It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Brooks Potteiger!
“What type of photography do you do?” This seems to be the first question most people ask when they discover you are somewhat competent with the camera. I still don’t have a clear answer to this question. However, during a trip to Guatemala two years ago I quickly realized that travel/mission-oriented photography captivated me the most. It was the first time since I started doing photography that I was able to get out of the bubble that is America. Being in such humble, yet beautiful, conditions really showed me the power that this medium possessed.
Last year I had the chance to visit Haiti about 5 months after the quake. I went there to do make some images for Mission of Hope Haiti. MOH Haiti is an amazing organization that does so much that it’s difficult to know where to begin. For starters, on their grounds alone they have an orphanage, a school, a church, and a prosthetics lab. So many lives have been impacted and even saved by them. The mission is also so well run that they were more equipped than almost anyone else in the nation for the earthquake. In fact, they served more meals to people in the first week than the UN. It’s pretty unreal. To hear the doctors speak about the quake was chilling. They said the first victim arrived within 10 minutes, and that began a 36 hour marathon of emergency surgeries.
Also, the fact that they had a prosthetic lab was an absolute God send, in every sense of the word. They have a doctor who specializes in prosthetics come almost weekly to serve the people who need artificial limbs. I was allowed to ride along to drop some of the patients off at their homes on one occasion. Here are some images from that:
The thing that struck me about the people was their real joy, despite their loss. They were so eager to love and to be hospital. It started to drizzle while I was there and I heard a woman calling to me in Creole. I went over to her and she took my camera and put it in a plastic bag to protect it. This is the heart of the people.
On another day we were taking a walk through a neighboring village. Because my guide had a good relationship with them, several of the people allowed me to make portraits of them.
Something about Haiti that I did not anticipate was the beauty…oh the beauty. We often hear of the poverty or the despair, and while that is a reality for many people there, there is an incredible amount of beauty as well.
In January of this year a dream of mine came to fruition. I had the chance to go to Africa. My grandparents were missionaries in Africa for many years, so this has always been a desire of mine. The chance came through a serendipitous conversation with my sister-in-law’s aunt, Gwen. After visiting an orphanage in Swaziland called the New Hope Centre, she felt led to write a book recounting the stories of the kids entitled 24 Extraordinary Children. She told me that the only thing they did not have is good portraits of the children in the book. A divine appointment, you might say.
I am not able to publish any of the images of the children but this is a shot of a storm cell that developed before my eyes. To put it in perspective, this is a 5 shot pano taken from on top of a mountain, and that is the entire city of Manzini in the lower right corner.
Since I was already going to Africa, I added a ten day stop in Kenya to do some images for a small organization called EPCL. For three of those days I had the huge honor of staying with some of the Maasai people. This was, by far, the most impactful time for me as a photographer. To actually be in the bush and experience such a different way of life was simply surreal. These wonderful people also allowed me to make some portraits of them. Here are a few of those:
An instance where, as much as I might not like to admit it, the subject knows better than the photographer. I was wanting her to look at me, but the fact that she was looking down really makes this image for me.
I was staying at one particular boma (village) that is friendly with EPCL. There is a pastor there who walks 6 hours to church every week, because his church is miles away. I did part of the walk with him one of the days. As we were walking he said (through the translator), “want to see where the giraffes are?” I’m sure you can predict my response. What was a slight detour for them was an absolutely unbelievable moment for me. This is what I saw:
As far as lighting goes, I simply used an old school vivitar 285HV with no modifiers. I would often have one of the other gentleman hold it for me. It was an interesting feat trying to explain how to position the light and not being able to communicate in their language. Honestly though, I think the language barrier made for better images. Seeing their face after showing them their image on the camera is not something I shall soon forget. It was just incredible. They were so loving and kind and, though they lived ‘humbly’ by our standards, they exuded such a real joy. It makes one wonder if we haven’t missed the point in some ways. Here are a few more of those portraits:
The next (and final) leg of my African journey led to a safari at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. EPCL is friends with an amazing man named Nelson Reiyia. Nelson owns a a safari camp called Oldarpoi Mara. He is a Maasai, and his camp is the only run by an actual Maasai. He uses the profits from his camp to help girls escape the terrible practice of FGM (female genital mutilation). Though it is technically illegal, Nelson explained that it still happens to 90% of Maasai girls. He hopes to help eradicate this barbaric practice through education, and by providing a safe house for girls. You can visit his site at OldarpoiMaraCamp.com. These are a few of the images from the safari that Nelson guided us on.
I learned that hippo are the deadliest animal on land. While I was taking this image Nelson warned me about the crocodiles. I looked down and sure enough, a dark shadow under the water was heading in my direction.
This last portrait is not the most stunning one that I have done, but it may be the most significant because of what it represents. Fighting against FGM is incredibly unpopular. It is a practice that is incredibly ingrained in the culture of some of the Maasai, and Nelson has even had death threats because of the work he is doing. However, the tide is beginning to turn slowly. He has an elderly Maasai tend to the building that will house some of the girls that are rescued. This marks a significant shift, because it is the elderly folks who are most against the change. The fact that this man would help facilitate his work speaks volume. This is that man:
So what type of photography do I do? I guess I’m still trying to figure out “what that looks like”. My desire is to hopefully bring a little piece of the kingdom of heaven to Earth through it, and to use it to show people the good work that is being done throughout the world. I pray the Lord provides many more opportunities and I will gladly follow.
Thank you so much to Scott and everyone else at Kelby Media Group for allowing me to share some of my work.
As a side note: I currently have an exhibition up at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC called Light in the Shadowlands. It will be up through mid-December, and I will be attending a reception for it on November 18th from 6pm-8pm. I would love to see you there if you are in the area. A portion of the proceeds from any sales will go to help publish the 24 Extraordinary Children book.