happened to me? What would I take and what would I leave behind? 

These experiences leave so many questions and feel so strange. Spices still sit in the spice rack, a mother of the year award lies among abandoned family photos and hangers, a plastic flower rests in a bathroom sink, a portrait of a clown rest among a pile of kitty litter boxes — why? How?

I think the fear of being shamed for photographing this was one of the reasons this never made it up before. In the end, I suppose, you have to just take the good with the bad. If someone is going to call this "ruin porn," there's not much I can do about that. But maybe others will see what I see and experience what I experienced. That's the hope, at least.

These make me feel. I hope they make you feel, too.

A pile of family photographs and clothing hangers lie among shards of broken glass with a certificate that says "Mother of the Year Award" in one of the condemned houses on along Rodgers Street.