Sunday, September 4, 2016

A 'disappointing' but valuable experience

Sigh. Sometimes -- no matter how hard you try -- things just don't work out the way you would like. But that doesn't always mean that nothing was gained from the experience. For example, consider my recent effort to bring the Smooch! to Nairobi, Kenya, by the end of 2016. 

I have begun actively seeking opportunities to work with photographers from around the world to help complete the 10,000-image archive of Smooch! photos. Earlier this year, I learned of a local non-profit working with primary school children living in an enormous Nairobi slum. This organization offers these kids after-school and weekend learning activities, providing them with additional educational opportunities as well as a safe environment for children at risk. 

I was excited to discover that photography was one of the skills taught by a volunteer teacher. Wouldn't it be awesome, I thought, if these young photography students could be guided by their teacher to collect Smooch! images of their own loved ones within the local community? I sent an email to the organization with my proposal and was met with great enthusiasm. Hooray! This could be an exciting way to begin gathering Smooch! photos taken by photographers living and working elsewhere in the world.

I felt comfortable offering the non-profit staff small stipends for their assistance but wondered how best to compensate the kids for their efforts. On the suggestion of my primary Kenyan contact, I happily agreed to cover the cost of primary schooling for selected participating students who completed their Smooch! assignment. Perfect.

I spent the next six months working to confirm the financial details provided to me with the individual schools, often waiting a month for each reply. Sometimes my questions were answered, sometimes not. Often the replies I received differed from what I had been told. Or I would receive no reply at all. Finally, I heard from a U.S. church supporting one of the schools involved: Three of the four students I was inquiring about were already sponsored. Ugh. A disappointing way to discover that the non-profit I was working with had other plans for the promised Smooch! funding.

The solution: If I truly wanted this effort to succeed, I would need to go to Nairobi to personally ensure funds were used as intended and photos collected as promised. That would not happen in 2016. Nor in 2017, when the country would be undergoing national elections, often marred by violence. Perhaps I'll manage to go in 2018.

Until then, I'll be continuing my search for international photographers willing interested in gathering images from around the world on behalf of The Smooch! Project. My next inquiries will be to photogs in Iceland and Greece. I've already begun connecting to folks in Iceland. You can view their smoochy faces on Facebook here.

And what did I learn from this experience? That it is best to confirm information via multiple sources, especially where money is involved. That the world is wide and opportunities to find new Smooch! photos abound. That my goal to collect 10,000 images from around the world is worth every effort, some of which will be easy and some more challenging. What a lucky photographer I am!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Some things you just can't make up: A North Dakota Mountain covered with Icelanders

Late last month, a new helper and I journeyed  to the tiny town of Mountain, North Dakota. We intended to photograph two busloads of tourists visiting from Iceland. We hoped they would smooch.

Our epic journey began in darkness -- at 3 o'clock in the morning. As the miles rolled by, we passed through a beautiful misty dawn that lifted to show us a veritable sea of brilliant sunflowers, standing corn and field after field of rye. Or maybe it was barley. I regret we didn't take the time to stop to figure it out but we were on a mission. We had a Smooch! shoot scheduled later that day. We were tired and determined to arrive on time. 

Seven+ hours and 422 miles later, we made it. Sadly, we found no mountain in Mountain. But we did meet the aforementioned Icelanders. Happily, they were in the mood to smooch too. 

I was drawn to this event by my wish to bring The Smooch! Project to Iceland next year. In Mountain, we succeeded in introducing the project to more than 40 people from that beautiful country. I'm hopeful their positive experience with us will help smooth the way for an Icelandic Smooch! journey in 2017. 

The final pics are being edited, destined for online public display very soon. If you would like to be among the first to learn when and where to view them, be sure to join the Smooch! email list. You'll find the sign-up button in the column on the right. 

You're also invited to find out why several hundred Icelanders (from throughout the US as well as internationally) arrive year after year in this tiny North Dakota town to attend the annual Icelandic Deuce of August Celebration. Enjoy!