The Visual Advocate Blog

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Morocco here I come

Tomorrow I board a plane for Morocco where I will be shooting  for a tourism company, scouting places for future workshops and doing some personal projects. I am hoping to have internet that is stable and fast enough to post images daily and even a wallpaper for the month (since I am horribly behind on this!). 

While I was tempted to try to watch Casablanca before I left, I didn’t get to it because this past month has been crazy with a million different little things. One of these things was lunch appointment with one of the lead collaborators of Eye See Media, an independent media company I recently discovered through a friend. Do make sure to check out what they are doing because they are telling some amazing stories that need to be told.

Also, check out these videos below made by some other friends who are great multi-media storytellers:

More than just bread-Nate Watkins

Dance the past into the future-Mario Mattei



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Shooting for Peace of Thread

The last few weeks I have been working with a local NGO in Atlanta called Peace of Thread which is still very young but growing fast. My assignment with them has been to create images they can use on their new website that is soon to launch and in other promotional material.

Peace of Thread empowers women who have come to the United States seeking refuge from war, persecution & poverty to make a new life for themselves and their families.

It has been fun in a lot of ways but challenging as well. One of the challenges is that I have to create images for where none of the women’s faces are visible because of fear of retaliation against family members who are still in their home countries if they are seen on the internet.

One of the challenges of this assignment has been creating images of the women that do not show their faces.

Yesterday I spent about an hour shooting images of the ladies all sitting in a circle looking through the repurposed fabric they will be turning into bags and purses soon. What was most fun was just shooting as the women were laughing hysterically and chatting incessantly in Arabic.

The women of Peace of Thread gather around Denise, a champion for them and Peace of Thread, to look at fabrics they will be using to sew new purses and bags.

Many of these women had to flee their countries after having their houses bombed and several family members killed. Now that they are in the United States Peace of Thread is helping them make money that helps support their family and start their lives over. One one woman who is helping as a champion with Peace of Thread on behalf of these women is Denise, with whom I want to later post an interview.

Denise is serving as a champion for the women of Peace of Thread and is a good reminder of how just one person can make a huge impact in the lives of so many.

Make sure to check out their website and even buy a bag or ten! Here are some other images from my time with the women of Peace of Thread.

I am leaving for Ethiopia on Monday and will be gone for a couple of weeks. When I get back I am going to be reviewing some new ebooks, Blackrapid gear and sharing some images of Ethiopia. I am going to try to blog while I am there but as you know internet in developing countries is often pretty sketchy.


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If they could only meet Alaa

For the last seven Fridays I have been posting interviews of Humanitarian Photographers. Though I have more I want to post, I am taking a break this Friday. Instead, I want to talk briefly about four different conversations I have had in the last two days. The first was with an Iraqi man named Alaa on Wednesday. I had met him before, but today he had a hat on that caught my attention and he just happened to have some time to talk at work. His hat had the words “God is Great” in Arabic on it along with the Iraqi flag. I approached Alaa and asked what his flag said, and he told me. We went on to talk about his family and what he is doing in America. As we shared wonderful Iraqi tea I asked him if I could do a photo story on a day in his life, which will be coming soon. It was simply another wonderful conversation with wonderful person who happens to be Muslim.

Alaa with his "God is Great" hat on with the Iraqi flag.

Alaa making some Iraqui tea for us to share. It was excellent!

The other three conversations I had were with Americans. Though each of these couples were from very different walks of life, all of our conversations were centered around how we must strive to move beyond what the major media tells us about Muslims in the world, and for that matter other peoples. I told stories of my time with Muslims in India, experiencing some of the most incredible hospitality and friendship. There were questions that came up like “Aren’t you afraid” and I could honestly tell them know because I have always felt very safe when I have been with my Muslim friends in their countries.

I could go on and on but here is the point. We as visual peacemakers, or peacemakers of other kinds, have our work cut out for us. There are crazy stereotypes about whole blocs of peoples that make up so many different geographical regions, languages and cultures that are being perpetuated. We must keep creating stories and telling stories that bit by bit move people away from fear and prejudice.

Remember it is always too early to give up!

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Why not host your own “Peace Feast”?

Last thursday evening, I had the privilege of joining about 50 other people for “Peace Feast” hosted by Peace Catalyst International in Phoenix, Arizona. The food, which was awesome, was provided by Jerusalem foods, a restaurant in Chandler, Arizona that is owned and operated by a local Muslim man.

More than just coming together to enjoy some great Middle Eastern food, this Peace Feast was coming together to talk about how we can continue to pursue true peace between Muslims and Christians through the person and teachings of Jesus. I had a great time getting to mingle with other photographers that were there as well as other people in other ways to break down stereotypes and biases that separate Muslims and Christians.

One of the founders of The Peace Frame posing at The Peace Feast

One key initiative I wanted to tell you about is The Peace Frame. I had a chance to meet the founders at the Peace Feast and love what they are working to do. In their words, their desire is to “create videos that display the humanity within misunderstood cultures.” Right now they are a contestant in the Pepsi Refresh project, hoping to win $25,000 toward their goal of gathering global film makers to work together to make films that display the humanity within misunderstood cultures. If you like this idea and want to vote for them you can vote for them by clicking on the above link or texting 104994 to 73774.

What I love about The Peace Frame is that it is just two ordinary guys, one a stockbroker and the other an Architect who believe they can change the world and they are trying to do something about it. Check out what they are doing and start thinking about how you could do something to breakdown stereotypes and prejudice that divide people from different cultures or social groups in your settings.

Also, I am excited to share that I am going to be posting interviews with different visual peacemakers from around the world, so look for those coming soon!


Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

One of the many news vans parked outside the local mosque in my city.

I didn’t plan to write this post until last night when I found out that someone tried to set the mosque in my city on fire because the 19-year old Somali immigrant who tried to detonate a bomb during the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Pioneer Square in Portland, Oregon occasionally worshiped there.

As soon as my wife and I heard about this we called our Muslim friends to tell them we were praying for them and ask if there was anything we could do. I ended up going to the mosque to talk and eat with the leaders as a sign of my friendship and support.

I arrived right before evening prayers began so after chatting briefly with a few of my Muslim friends, they took their place in line to pray and I sat in the back and waited for them to finish.

After the prayers ended we went downstairs to eat and talk more about what had happened at Pioneer Square and why someone would try to burn down the mosque.

Remnants of Qurans that were not totally destroyed by the fire.

Everyone I talked with shared the same thing; they didn’t want people to think that this terrorist represented them, their mosque or the global system of Islam. Having spent a lot of time with these guys as well as with Muslims around the world, I knew what they were saying is true. We must not believe the major media that makes it seem that terrorism is a foundational part of Islam. The reality is that only about 4% of Muslims world wide are the fanatical types behind acts of terrorism like what happened in Portland.

Flowers and notes outside the mosque demostrating support for the Muslims in our city

So I just want to end with this. Please don’t let fear stop you from taking the steps to reach out to Muslims you know. In our post 9/11 world we must not let fear drive up to believe stereotypes and biases about people that are not true. Yes there are people in the world who call themselves Muslims and are doing horrible things. But the reality is there are people from every religion in the world doing things that dishonor God and perpetuate hateful stereotypes, biases and prejudice that divides peoples and cultures. Let’s not let our lives be ruled by fear.

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Rice, Roti and Reconciliation

In my last post I mentioned an upcoming reconciliation dinner I was going to shoot between 15 imams and 15 pastors from the Puget Sound area in Seattle. The dinner was a great time of awesome Indian food (compliment of A Taste of India), deep conversation about what it means to really love God and love our neighbors, and hopefully a catalyst for ongoing relationships. There is so much I could say, but I will spare you the words and instead just give you a couple of images from the night. Hope you enjoy!

The Muslim Imams ducked out of the dinner for a moment to do their evening prayers on a sidewalk outside the restaurant.

An Imam from Indonesia, bowing on his prayer rug during his prayers.

The Imams and pastors are deep in Indian food and conversation.

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Shooting Reconciliation

In just three days I will be in Seattle to photograph a dinner between 15 Muslim Imams and 15 Christian Pastors from the Puget Sound area. The purpose of the dinner is to facilitate discussion about what it means to really love our neighbors.

I am excited about this event for a couple of reasons. First, I am excited because I think it is great to see Muslim Imams and Christian Pastors coming together to talk about what it really means to love our neighbors the way God intends. Who knows what will come of the conversations, but I am sure it is going to be a great evening thought-provoking questions and dialogue from both sides.

The other reason I am excited about this event is because I know it is going to challenge me as a photographer. Since I found out about this opportunity I have been mulling over what kind of images I will be looking for and I will go about photographing the reconciliation and discussion process among these spiritual leaders. I don’t have any answers yet, but we will see what happens.

Following this dinner I will also be attending and photographing an event called “Jesus in the Quran” which is also focused on bringing Muslims and Christians together to talk about the core issues of our different faith communities. I attended this event last year and was truly blessed by the content and delivery. Again I am excited about the opportunity to see Muslims and Christians dialoguing together and the opportunity to do some photography.

I am going to try and have some pictures up next week or so with some highlights and stories from these two events so stay tuned!