Nicaragua Notes: Love Thy Bus

There is something so fascinating and fantastic about the Latin American bus. ANYONE who has ever spent ANY time in Latin America has surely, at one point or another, spent time on some type of bus. In my experience, the lower level the better they are. Not to say safer, or more comfortable, just more interesting. I’ve spent considerable time on these babies, but Nicaragua was another story, one that involved lack of time and great distances, so our required mode of transportation was the Land Cruiser.
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During a workshop shoot in El Cua I was loitering around a small recreation center where the kids were assigned to photograph group activities. From a great distance I heard the roar of a metallic beast, one that was ALL TOO familiar. My heart began to race in anticipation. Would it be a “normal” bus, standard yellow, maybe a roof rack, or would it be the heart and soul of a risk-taking nomad? What turned up was something in the middle. The overall look was standard yellow, but the owner had spent considerable funds on better suspension, heavyweight tires, and luckily for all us, chrome grill work. But people, there is so much more. So much. The sound. You HAVE to know the SOUND.

The one thing you can’t know is the smell. These babies are ALL diesel and pollution control isn’t a top priority. I grew up on a ranch, surrounded by a bevy of diesel things. Heck, I even drive a diesel now, but theses buses are an entirely new level. I also wanted to include another view of these buses, one that you will surely experience if you find yourself on the roads of Latin America. When you add the smell, dust and crawling speed it adds up to a memorable, extended moment. Trust me.
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Finally, I want you to notice, in the color photograph, the guy standing near the door with his head down, leaning against the great beast. This is a common look when surrounding these beasts because they do more with these machines than you can possible imagine. This photo doesn’t look particularly scary or risky but that bus is at a nice angle and the rear end is backup against the Earth itself. The bus is also twisted, and with each millimeter the beast groaned and strained. A serious “pop” would impact a significant number of people.

In the background the kids worked the scene like pros. Ducking and dodging in and out, working on their backlighting skills, panning skills and just the interaction and dialogue required by entering an unknown situation with the goal of emerging with top level imagery. Also remember that many of these kids hadn’t touched a camera until the day before they were standing here.

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And just to show you what “left of camera” was offering up. There was much going on.

New Year New Adventure

As many of you know, I hung up my photo spurs at the end of 2010, never to undertake another assignment, ever again. Well, I lied. Kinda. What I am embarking on isn’t your average photo assignment. In fact, I’m not looking at it that way at all because the actual work, and subsequent legacy, will have very little if anything to do with my actual photography. What it WILL have to do with is the education and opportunity we leave behind with the kids we are fortunate enough to work with.
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Let me rewind for a moment.

Fred Roberts is a friend from Los Angeles, but lumping him in the “friend” category is a dangerous business because I don’t really know anyone else quite like Fred. You know me, I like to ramble, but when it came to writing a basic “take” on Fred, so you would have an idea of who I’m talking about, I found myself suddenly mired in my online Spanish program. “Los ninos beben leche.” In other words, I didn’t know where to start. Fred is a photographer yes, and he went to Yale and he worked in the financial world, but this does little to educate you about who he really is. Start here.

Sometime last year my phone rang with a “unknown” caller and like I always do when I get that message, I immediately said “Hello, Center Intelligence Agency.” What I heard from the other end was “Danny Boy, I’ve got an idea.” What came from that call and subsequent MASSIVE amount of logistics(undertaken by Fred), leg work, phone calls, fund raising, texts, meetings and incense burning strategy sessions was a plan. A master plan.

Seven days. Twenty students. A new language that will last a lifetime.

The Fredric Roberts Photography Workshops are led by the award-winning photographer as he brings his passion for storytelling through still images to underprivileged children around the world. Each workshop will train a group of 20 high school aged students, half from rural areas and the other half from urban households. Over the course of each seven-day workshop, using a format developed by Mr. Roberts, the participants will take photographs centering on a particular theme, such as the environment, health issues or education.

When each workshop ends, Mr. Roberts will donate two cameras plus computer and photo software so that participants can continue to develop their skills. (He will also work with local partners to secure photographers from each country who will participate in the workshop and will continue to mentor the novice photographers.) He will also use a private website so that students can continue to improve their skills and continue their photographic education.

The guts speak to storytelling, photography and empowering underprivileged children around this magical world. These workshops will be in partnership with the leading development organization Save The Children.

This project, for me, came at the perfect time. Well, seeing as I had a kidney stone and I still have Lyme Disease, which is keeping me off of the team leaving for Bhutan as we speak, it might not have been the perfect time PHYSICALLY, but mentally it was. There are more trips coming and I’m a patient man. But there is something else at work here, at least for me. One of my goals for 2014 was to think about other people more than I think about myself. When I first heard of this plan, this project, my first thought was about the kids. I thought back to the time when I was of the age we will be working with on these trips, and I put an honest eye to the reality. I had everything. Really. I had great parents, all the material things like a roof over my head and food, but most importantly I had opportunity. I was told the world was open, ready and shapeable into whatever form I so desired.

But this isn’t true for a lot of folks, and my first thought addressed this idea. I want to help. I think I can help. I KNOW I can help. I am a true believer in story. We all have them. We all share them, and most of us like to listen to them. What if? What if I/we can help someone else tell their story, share their story and BELIEVE in their story.

Often times, in today’s world of the informational, immediate share, things are discussed, plans are made yet ultimately nothing happens(Discussion is still essential). And this is where I get back to Fred. When Fred says Fred does. Simple as that. There were many requirements to get this baby off the ground and one by one they were ticked off the list in impressive fashion. Now, you KNOW me. I can be a skeptic, healthy of course, but when I first heard what Fred was going after I was thought the odds were slim. But like I said, if Fred says, Fred does, and suddenly the stars were in alignment.

In some weird way I had hit the wall with my own photography, and this workshop series shined a light into the darkness of the creative unknown and illuminated the path toward these places and these kids. You can view the group’s website again here. There will be postings made during the trips, from these locations, which should give all of us a taste of the daily dance. The website was created and is being monitored by friends of Smogranch Flemming Bo Jensen and Charlene Winfred who form the power base of “Coffee and Magic.” A few of the other players on this first trip include Sarah Megan Lee and Mike Sakas. When I begin to wonder about each one of these folks and what they could accomplish on their own my head begins to spin. Add them together and……

I don’t often ask for people to share what I write, but in this case I’m asking (please). One of the reasons I’m asking is I don’t have kids. I photographed kids for seven years but every single time I gave them back at the end of the day. In addition to wanting to hear the feedback that YOU have about this project, I’d love to get some feedback from kids. What does a 14-year-old person in Newport Beach have in common with a 14-year-old in Bhutan? Santa Fe and Managua? Laramie and La Paz? I don’t know. One of the things I LOVED about photographing kids was that they didn’t know they had a “good side” or a “bad side.” Kids were honest. In a thirty-minute span they would laugh, cry and tell me a secret. The honestly and purity was so refreshing, and consequently the imagery felt powerfully real to me. For most children the future is a long, long way away, and often times doesn’t appear to have any landing lights, so to speak. As an adult, and a storyteller, I have the ability to power up those lights, to some degree, with the idea of showing these kids how to do this on their own. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.

I should also note that I am jazzed about aiming my camera at these places. Not to mention my pen and my audio recorder. There will be subsequent publications, posts and potentially films, but they will not be about photography per se. These outlets will be about story, what the imagery means and how we, and they, aim to follow it through.

Well, in the time it took me to write this post the team has made their way to their destination. Check them out at LAX, photographed by security, probably wondering who in their right mind would carry ALL that gear.
What most interests me in this project is the unknown. How can I possibly know what will come from this? But here is the rub. Something WILL come from this. About this I am absolutely sure.

Blurb Australia: More Street Photo Shenanigans

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I’m not a good tourist. I feel like I need a reason, a purpose, a focal point or point of contention. Internal unrest, mental not physical, at least for now. Forcing myself forward, step by step, ignoring certain things, certain people and fixating on others until they feel my need and it all goes away. Why would you walk with a lens cap on? After all these years I’m not sure. Like an infantryman carrying his rifle with a pool cue in the barrel. Makes it somewhat difficult to achieve the desired result and yet there these mysterious creatures are.
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Something unfamiliar in my hand, but I’m working on that. Like new shoes I feel the visual blister forming. It demands it’s own dialogue. I can’t speak to it in the same language I normally use. Clarity from the clutter is more difficult with the little beast, so I need to change the way I see, the way I layer and the way I look for light.
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I break things into mental quarters to give myself a helping hand. “In the end..the machines always win.” Yes, true but as humans we all want to fight the good fight. A guy blows $400(Australian) on a slot machine next to me. Like a kiss from a stranger. That love was never really his, wasn’t in his wallet long enough. A few flicks of a finger, a few spinning dials and it’s gone forever. Remember what they say about the machines.
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I like being here because it is a challenge and I actually do feel like I’m doing good. “Please remain calm, we are here to help,” coupled with “Beatings will continue until moral improves.” I make photographs and I make books, a lot of each. I like to share why, how and then revisit the why. Sometimes I don’t want do either but yet there they are, the camera in hand the nonstop mental editing and then the smell of ink on paper. I tell people I jokingly call it a “curse” but I’m not really joking. I watch others moving through life with a different filter and I wonder “why me?”
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Why do I need to report, record and resolve? I wander into a gambling hall and face backwards staring into the souls of the men watching the ponies with a focus that only comes with money on the line. I don’t gamble but I’m fascinated by those who do. Crumpled bits of paper, hands sweeping across sunken eyes and stubble. There is always another race, another day, another bet. The energy in the room is a palpable strain of uncertainty and guilt. “In the end…the machines will always win.”

Blurb Australia: Learning Digital Photography….Again

Say what you will about digital photography, but I would never have made any of these images if I wasn’t using a digital camera. As you can see, these are not great images, but they are snapshots that reflect a certain place at a certain time and provide my journalistic mind with tidbits of visual memory that I so desire. I’ve only had this little camera for a few days now, haven’t made anything great with it, not sure I ever will, but I already know what this little camera is and what it isn’t. I also realize it was never intended to be more than it is regardless of our expectations, desires or ideals. These images were made on an hour-long walk from my hotel up toward the old parliament building here in Melbourne. I had no plan other than to get out. I was locked in with the hot, midday sun and subsequent harshness that accompanies this time and place.
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This camera isn’t a Leica, nor does it replace a film camera. No digital camera replaces a film camera. This camera doesn’t provide a negative. I can see the images as I make them and I can shoot endless photographs by just adding more and more storage media. A film camera doesn’t provide an instant preview and limits me, in a good way, with limited exposures based on how much film I can carry. My film cameras fire at any time with ZERO hesitation. This little camera does not. My film cameras are built like tanks, have hyper fast autofocus(some) and require no computer time unless I want to use them in tandem with technology. This little camera requires the computer, and in most cases, a significant amount, as do all other digital cameras. My 35mm film camera is indestructible, has the best meter, autofocus and ease of use of any camera I’ve ever had. This little camera doesn’t come close but it is 1/3 the size, weight and girth of my film camera and can be carried for days on end without a thought. This little camera is also inconspicuous, and again provides an entirely different set of parameters because it’s DIGITAL.
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These tools are polar opposites.

This camera will never be an M6, 35mm and TRI-X no matter how much you want it to be. You can’t set this camera on square format and get a Hasselblad no matter how much you want to be able to do this, and no matter how much post processing you provide. These are simply different machines. Having said all this, my new little camera is great, I’m glad I have it, and it will find it’s way into the rotation like a knuckleball pitcher. Did I mention the size, weight and style?
Will I make bold proclamations about “this is finally the camera that kills film?” Why would I even want to do that? Who wants to kill film? What benefit would that serve the photography world?
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If you want a film look but a film camera. If you want to shoot digital this camera is a really good option at a good price and is easy to use. It doesn’t entirely get out of your way when you are working with it, but it’s pretty darn good. I’m already happy I have it and look forward to actually using it when I have time to focus on “real” work, images, places. I’ll take it to New Mexico in June and see what is what. Until then I’ll continue to get used to it and I’ll continue to use it for my little, color sketchbook.

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I think these images are further proof that wandering around attempting to make great images is really damn hard, at least for ME. They remind me why I don’t shoot street much. I need interaction with those I’m photographing. I want to spend TIME with people getting in and out, closer and closer, talking, shooting, talking, shooting attempting to break though mental and physical barriers. It’s time consuming, laborious, challenging but I NEED it. I don’t get that street shooting. It’s a bit random for me, detached and I fall pray to things like window reflections and SHOOTING PICTURES OF MY FEET.
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Melbourne has been great, attendance at our events has been high and our little voyage has only just begun. After my work requirements today I will be back out on the street, learning my little beast and searching for those little things that drive us.

Vancouver Blurb Workshops, Photo-Safaris and Meetups

Okay folks, good news ahead. The best thing I get to do for Blurb is be in the field and interact with the likes of you. I do this a fair amount, and by the looks of my fall schedule I’ll be doing it A LOT more. Up first, Vancouver BC. I love Canada, so I’m very much looking forward to this event, not to mention the other cities coming later in the fall.

The Vancouver stop will include no less than five events. I do a lot of speaking for Blurb, but don’t normally get a lot of shooting time in, or the ability to lead mini-workshops, but both of these are an integral part of these Canadian stops. So, take a look and let me know if you are interested or going. Also, RSVP as soon as possible and feel free to share this post with anyone you think might be interested.

Gastown Photo Safari With Blurb Photographer at Large – Daniel Milnor
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 at 3:00 PM (PDT)
Vancouver, BC



Blurb Meet-up Vancouver
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM (PDT)
Vancouver, BC

Pro Photo Books Workshop With Blurb Photographer at Large – Daniel Milnor
Thursday, 20 September 2012 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM (PDT)
Vancouver, BC


Vancouver Blogger Meet-up
Thursday, 20 September 2012 from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM (PDT)
Vancouver, BC


Storyteling Unleashed: Breakfast with Blurb
Thursday, 20 September 2012 from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM (PDT)
Vancouver, BC