Tag: Storytelling

I want to hurt (more) with Boston…

Thoughts on suffering and perspective.

In the below paragraphs it’s my desire to make one thing clear, I’m personally trying to digest Boston.  I’m by no means trying to establish a moral high ground, or morality at all.  I’m trying to not speak in broad terms, also. I also realize the timing of this post and the possible perceived audacity.  However, this post was written with the humblest of intentions despite the fact that I’m sure this will rub someone the wrong way.  I apologize in advance, if possible, for that.

By no means is this meant to diminish those who deal with pain and suffering in varied ways or those who have hurt so much that they can’t take one more thing.  I’m not pointing fingers and I’m by no means trying to shift focus away from Boston where no one should deny that real suffering is taking place.  Real lives are forever changed there in horrific ways .  People in Boston, like people in Syria, Iraq, and Afganistan are suffering in ways that are universal and their suffering should not be undermined.

As a storyteller, and a photographer who finds myself all over the world quite often, I desperately want to gain perspective where perspective is to be had.  A softer heart towards suffering is my goal here.  I think I’ve failed to see and empathize with suffering because I’ve failed to be touched by those who suffer.  There are people in the world who, by all means, suffer unspeakable situations every day.  Some of those people are in Boston right now.

If I can’t look at Boston and hurt with them, how can I personally establish a grounds for empathy and care for suffering around the world?  

I hurt for Boston as well as I can.  I want to understand their pain, suffering, and dismay as much as possible.  As odd and masochistic as it sounds, I’m scared to turn away and allow my heart to harden and forget.

I’ve been wrestling with these thoughts since the news in Boston broke:

Am I numb to compassion because I’m ignorant of suffering?  How do I suffer and hurt with those who I don’t have a direct connection to?  Does suffering give us greater capacity to empathize with those who hurt?

The bottom line is that the acts of terror, and subsequent death, in Boston are all horrible.  By all account’s it’s been a horrible week for America.  Boston’s suffering cannot be minimized nor sufficiently equated with the suffering around the world.  Any comparisons done of humanities suffering, in and of itself, should only conclude with equality.  Suffering is equal opportunity.

I’ve watched people react to the news differently. Some people turn the other way and ignore it.  Already moving on.  I tweeted things on Monday that were superfluous and lacked the proper tact of such a weighty situation.  I watched some react in anger. Some simply don’t know how to react.  That’s understandable.  I don’t really either.  Most don’t.

But it seems like I’m struggling to let it really sink in.

I’ve heard people on the radio say, verbatim, “Thank God it wasn’t close to home.”  I’m uncomfortable with that thought because I don’t want my capacity for empathy to be based on distance.  That’s little confort for those who are in Boston.  It’s always close to someone’s home.  But conversely I am glad that it wasn’t in my neighborhood and that my wife and child are both safe.  Something many families in Boston cannot say.

I’ve heard people say, “It’s been a horrible week. Let’s be happy. Here’s how…”  Immediately I’m tempted to bury myself in one of a million readily available distractions.  It’s easy.  Let others deal with it.  I can let it not affect me if I want.

But there’s this.  I don’t want to move on.  Optional escape undermines the weight of suffering. I want to push into the suffering of those in Boston. I want to weep with them and let it hurt.  I want to let the fact that three people died and three families are irreversibly changed sink in deeper and deeper.  I know for a fact that I personally need to face suffering in order to deal with it better, empathize with it better, love those who are suffering better, and ultimately act against it around the world better.

The above scene in Syria is an astonishing, humbling, and fantastically touching example of what I believe empathy to be.  No one would deny that these men know what suffering and death look like, and that’s why I believe them.  Syria and Boston are by no means congruent situations, but suffering is suffering and hurt is real despite location and socioeconomic divides.  These men (boys really) have hit the nail on the head for me and inspired me to write these words much sooner than I thought I’d be able to.

All in all, I’m encouraged to make the time to hurt with you, Boston.  God Bless.

My Home: Part 2

Stories from western China: Part 2 - The Jobs

In the last post (a long time ago) I made a statement to the effect that things were kind of returning to normal in western China.  Since making that statement we’ve seen almost five violent protests in the region – mostly involving flaming bodies, sadly.  If you read the news, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  If not, the phrase ‘flaming bodies’ should be enough to make you do some research.

Alas, another month where the local foreign photographer isn’t allowed to leave the city for political reasons.  Nonetheless, I’ve kept busy in the city that I live trying to work on capturing the working class culture of this city. The thing I love about living in a city that has one foot in the modern world and one foot strongly in the traditional world is that all sorts of strange jobs start to pop up.  Visual contradictions, if you will. Blind massage parlors with people that aren’t blind.  A Sichuan cook from Gansu who isn’t old enough to legally work in America.  Muslim women wearing full on hijabs and bucket hats that will wash your car (or rug) for a few RMB.  A woman selling mountain bikes that knows way more about making traditional noodles that bikes… and is willing to tell you about about it.  How’s that for a selling point – buy a bike, get some noodles.

These are the kind of jobs you see popping up in these minority border areas of China, and I think it’s fantastic. I wanted to share just a few of this series with you as I work on it.

Hope you enjoy!


My Home: Part 1

Stories from western China: Part 1 - An introduction

It’s been a strange past few months.  Because of political, social, and governmental ‘issues‘ (read: problems, protests, and tensions) here in western China I’ve spent more time in front of the computer working as a designer and web developer than I have as a photographer – a nice little carry over from a previous career.  Other than shooting a few local jobs and lots of time on the east coast of China working and shooting, it’s been a slow and somewhat frustrating time to live here.

Being one of the only permanently-based (and open with the government) photographers in the Tibetan areas of western China lends itself to certain stresses, troubles, and limitations – one of those being they tend to let me know when it’s ‘safe‘ for me to go out and do my job.  Safe meaning when they are comfortable with the thought of a foreign photographer.  All other times they expect me to find something else to do.  Roll with the punches and keep my head down, I guess.

I’m happy to say that things are gradually returning to a state of normal.  I now have a huge list of projects I’m working on.  Down time, while frustrating as a story teller, creator, and income earner, is certainly hard. But it can also be great to help us gain perspective and think about the stories that we want to tell.  Such was the case for me.

I’m happy to announce one of many personal projects designed to explore the many nuances, stories, and people of my home in western China.  These are stories I’ve been watching unfold for years and haven’t had the 关系 (relationships, trust, understanding, local rapport, etc) to pursue appropriately all while being sensitive to the unique cultures of this place .  I couldn’t be more excited to start!  Listed below are a few captions for the posted images, many of which will be explored further in the coming weeks.

  • Xiàngqí /象棋/ Chinese Chess – Literally translated means “Elephant Game.”  This is one of the most interesting cultural games you will find in China.  Literally on any given day you can find dozens of old men around playing this game.  It’s a fantastically rich game that encompasses a large swath of Chinese social culture.
  • Confucius Wall Slogans – I find these everywhere throughout China.  These are painted slogans, both large and small, that convey what the Chinese government feels is a slogan to promote ‘social harmony.’
  • BaoZi/包子 / Chinese Dumplings – So much food culture, it’s so hard to know where to begin.  This is one of my favorites and one of the most common foods you will run across in China.  Worth exploring further.
  • Temples:  Daoist, Buddhist, unidentified… we’ve got them.
  • Common workers: Man, is there a story to be told here.

Hope you join me over the next few months as many of these stories unfold.

Read more →