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42 Brattle Street Harvard Square Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
PO Box 9113 Cambridge, MA 02238-9113
Phone: 617-547-6789 Fax: 617-497-7532
www.ccae.org
teeksaphoto.org

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Spring Light: Photographing Massachusetts Audubon Society wildlife sanctuaries
A field trip-based workshop for students beyond the basic level—how to work photographically with summer light.
Three Fridays, July 11, 12-3, July 18, 5:30 pm-8:30, and July 25, 5:30 am-8:30 with review sessions on three Thursdays, 6-8:30 pm at 56 Brattle St, Cambridge, July 17 and 24, and August 14. (Please save Sunday, July 13, 12-3, for a rain date.)

Street Photography
How to photograph people we meet on our explorations outside our private domains—field trips, lectures, demonstrations, and reviews.
Four Tuesdays, 3-6 pm. Begins July 1.

Night Photography
Explore the equipment and techniques of night photography thru lectures, demonstrations, and field trips.
Four Wednesdays, 7:45-9:45 pm. Begins July 2.

Summer Photography Intensive Retreat
Taught jointly by Melinda Bruno-Smith & Skip Schiel
Deep seeing, effective camera use, composition, visual literacy, and post production processes—to learn skills that express your vision, feelings, and thoughts.
Five days, July 28-August 1, 10 am-4 pm

Although I enjoy taking photographs on my own, Skip Schiel’s classes give structure and direction, which adds another dimension to the experience. He also does these wonderful awareness exercises that help me look at things differently. It’s an experience I take into other areas of my life. (Sy Friedland, Fall Light 2013)

I have owned a Lightroom tutorial video for 3 years—but the class was orders of magnitude more useful. (Adobe Lightroom Essentials, 2014)

Skip gave us ideas to think about while we were shooting. Shooting objects from different perspectives instead of just blasting away. One of the best things was that Skip was out there shooting with us. We could see after what he was looking at and what he was thinking. I have never had an instructor do that. (Winter Light, 2012)

Skip challenged us, gave thoughtful feedback and facilitated great discussions. The format of the class offered a mix of feedback, learning new techniques, seeing the work of other artists, and field trips to practice what we learned. The class flew by and I would have enjoyed a couple more sessions. (Night & Low Light Photography, summer 2011)

More testimonials

Photography workshop

Emerald Necklace, Boston, Winter Light, January 2014, photo by Skip Schiel

Photos from this workshop

Contact Skip Schiel

View his photographs

His teaching philosophy

Along the Mediterranean Coast: To learn photography (teaching in Gaza, Occupied Palestine)

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Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.

PHOTOS

Have you ever heard of the hour of the wolf? … It’s the time between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning. You can’t sleep, and all you can see is the troubles and the problems and the ways that your life should’ve gone but didn’t. All you can hear is the sound of your own heart.

(Commander Susan Ivanova in an episode of the science fiction television show Babylon 5 entitled “The Hour of the Wolf” and from Swedish and Finnish folk religion, also the title of a horror film by Ingmar Bergman where I first learned the term and phenomenon.)


(Click here for an enlargement)

November 23, 2010, Tuesday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

I’m nervous this morning, for a variety of reasons. 1. I teach the first session of the photographic workshop tomorrow [November 24, 2010]. Altho I feel very prepared and confident enough I always feel nervous beginning a workshop series. I focus more on past failures than successes, on my problems at Birzeit University and with the Haifa Israeli Arab youth when I taught at both sites, rather than the long string of successes at the Quaker Palestine Youth Program (QPYP), Cambridge Center for Adult Education and Harvard University. 2. My computer problems. 3. My flashlight’s bulb seems to have burned out, not a big deal but precipitating a return of my Hour of the Wolf syndrome, keeping me awake with flooding thoughts, visions, worries. 4. Where in Gaza can I find an ATM for cash? 5. The money transfer question. All of these swamped me last night as I struggled to return to blissful sleep—and eventually did.

I am befuddled by the weekly schedule here. Week begins on Sunday, Friday is a holiday. I have to shift my thinking from Monday begins the week, Saturday and Sunday are holidays.

A dream despite or inspired by the problems of the night: true to my habit (and I’m thankful for this one) I was preparing to teach a photo workshop, not in Gaza but at home. Working around my wife, a stand-in for my former wife, I gathered materials including an old digital camera that I’d dismantled, blank film, cords, and other paraphernalia that if I were actually home and about to teach I’d collect. A bulb had burned out. My wife provided me one. I inserted it and I could see better what I was collecting. Last night I devoted myself mainly to preparing for the workshop tomorrow and I’m certain the dream was an offshoot of that. Unlike at home, I don’t have the materials I dreamt about gathering.

The second dream was about gathering a woman to me—another sort of gathering—inviting her into my intimate circle. She was young, desirable, available. I’d arranged for her to sit with others in a sort of pit. The pit began enclosing her and others. I jumped in. Some in the pit became food. She finally agreed to be with me intimately. I felt mutual love. Patricia Watson, an old dear Quaker friend and mentor, entered the story somehow; maybe it referred to her without her actual presence. How strange this one was. Unlike any dream I can recall having and definitely unlike any known courtship procedure.

November 24, 2010, Wednesday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

What provoked last night’s episode of the Hour of the Wolf was the following extremely vivid dream: I was meeting my workshop group for the first time. It was set in Gaza, large, around 15, the usual mix of people. For some reason a pole or column separated them into 2 smaller groups, which made seeing them at one time difficult. One of the students rudely and demonstratively played the piano loudly in the back of the room. I asked her to stop. Sullenly, she complied.

I was using my seminar approach, asking questions in the Socratic manner, mostly about photographic design. As an illustration I used  the element of repetition. I didn’t have actual pictures to look at, a major omission. At first I thought this was going very well, not plunging directly into the nuts and bolts of making photos but delving into some of the deeper topics—I love doing this. I felt I was doing it expertly. Gradually I noticed some of the students shaking heads at each other, a condemnatory shake, expressing, this sucks. This guy is a total shit. I do not like being in this workshop. I knew I was on the wrong path, not sure how to find the right one. I awoke with a sudden thud. Oh, oh, I said to myself, don’t take that road today when you teach, anything but that road.

On my morning walk a few minutes ago I realized I should begin the workshop by thanking everyone for the opportunity to work with them, for their choosing to enroll, do the work, and share my passion for photography, to give me a chance to learn from them. Yes, be very thankful and humble. To confess my gratitude, dependence on them, willingness to learn. Then to ask them to introduce themselves, with specific reference to photography. Tell us what you’d like to learn and why. The take away, the payoff. This will be challenging because of language barriers. (I’m hoping for good translation, which I had last year, making a huge difference.) Then maybe look at their photos, if they brought them as I asked Islam to invite them to do. At least look at my prints.

Then maybe a how to see deeply exercise, a guided meditation, and run thru the camera settings (how do this without the AV camera cable?). Concentrate on providing them many opportunities to actually photograph and later review their photos. To state this at the outset: make and comment on photos, the spine of the workshop. That usually works in most settings.

The QPYP staff were surprised to see me show up so early yesterday, ready to teach. Then I realized my mistake—I was one day early, one more night to suffer thru, the Hour of the Wolf will come again. I confided to Amal, the director of the program, how nervous I am. She is my mother in absentia. The moon, recently full, is waning. On the next full moon night I may either be preparing to leave Gaza or preparing to leave Yaffa and Israel, homeward bound.

Ibrahem Shatali and Amal Sabawai, program officer and director, respectively

November 25, 2010, Thursday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

~~Electricity just went kaput as I was beginning this entry. Last night in an adjoining neighborhood near the sea, the power was out. Off at 7:20 pm, we’ll see how long before the generator kicks in.~~

The workshop yesterday, in my preliminary and self-interested perspective, went surprisingly well. 10 of the 12 enrolled attended, about half arrived on time, the others within 10 minutes of start time. They seemed engaged for the most part, those without English struggling to keep up. Rana and Hesham shared translation duties. All but one had cameras and that one used his mobile phone camera which apparently is fairly sophisticated. I lectured about a few basic digital principles like the difference between a photograph, a print, a file, and an image. For a later session we’ll discuss bits, bytes, and pix, color space, calibration, etc, rudimentary concepts that I find fascinating and vital to understand. Will they?

Because I lacked my AV cable allowing me to show camera settings, I lectured on the topic and had them follow with their cameras: auto, P for program, A for aperture priority, etc, leaving for later when and why these different settings are useful. All basic stuff. The students are less advanced than I’d assumed after talking with Amal and Islam. I thought they said these would mostly be practicing photographers who wished to upgrade their skills. Not so—some entry level, a few more advanced.

I’d laid out prints I brought of family and the coast, had them observe, comment on what they noticed, discuss how to improve certain photos, much like what I do at home. (No one else brought photos, even tho I’d requested it.) I also showed the slide show of photos from last year’s photo workshop, Starting Point, commending the photos and hoping to raise a standard. So that—and I tried to lay this out provisionally, not a promise or commitment—that if their photos are good enough we can have an exhibition at the Windows from Gaza gallery.

Maybe the hit of the 3-hour session was actually making photos, first in the room we worked in, and then the roof where I’d been several times with other groups. [A sampling of student photos from the entire workshop is at the end of this blog.] On the roof I challenged them to effectively show a vista and to make use of the high roof position. I’m saving my schema for making a good photo—be aware, observe the light, choose a camera position and shutter release moment, etc—for later. Returning down the stairs, I pointed out the viewpoint someone previously had discovered for making an abstract photo: straight down the stairwell. They all tried it, I photographed them trying it.

~~7:30, power returned a mere 10 minutes later, thanks to a local generator I’m certain. Last year the generator was nearly outside my door, loud and smelly, small also. It remains but is not used. I have no idea where the working generator is, probably on the rooftop. I’ve never heard or seen it. [Later I learned the building’s owner has tied into another neighborhood’s power lines so that when that neighborhood has electricity our building is powered.]~~

I introduced myself, very personally—grandpa, divorced, love Gaza, photographing since my dad gave me my first camera at age 7, etc—and they did the same. They are young, perhaps between about 18 and 25, most are college students, a few in business administration, a few in media. Some work for partner agencies. Hesham works with the guy I’ll probably hire as cameraman, Yousef.

So I’m relieved, greatly relieved. From time to time during the session, silently I compared the nightmare vision I’d had the 2 nights before to what was transpiring in front of me: night and day, night and day. I slept very well last night.

At times I’m frightened by the situation here. I read reports from the Gaza NGO Safety Office, GANSO, such as:

At approximately 1550 hrs on 7 October 2010, an IAF [Israeli Air Force]  drone fired a missile targeting a private vehicle carrying Palestinian militants affiliated to Al Nasser Salah Ad Din Brigades on Al Mughraqa Bridge, between Al Nuseirat and Al Zahra, North West of Al Nuseirat. However, the missile failed to hit its intended target, and instead exploded in front of a passing vehicle, injuring 5 civilian passengers, and 1 seriously. Similarly, at 1130 hrs on 3 November 2010, a private vehicle was targeted by the IAF in the vicinity of the de facto security services headquarters in Gaza City, N of Al Azhar University, killing an Army of Islam operative driving the vehicle, with injuries sustained by a passerby. And just last week (17 November) at 1640 hrs, a private vehicle was again targeted by the IAF on Al Wihda Street in Gaza City, resulting in the deaths of 2 Army of Islam operatives.

The central concern with respect to these attacks is that they occurred during daylight hours and, most particularly with respect to the two most recent incidents, in built up areas. In the previous Bi-Weekly Safety Report (17 – 30 October) GANSO highlighted the danger of internal hazards and their unpredictability. Much of the advice imparted on that occasion can also apply in this context, though tempered perhaps by an even greater degree of unpredictability. At this juncture, the most effective mitigation measure that GANSO can suggest is that NGO’s clearly mark their vehicles (particularly from an aerial perspective) when travelling throughout the Gaza Strip, while organisations are also strongly encouraged to keep a First Aid Kit and fire extinguisher within their vehicles at all times (and ensure staff are aware of how to safely and effectively use the equipment).

This bothers me—first aid kit and fire extinguisher, big help, forget it! Reminds me that if I happen to be out walking or with someone driving, at exactly the wrong moment and place, I could be hit, hurt, killed. Damned luck. I’m not sure my muses can do much about this. I’m not sure how cognizant they are about either the Israeli military or the Palestinian militants. The OP’s, Palestinian Operatives, to use the language of GANSO.

From Prof. Abdelwahed, published July 18, 2009:

“Gaza war in child’s memory (True story),”

Raid Fattouh is a Palestinian. He is married to Natasha, a Ukrainian woman. They live in Gaza with their four children: Karma 13, Jabr 10, Diana 6 and Hakeem 1. Two weeks ago, Raid and his Natasha wanted to travel to Ukraine after 13 years stay in Gaza. It was so hard for the parents to convince their children that traveling by airplane is comfortable and safe! Children could not sleep well for long nights before their land trip to Amman. They were scared of the airplane! Their persistent question was on their situation if the airplane bombed somewhere and killed innocent people like what it did in Gaza during the war! The image of the airplane was an image of a machine to kill the people in the streets and at homes! It was enormously difficult for the parents to convince the kids to step up into the airplane at Amman airport. The nightmare remained, and children were really horrified; they cried until they were on board. Their father told me that the most pathetic moments where those when kids were going upstairs the airplane! Once they were in they believed their parents.

—Prof. Abdelwahed, Department of English, Faculty of Arts & Humanities,Al-Azhar University of Gaza, Gaza is phoenix in burning flame

TO BE CONTINUED

STUDENT PHOTOS (click photo for enlargement):

Photos by Samah Ahmad

Photos by Rana Baker

       

Photos by Omar Shala

     

Photos by Meslah Ashram


Photos by Lina Abd Latif

      

Photos by Khaled El Rayyes

     

Photos by Hesham Mhanna

        

Photos by Abd Nassla

LINKS

Quaker Palestine Youth Program in Gaza

My photo workshops in the United States

My teaching philosophy

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TODAY: I dedicate this blog entry to the release of colleague, Vittorio Arrigoni, a journalist and human rights defender working in the Gaza Strip, who was kidnapped by Salafists, members of a very small extremist group in Gaza.

Information


UPDATE: He’s been murdered, allegedly by members of a Palestinian Islamic splinter group in Gaza. However, questions remain: who benefits from his death, why was he killed hours before the deadline, and why Vittorio?

Testimonial from Jeff Halper

Vittorio on the right, with Adie Mormech of the International Solidarity Movement, during a meeting with farmers in the eastern buffer zone


Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.

PHOTOS

The ultimate wisdom of the photographic image is to say: “There is the surface. Now think—or rather feel, intuit—what is beyond it, what the reality must be like if it looks this way.”

—Susan Sontag

December 7, 2010, Tuesday, Gaza City, my apartment in Rimal

Yesterday people were very late to the photo workshop, #4 in the 8 part series, despite our new policy [We look only at the photos of those who show up first. Late? Too bad, can’t review your photos.]. 10 AM, start time, no one there. I looked out the window and saw one young man languidly entering the lower entryway, slowly making his way to class. He arrived at about 10:10. He was not one of those with adequate English. This could be a problem. Let’s start, I said, what do you have to show us? Student #2 walked in at about 10:15, another without much English. Luckily student #1 had some good photos from our trip last week to the crafts village, but wished to show us something else, some location, also very good architectural photos. I commented but without translation so there is no knowing how much came or went thru.

~~There were to be 2 more paragraphs continuing this story but MS Word froze, as it’s been doing off and on during this trip. I lost the paragraphs. Are they recoverable thru my personal memory? Let’s give it a whirl. But remember: save more often!~~

By 10:30 all of the 7 of the regulars (out of the initial 12) eventually appeared. Including Ahmed and M, 2 of the more involved and vocal students, along with R. No H today: can’t make it in, sorry, he texted me.

Despite the upsetting beginning—I had begun ruminating, has the workshop collapsed? How are we to make the movie about me teaching if I have no students?—the session turned out very well indeed. R said later, this session was amazing. We discussed beauty along with beauty and horror mixed, depth of focus (only a beginning, more on this next time), backlighting (ditto), showing one’s political and social reality, independent projects, portraiture (the main theme of the morning), exemplary portraits from Dorothea Lange (Migrant Mother with the story of Dorothea’s persistence which resulted in making her fine iconic photo—which none present had ever seen or heard about, a completely different cultural context) and W. Eugene Smith (from his Minimata series, mother and daughter in a tub, resembling the pieta which also was new to my students), and other related matters. Much energy this morning, I felt, even tho all were tardy.

Later from Islam I learned about cases of absentees—Sharek Youth Forum closed by Hamas, schedule conflicts, illness, without anyone admitting the workshop was not to their tastes, or too hard, or too soft, or just not right thing at the right moment. This is the first time I’ve gotten such feedback. And it is because of the Quaker Palestine Youth Program’s IT officer Islam’s devotion to the program. A stellar man.

To the mina, or port, which seemed to excite everyone. Rain had fallen that morning, the first rain of the season. I’d tried photographing and videoing it outside on the my home plaza. Stills failed, motion worked. And I showed both to the students, with the challenge of how can you show rain with stills, and, beyond that, show the first rain of the season? Key questions, I believe, that shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of the photographic medium. These themes, water, rain, challenges, might have helped inspire the field trip. 2 exercises (or 3 if I count the awareness exercise): cardinal direction awareness, in place, one of the 4 directions at a time, scan from low to high, repeat; followed by find a location, make at least 10 different photos from that one spot (I chose the new construction, showing lots of cement and a crane, very unusual for Gaza), and one frame, multiple moments for an emphasis on time (I chose flapping fabric as an illustration, doing this in 2 different locations).

New fishers’ shacks

The sky added to the thrill of the trip, large, roiling, scurrying clouds covered the entire sky. And receded as we worked, always varied, always wondrous. We were well positioned—coastal—to view the entire sky.

We concluded at the breakwater where other students had discovered the huge breaking waves. Here we romped, as if kids, playing, having fun, dodging the water (several were doused). We photographed each other photographing each other and the sea. The port is archetypal for Gazans—its freedom primarily, and the blockage of freedom, knowing the fishing industry, once thriving, is for now dormant, ruined. A complex mixture of joy and sorrow.

Skip Schiel, photo by Mesleh Al Ashram

A personal gain was discovering two men in one of the fisher shacks. I’d noticed a cat eating the remains of a fish dinner. Thinking I was alone—I’d seen no one else in this extensive series of shacks, thought they were all abandoned, perhaps people waiting for the opening of a new set which I also photographed—I spoke gently to the cat. Then I heard soft talking from the other side of the wall. Someone was there. They probably heard me. I looked around, said marhaba, continued on, heard one man say, chai?


Initially I declined, walked on, then thought, hey guy, this is an invite, not only for tea but possibly for photos. So I sat with them a while, drank the tea (la sukkar-no sugar), and was surprised when the host pointed at his friend and my camera, indicating, make a photo of him. Friend demurred, so, miming, I asked the host if he’d allow a photo of himself and off we went. Merrily along with the fishers.

At the end of this session I felt relieved, energized, happy. Truly mubsut-happy. If only they’d show up on time, if only everyone would attend, if only they’d do the assignments, if only, if only. Why worry, revel in the moment instead.

A powerful update from Y about life in Oakland, filled with trauma—and I thought I had a hard life in Gaza!—and the beginning of winter. Plus one dream that I can recall, in a night of solid dreaming:

I was lecturing a group of Gazans, young adults, maybe in a university setting. Our main theme was cross cultural differences, or intercultural understanding. I used the idea of meals as a reference point, breakfast in particular. I joked with them about the words in English and Arabic that describe the same items. The lecture was extremely interactive. It was going well until I noticed a young man, resembling Ibrahem G who in real life I’d met a few days ago while walking to the souk (market), who’s been incessantly phoning me and then because of our language differences discovers I am not very communicative with him, nor warm to meeting him again. He asks me, in the most broken English, where are you, at the katiba (parade grounds)? Where are you!? I tell him I’m home working and busy. I am sure he wants to meet—but to what point? I hate being so distant but it reflects our painful reality. I believe my dream last night reflects my dilemma about Ibrahem, wishing to be close, finding it impossible. Unless of course one of us studied the language of the other.

So an “Ibrahem” type character was in my dream, joking with a male friend, and visibly not paying attention to the lecture and dialog. He was rattling me, distracting me from the event. I just wish you’d go away, is what I thought—and didn’t utter.

Despite his interruption, I carried on. The dream ended as we produced a form of chorus, not using words, but sighs. All together now, sigh.

~~Power off. Kaput. Just off. Computer continues for awhile on battery power, but because my battery is old and feeble I doubt if I have even 2 hours remaining. Plus Internet is gone, since the router is off and there is no neighborhood network I can access. Woe is me. Let’s see how long until power resumes. It is now 7:12 AM. I will open my shutters and let in the faint light of the cloudy morning. Yesterday at the office power was also out. But the generator worked immediately this time and my workshop was not impeded.~~

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

As an example of the work done by people such as Vittorio Arrigoni and other International Solidarity Movement workers under the direction of local Palestinian leaders, my blog about a buffer zone demonstration in Gaza

Blog: El Mina—part 1

Photos: El Mina—part 1

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Ban Al Ghussain

Excerpts from my journal during a recent 6 week journey to Gaza—now back home in the United States.

PHOTOS

Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by Robert Bly

December 4, 2010, Saturday, Gaza city, my apartment in Rimal

That day again, when I contemplate my origins in my father (a tradition I learned from Japanese friends, honoring one’s parents and other ancestors), my mother, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, my earliest friends and teachers—all to whom I owe my life, character, history, destiny, meaning, problems, not entirely but mostly. I begin my 8th decade, my 70th year, looking and usually feeling maybe 15 years younger. Feeling my age and beyond only when ill, even slightly ill as I seem to have been a few days ago, perhaps with flu. Now I am sturdy.

What are my worries, what keeps me from deep sleep thru the night (as happened again last night from 4 until I arose at 5:15)?

the photo workshop, students dropping out, not liking it, feeling they’re not learning enough to continue

losing my flash memory device and wondering about possible consequences because of my disclosures concerning my hidden sexual proclivities

mushies, i.e., shits

dying in my sleep

never finding another true love

broken or lost or malfunctioning equipment

doing a lousy job making photos and the movie

for a few of many.

Islam Madhoun & Ban
(betrothed after meeting thru one of my photo workshops in 2009)

What sustains me, helps me sleep despite the occasional short hours, keeps me fresh thru the day, cheerful despite the odds against me?

walking

meditating

photographing

preaching

friendships

prospects for love and understanding gradually more and more about vexing thrilling topic

excitement at being in Gaza

reading

playing with computer-based tools like software and the internet

my illustrious circle of honorable elders

family

hopes for when I return home.

But let’s not forget last night’s dreams, once again profuse:

With others I was either actually on or watching others on a high narrow rope ladder cross a raging river. A man fell in. I could see beneath the water, magically, that he was quickly dropping to the bottom. Another man decided to rescue him. He tore off his shoes, his pants, stating, my clothing would drown me. He dove or dropped in. I again saw beneath the water as he dove deep and grabbed the victim.

Another: talking with a man who understood about the Wounded Knee Massacre and the commemorative ride in 1990 that I participated in. He quizzed me, how did you gain the trust of the riders? referring to my photography of the ride and location. To answer I elaborated about my father, claiming he was an expert printer of flyers, posters, booklets and the like. How this related to the question escaped me but in the dream it seemed relevant. As I explained my close relations with native people, I experienced again being with them—I was actually with them. One American Indian demonstrated shooting a rifle, as if at the Wounded Knee Massacre 100 years ago himself, or at the siege in 1972 or 1973.

These dreams seem unique, unlike previous dreams altho some themes, like Wounded Knee and photography, recur . I suspect one reason I’m dreaming and remembering dreams so well is that I awaken early with my Hour of the Wolf Syndrome [insomnia for about one hour when my thought governor takes a break and numerous streams of thought, memory, strategy, reverie all mix crazily together, a notion based on a Swedish belief in the Hour of the Wolf when magic and tragedy ensue.] This usually damnable periodic sleeplessness might be turning into a gift.

Hesham Mhanna

The outing yesterday to the quay or pier or boat area or port or mina—with Hesham and Rana from the current photo workshop, Ban and Sharif from last year’s workshop, and Islam. We quickly agreed this is the place to go, safer they felt. [I’m uncertain about why they felt this way, perhaps safe from Israeli incursions and shelling, safe from factional violence, and safe from the watching waiting eyes of Hamas.] Islam drove us out to the point where I’d never been before. Someone found a boat and driver for us to wildly ride in. And after about 1.5 hours of photography they were ready to declare, we’re finished. I replied, Oh, I feel we are just beginning. Well, some have Muslim prayers, Sharif claimed.

Language plays a major role in my teaching in Gaza. In a separate workshop that I teach thru the American Friends Service Committee, we are finding adequate translation nearly impossible to do. It requires extra time, a large vocabulary about technology and esthetics, and patience on everyone’s part. One consequence of not having English fluency is not being able or willing to press me for further exercises or lessons. For instance, yesterday at El mina with my group, after one exercise (design with the principle of light on dark, dark on light), Hesham asked me for a more advanced exercise. I offered him the backlight challenge. Choose a subject brightly lit from behind. Use flash to fill in the shadows. Without English he might not have asked me, nor have understood me when I gave it to him. Similarly, Ban asked for instruction in Adobe’s photo software, Lightroom.

I discovered another group of photo students who wanted to have their photos made with me surrounded by the students. They all had single lens reflex cameras; one man was one of my students, either former or current; they seemed to be playing rather than laboring, photographing each other mostly. They delighted in showing me their photos on their camera screens. They asked to join our group and did for a fraction of a second.

I also discovered a family eating along the pier. I snuck a few photos before asking permission. Father said no, waved his finger and smiled. I nodded ok, turned to walk away when he called me back to join them for hummus and fuul, the delicious Middle Eastern fava bean, lemon juice, and garlic dish. No photos but plenty of good food.

Our group agreed to meet again on Wednesday at 1 PM after my workshop to see results. Ban and Sharif will present their work to the workshop group that morning. All this is intended to foster a photographic team that persists after I’ve departed. Good plan, now let’s see if it works. [It seems to not have.]

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

My spring 2011 teaching in Cambridge Massachusetts

Photography as a tool for political transformation, a workshop

My Teaching Philosophy

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Well, now the good news, provisionally:

Israel has granted me a permit to enter Gaza—for 6 months. And the international organization I will volunteer at and who applied for the permit, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is now registered. Furthermore, the Israeli District Coordinating Office (DCO) tells us they’d granted the permit 2 weeks ago.

What happened? We may never know.

I speculate: the bureaucracy is impossibly complicated, the gargantuan bureaucracy of running an occupation. Israel risks an implosion much like what happened to South African apartheid, partially because the system became unsustainable, chaotic, absurd, and repugnant. I’ve encountered Israeli procedures before that became damaging to Israel. Perhaps I’d been permitted all along and the AFSC registered for the entire time but no one knew exactly.

Or: someone exerted pressure on the Israelis to at least in this case ease the entry restrictions. I’ve asked people to contact their Congressional legislators and perhaps a word zinged from someone in the Congress to someone in the Israeli administration and Walla, results. But doubtful. Yet I don’t wish to rule out kindly pressure.

Or: it’s part of a general relaxation of restrictions as is happening in the West Bank. I’ve read that Gaza border crossings, mostly those thru which commercial materials pass, are now open more regularly. A new policy? And if so, why now? Has international pressure been a factor?

Or: prayer. I pray, people pray with and for me and for my loved ones. Can consequences be proved? Obviously not. Are they possible? I believe so.

Or: other reasons unfathomable to me at the moment.

However, I am not yet in Gaza. I’ve heard stories of permitted people held at the main personnel crossing, Erez, which I’ll use in a few days, for up to 9 hours before final admission—and some are denied entry, even with the permit. On my last entry two years ago (my 3rd), tho permitted, the security officer at Erez questioned me for nearly one hour with the usual intimidating queries. What will you do, who will you see, where will you stay? Oh, a photographer, what are you going to photograph? Only the suffering? Why 2 weeks, you only need a few days. Etc. I do not look forward to this, but simply expect it and will treat the officer with respect while insisting on my right to enter.

Finally, I raise again questions I’ve stated before: what right does Israel have to control who enters Gaza, especially when they systematically prohibit humanitarian workers like myself? Yes, maybe they have a right to bar weapons and fighters, altho this could be debated. (A population has the right to defend itself, as is claimed frequently in justification for Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza. Who controls the import of weapons to Israel, especially the lethal ones used my infamously on Gaza last winter? What’s become of the US Arms Import and Control Act denying weapons to countries that use them on civilian populations?) And yes,  of course, Israel surely has the right to control entry from Gaza into Israel.

Suppose Canada or Mexico fortified its border with the United States and unilaterally decided who could enter the US and who would be prohibited. There would be an outcry against this shocking use of power—silence concerning Israel. Why?

Where else in the world is behavior like this tolerated, even supported and advocated as the United States does by supplying weapons like the Apache helicopter, F-16 fighter jet, white phosphorus bombs, and other elements of control such as Motorola’s surveillance and communication gear and Caterpillar’s huge militarized D9 bulldozers?

So the question is not simply about entry of people like me, it is also about entry of humanitarian materials like cement, metal, plastic, and other materials vital for reconstruction. And it is about accountability and justice. Who is responsible for the carnage and suffering? Who pays for the reconstruction, the international community once again enabling the occupation to continue? Should Israel be required to pay damages, open the borders, end the siege and the suffering, respect international law and United Nations resolutions?

Thanks to all of you who helped in your various ways resolve my minor dilemma. Soon Gaza and my dispatches from the hallowed ground there. I expect to be there for 3-4 weeks.

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All photos made in January 2008

Complete set

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Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza, January 2008

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Gaza City

To enter Gaza one needs a permit from the Israeli authorities, the District Coordination Office (DCO) for Gaza. And one needs to apply thru an international non-governmental organization, a NGO. Since 2004, I’ve gotten a permit thru the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and only once, in 2008, did I experience difficulties—nearly one hour of sharp interrogation at the Erez crossing.

Planning my work in Gaza to begin on July 20, 2009, I wrote the director of the AFSC’s Quaker Youth Program in Gaza. She began the application process more than one month ago. Ordinarily the process takes no more than 2 weeks. However, after the devastating violence by Israel on Gaza for 22 days beginning on December 27, 2008, including possible war crimes on the parts of several parties, the process has become more complicated. In fact, Israel prevented  the UN team investigating alleged war crimes from entering, so they had to go thru the Egyptian crossing at Rafah.

When Amal, the director in Gaza, phoned the DCO to learn about the application, either no one in the office answered the phone, or they told her, call back, we’ll let you know tomorrow. Frustrated after repeated tries, she asked me to call. Same response. Then two days ago they informed me that the AFSC was not registered, not accredited with the privilege of applying for a permit. This was the first either of us heard. Why, we wondered, hadn’t they told us that earlier?

This strikes me as deceitful, unjust, wrong, and suspicious.

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Ibrahem Shatali, program officer

Furthermore, let us ask: what right does Israel have to control who enters Gaza, especially when they systematically prohibit humanitarian workers like myself? Yes, maybe they have a right to prohibit weapons and fighters, altho this could be debated. A population has the right to defend itself, as is claimed frequently in justification for Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza. And yes, Israel surely has the right to control entry from Gaza.

Suppose Canada or Mexico fortified its border with the United States and unilaterally decided who could enter the US and who would be prohibited. There would be an outcry against this shocking use of power—silence concerning Israel. Why?

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My case is a microcosm of the larger situation: vast injustice, to the point of breaking international laws and contravening UN resolutions.

I suffer minimally. I am not stranded at the Egyptian border with thousands of other Gazans pleading to be allowed home, stranded without amenities in the heat or cold, without water, some of us dying. Egypt colludes with the US and Israel in maintaining its border. Nor am I stuck inside Gaza as were some 25 Fulbright scholars last year who Israel prevented from leaving. Nor am I lethally afflicted with injury or disease, untreatable inside Gaza by the limited hospital facilities, often without medicines and equipment in repair, qualified to leave for medical care in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or even Israel, but blocked at Erez.

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Skip Schiel, volunteer photographer and photography teacher

My suffering is minor. I live in a flat in Ramallah, with food, water,  shelter from the sun, and with friends and colleagues. I can continue my photographic work. I’m only prevented from serving in Gaza, making photographs for various organizations about their humanitarian work—the AFSC Youth Program, the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and the Palestine Water Authority struggling valiantly to purify the polluted saline aquifer water and treat at least partially the vast sewage created by 1.5 million human beings in one of the most congested, poverty stricken regions of the world. And I might not be able to offer photographic training thru the Youth Program and a university.

Unlike most Gazans, I might be able to communicate with a few people in the global community, touch them with a story, a photograph, a message, a plea. Not just for me to enter Gaza but for Gaza to be free, for acts of violence to stop and be adjudicated, responsibility taken, and reparations made by the responsible parties. This is my hope, my prayer, my request.

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If you’d like to help, please consider contacting your Congress people (if you’re a US citizen, or the equivalent if you’re outside the US), best if in person with a group, but by phone, email or some other means, to demand: 1. remove the restrictions on entering humanitarian workers, 2. open the borders for humanitarian aid, 3. hold all parties accountable for violence and breaking international laws, and 4. end the siege, free Gaza.

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Please feel free to forward this widely.

A minor update about the permit.

As of today, July 27, 2009, there is still no progress. But I just learned that the Middle East regional coordinator of the AFSC youth programs, Thuqan Qishawi, is also prohibited from entering Gaza, as is an American intern, Grace. This exacerbates the problem and allows me to claim that the entire program is jeopardized by this closure. If any wish to add that to messages to the legislators, please do. Other NGO’s report similar problems.

Of course, for years, the AFSC staff in Gaza is usually prevented from leaving. So this is a gigantic problem for any Palestinian programs with branches in the West Bank and Gaza. How can they coordinate?

Links:

Free Gaza

Alice Walker: Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters “the horror” in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel

AFSC in Gaza

Expanded Vision: Our Trip to Rafah (honoring Rachel Corrie), January 2008

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The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.

—Lorraine Hansberry

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Jenin

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Burquin

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Jenin

Excerpts from my journal during a three month journey of photographic discovery in the Land of Troubles

Photos

July 17, 2009, Friday, Jenin Creative Cultural Center:

Home again, in the Ramallah Friends School apartment, and truly it feels like home: privacy, quiet, comfortable, secure, friendly, compatible, a suitable mattress, set up for me and me alone. How I love it. A good stroke, to rent the place, and now if only I could swing it thru the end of this tour of duty and not have to struggle to find a new place and move there.

With the return to home, possibly the return of dreams, a bunch of them, and some of them significant:

I was setting up to make a large-scale photo presentation to an odd assortment of college age youth. They’d returned from a study trip to Central America and had options for attending various presentations and seminars. They were free to join me or not. The set up was elaborate: audio, video, a TV production of my show, a large room that gradually shrunk as more and more gear appeared. A few students straggled in, one told me I’d be lucky to attract more than a handful because of their many options.

I did something to the installed computer so it had to reboot, and I wasn’t sure it would open properly, the usual problem. Workers stuck partitions thru the space, shrinking it even further. The room felt stuffy so I opened windows. A young man caught my eye and engaged me in a game of catch with a small rubber ball. I excelled in being able to catch it with my left hand (tho right handed), even when my back was turned. I was a wizard. A little boy joined us.

The only photos I brought with me—and I don’t now know the topic—were 8 by 10 prints. So I wasn’t sure how well they could be viewed.

Second dream: I watched as a family fled terrible bombing (might relate to Gaza), over and over again, the bombs, and the family returning and then leaving. They used a small rowboat; they had to flee over water. Something exploded under the boat and threw the father into the air. Someone explained, that was a dum dum, not meant to hit anyone directly but to explode near and cause big troubles.

Ah, having and remembering so many rich dreams is very nourishing. And raises the question: why so few in Jenin and so many on this 1st night home?

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After reading an article sent me by Sue from last year’s Friends General Conference gathering Palestine/Israel workshop, about the new dispensation in the territories, the newly relaxed mood, expanding normalcy, and reading about a shopping center in Jenin for home furnishings, I discovered from Charley where it was, and a few evenings ago set out to explore it. About 5 stories tall, with the owner’s name prominently lit in red on the roof, Herbawi, it sprawls. One floor for bedroom furnishings, one floor for kitchen, etc. I counted maybe 15 people shopping, max, but then it was after 9 pm. One woman in traditional black clothing languidly dusted the merchandise. She eyed me as I photographed, walked over to me, and seemed to nod me in the direction of a very young man sitting at a desk. I approached him, held up my camera, put a quizzical look on my face, and asked, OK? He seemed to signal OK back.

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But then why did he follow me around for about 5 minutes? I glanced back at him, smiled, and continued. He went away. I found an elevator, pushed the button to the top floor, 6, door opened, lazily with a grating sound, and before me appeared a semi darkened cavern filled with packing crates and other debris. Same at floor 5. I didn’t have the gumption to exit. I was also nervous about the elevator stranding me somewhere between floors in this vast emporium.

With deep regret I realized I had only my 50 mm Nikon lens, no wide angle. This would have been a perfect setting for the wide. How can I improvise with what I have? What I lost in focal length I gained in speed because this is a f/1.8 lens, the wide is about f/3.5.

Outside I had to back way up, across the street, down a gravel road, smelling sheep, past some rough square little buildings, maybe where the sheep live, to find a proper position for my camera. Moving like this, rather than zooming, is an old experience that I’d forgotten how to do.

Trying to find my way back to the Center, temporarily lost (I make occasional useful discoveries while lost) I stumbled onto a children’s entertainment-play area, jammed with brightly colored plastic climbing and sliding devices that require air to expand and become more or less stable (what happens during power outage?). The kids screamed, romped, some cried, the little ones especially, and no one seemed to mind me photographing. I’d asked permission to enter and use my camera, the attendant brought me to the manager who told me he also was a photographer, Saif Dahlah, and worked for the French press agency (AFP), and sure, he cheerily said, no problem.

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I delighted. After about 30 minutes of this, clicking furiously, marveling at the access— state-side I’d probably have to get every parent’s signed permission, and this would be granted only after a criminal background check—3 adult men carrying two way radios and one younger looking sweaty fellow stopped me. None had any English, I couldn’t understand any of their Arabic, but I understood their gesture—hands out front, passing quickly over each other, to mean we want you to finish and be out of here. You’ve been here long enough!

I argued, but the manager gave me permission. They weren’t convinced. Maybe the word boss would work. Ah ha, it did.

Come with me, the sweaty boy gestured, and he brought me to the boss. Oh, the boss explained, you didn’t understand, we want you to drink a coffee and then you can get back to photographing.

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Which I did. Another 10 minutes and I ran out of camera memory, not bringing my bag with extra memory, thinking, it’s evening, dark, I won’t do much photographing. Wrong. This should teach me: bring the camera bag, bring the extra memory, bring the extra battery, and lug that heavy wide-angle lens.

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My last day in Jenin included the last of the 4 photo sessions. As usual, I showed up at noon, the start time, Abdullah was there, no one else, I asked him to find the others. He disappeared. About 15 minutes later we found Mays and Touleen but they begged for a delay of 1/2 hr so they could go to lunch with Sophie.

OK, but what about the others? No answer. We finally began at around 1, providentially. Shortly before noon the power went off. All my plans depended on the computer. Now what? I asked Ala what she would suggest. Well, she said, you’ve been to the roof, you’ve been to the tunnel, how about photographing around the Center for the website and displays?

Not a bad idea, but what is happening around the Center that might be photographable? This silenced us. Nothing. Ah well, we’ll find something. Luckily the power returned. But the idea had been planted: photograph around the Center.

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And then just a few minutes before we began I noticed Sophie teaching a drawing workshop. We could begin there. And we did. The 3 of us (2 absent) with Yusef’s brother Mohammed, aka Ahmed, taking the turns on the various cameras.

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Returning to our chaotic room (the German language class was still running, and boys had entered the computer space and were loudly chatting) we inched our way thru their photos, constantly beset with computer problems, but surmountable, and then we barely approached what I’d hoped would be the main topic, editing, and with that beginning work on the exhibit Yousef requested. Mays had brought previously made portraits, and she didn’t want us edit them. I thought this would have been a good exercise—to make selections and talk about why we were doing that. Not to be. We viewed Abdullah’s video that I’d helped him put up on YouTube. That was a hit. Others gathered around to watch and congratulate.

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Sophie Furse, photo by Mays

So the workshop ended reasonably successfully. As did my entire 2 week journey there, or so I thought. Yousef gave me a bar of olive oil soap in thanks, he posed me with others in the obligatory group photo, and best of all, Abdullah walked me to the taxi station carrying my black shoulder bag. He is a dear, I gave him one of the hospital photos, and wished him good luck and much success. I hope to see him again. Mays also wished me goodbye, as did Yousef’s nephew Mohammed and brother Ahmed. I did not see or seek out the Gang, happy to be away from them.

I leave with them a partially completed website, hoping Yousef will continue the design and assure the maintenance. I’m done.

Jenin Creative Cultural Center

The trip back to Ramallah was relatively pleasant, thru winding valleys, many of them cultivated tho brown, not much traffic, a reasonably caution driver, plenty of leg room despite my pack on the floor in front of me. 2 hours, 1 major checkpoint that caused only minimal delay, I should find out if we passed thru the old Huwarra. Soldiers checked a few taxis perfunctorily. Some soldiers wore heavy battle gear, others were more casually dressed. When one peered into our taxi I peered back, trying to efface any hint of smile, and just slightly nod in recognition of him and his humanity. This is a delicate manner: how to treat the soldiers?

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Checkpoint south of Nablus, temporarily unstaffed

While attempting to nap—I’d also been photographing, mostly the fields—I remembered to make a few important calls. Fareed about the water person today (not available). Jerusalem Studies for the Nablus tour (signed up, but it costs 140 NIS and I learned later I can join another one led by Jan’s friend, Adel, on Monday, which will probably be cheaper and more oriented to history and archeology than the Saturday tour which is about shopping, tho that also could be photographable). And most important the permit people. I reached a few officers directly, lost connections, and tried again. With the result:

I wrote Tom this:

tom,

the latest is slimly encouraging: the officer i spoke with in the permit office knew my case. after first saying the permit was granted, he retracted and asked me to call back. i phoned several times and finally heard him say, can’t seem to find a definitive answer in the computer, the answer is probably on my co’s desk, call back sunday.

when i told amal about this she sounded furious. they say that every time, or something like it, she exclaimed. call them tomorrow (fri).

so i’ll do that. the officer, polite and civil with very good english—the face of oppression can be very gracious—, told me also there was confusion about the different applicants thru the afsc. which might be partly true. but here also amal dissented, saying, i applied for each one separately, there should be no confusion.

so at least you and i are not yet declared forbidden…

i have no idea whether senator john kerry’s office is intervening. they don’t reply to me or my quaker friends back home. so annoying.

but let’s keep trying.

good luck and let’s hope to be together over here soon,

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Having the mobile is a great convenience. In this case, while finishing the long taxi ride, 2 hours, I had my office with me. And despite using the Israeli Orange network, I usually have coverage.

Arriving in Ramallah, I bought 2 falafels, 2 beers, showered, and relaxed. Then I napped, then I ate, and then I did my email, now having a connection, not a reliable one but enough to bring me a letter from Y…

In N, she is pursuing finding housing, talking with realtors, finally reifying her long quest to live on the West Coast. Good for her—a fear of mine since we met now finally is no longer a fear, not such a big one. I’ll miss her when she moves permanently there, but know, somehow or other, or so I wish, we will stay in touch. However, she does get busy, as she admitted in her letter, and lacunae might grow, resulting in a total detachment. As with Kathleen.

Ah well, impermanence, why worry about it? It’s part of the teaching, part of the practice. The hardest part: detachment.

Last night I felt a corresponding closeness with X, wondering where and how she is. I listened to the music she gave me, finding it fresh and inspiring reminiscence and reverie, and I searched for info about volunteering medical services in Guatemala which is what she’s doing.

So run the ramblings of a lost and lonely soul, on the road in the Land of Troubles, the land of light, the land of romance.

In the evening I felt mellow, and turned to one of my favorite pursuits, web surfing. I just meandered about, aimlessly, or serendipitously, depending on one’s attitude. The weather in various parts of the world, organizing my browser’s bookmarks, viewing photos of others, this and that. A sheer joy. One of the best aspects of 21st century experience. How can anyone feel lonely with all this potential interaction? Easily. Look at me.

Gaza is the main question: will Israel grant me a permit? If yes, I’m heading there next week; if no, I make other plans, including appealing to the Israelis (if such an appeal process exists, which I doubt) and writing my Congress people for assistance. I’m mixed about going to Gaza. Amal tells me, everyone’s waiting for you. Which is attractive. And I long to see friends and offer services and make new photos. Yet, it will be hot, at times dangerous, I may lose my privacy if they insist on having an accompanier with me at all times. So, 2 months from now, September 13, back in Boston, or earlier, I’ll know the answer to this question: Gaza yes or no?

The question itself adds drama to my story. Some, those few who might ponder my fate, might ask, where is Skip now, did he ever get into Gaza?

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