April, 2014 Archives

Changing perceptions

April 29th, 2014

Using a photo voice

I can’t show you any pictures.

Nor can I name any names.

But I’ve just spent a fantastic four weeks teaching formerly homeless folks about photography.

Confidentiality clauses prohibit me from sharing any details that might identify the program or the participants. I CAN say it was a project designed to help marginalized communities build storytelling skills to advocate for themselves. The whole goal is to help them bring about positive social change. That’s saying a whole mouthful for not being able to say anything.

A former bride of mine (CLARIFICATION: A bride I photographed, not one I married) asked me to help teach this program and get the participants up and running with the cameras provided to them by the project.

Funded by and overseen by a local university, I spent several hours down in a very depressed part of the city only to be surprised by how un-depressed the participants were. Though they weren’t blind to the problems around them.

The residents whom I taught, related story after story about seeing their city fall apart and maybe, hopefully, possibly coming back to life — though they say you’d have to be in the “right” part of the city to see the resurgence.

“Our city and the one right next to it are like that TV show, Two Broke Girls,” someone in the program told me, “although they’re two broke cities.”

Another member of the group chimed in, “Businesses leave the city or country and when they’re gone, the jobs go away, the houses degrade and neighborhoods fall right apart.”

Yet another person said, “I don’t go out at night.”

Everyone in the group agreed that taking pictures — making photographs — helped calm and soothe them, as one participant explained.

A woman in our class reported feeling anxious and angry at one point, but upon seeing a sunset and photographing it from a high vantage point overlooking the city, she instantly felt relaxed, “all that other stuff just went away.”

“We need to get together,” said someone in front of the whole group. And it was echoed all around.

For an abandoned, fire-gutted, completely devastated formerly famous business next door they had all sorts of ideas: “clean it up or tear it down, make it into a skating rink or community center, a grocery store would be great, bring some life back down here.”

But they didn’t just tell me that; they showed it to me with pictures. There was the former guard shack all graffitied and knocked down. There was the derelict walls and leaking roof. There was the stark beauty/ugliness of a decade’s worth of neglect.

And there was the glimmer of recognition in their eyes that they can change things.

I’m not saying that this group of a-dozen-and-a-half inner city citizens are going to show the world what’s wrong, what’s right and what can be done to make their town better.

But I’m not saying they aren’t.

Soon there will be a gallery show with their pictures. Soon dignitaries and policy makers will be invited to see what we saw. Soon their photos will be voices.

Hopefully they’ll be seen and heard. Their pictures scream louder than their words.

And I am grateful to be listening in as their chorus rehearses.

I’ll Be Live Chatting On Wednesday

April 22nd, 2014

This just in

UPDATE: Here’s a direct link to the web chat. It will be archived here, too, if you miss it. Live Chat With Rodney Curtis

Hey fellow Wanderers, I was just asked to chat with a nationwide audience via the Poynter Institute on Wednesday at 3:00 pm. They want to hear all about Getting Laid


If you want to watch the conversation live — or join in — please follow this link http://www.poynter.org/category/chats/ to see what dopey things I say.

From the Poynter Institute Mission Statement: The Poynter Institute is a school dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders. It promotes excellence and integrity in the practice of craft and in the practical leadership of successful businesses. It stands for a journalism that informs citizens and enlightens public discourse.

My Vernal Disease

April 19th, 2014

Sweet relief

Earlier this week we broke an all-time record for snowfall. We received 94.8 inches, with the last three falling on our poor daffodils. Today I wandered around the yard snapping photos to show the dichotomy.

Ah, Spring in Michigan!

You may remember my Gray Weeds post as Fall fell on me. Enjoy this quick update to my Autumnal tumble. I’m happy, relieved and suffering from Spring Fever. It’s a delightful Vernal disease.


Virtually Rodney

April 13th, 2014

A work in progress

I’ve been unfaithful.

I’ve been cheating.

I have also — to mangle a biblical reference — been robbing Peter to pay, well, Peter.

I have a mistress and her name is RodneyCurtis.com. She has been taking all my attention and leading me astray from this Wanderer site; I’ve wandered from the Wanderer. Oh, but she looks so pretty!

For years I’ve maintained a static web presence over at RodneyCurtis dot c’mon. It just sort of sat there and maybe got updated once or twice a year when one of my books came out or I had some cool new wedding stuff to share that I’d shot months previously.

It was mostly used for photography, whereas this site was used for anything I felt like. But now, as I’m attempting to re-define myself, I thought it might be a good idea to creep out of the digital stone ages of 2006 or 2007.

The trouble is, I know enough to be dangerous — to myself. I can’t tell you how many times my site has experienced catastrophic failure over the past week. For a while I even had most everything posted at RodneyCurtis.com/RodneyCurtis.com.

My biggest problem is theoretical, philosophical even. Who am I?

It has been difficult applying for meaningful employment with three different resumes: Rodney as a photographer, Rodney as a writer, Rodney as a teacher (with subcategories — Rodney as a photography teacher/Rodney as a writing teacher).

Setting up a website to reflect those disparate professions has been tricky. I’m obviously still figuring myself out; both Rodney and RodneyCurtis are works in progress.

Eventually I’ll figure everything out and what I write here will flow nicely and professionally over there. My publisher John Hile thought that was a good idea since it’s always great to have web pages linking to each other. Google likes that and what Google likes, we all like. (Strangely, the corollary to that sentence is also true. How many times has someone sent you an email about something and you find, almost immediately, that THAT something shows up in ads all around you?)

It’s easy to get wrapped up in “me.” Though for the previous few weeks I’ve happily had a nice jolt back to reality. I’ve been teaching formerly homeless folks in Detroit how to take pictures and advocate for themselves with photography. All my silly little worries about coding my site and figuring out how to put my best foot forward seem to melt away as I chat with the fascinating residents. Hopefully I’ll be able to write more about them, maybe even share some of their photos.

Hmmm, but how should I show the pictures and what’s the best way to code them and can I  …