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Chris Johns On His Photograph of Botswana Bushman, Klaas Kruiper


© Chris Johns/National Geographic Stock

By Chris Johns

Klaas Kruiper could read the tracks left by wild animals the way other people read books. He was a bushman, one of southern Africa’s indigenous people.

Bushmen—there are about 85,000 left—teeter on the brink of cultural extinction. Klaas, who’d been a ranger in the Kalahari-Gemsbok National Park in Botswana, but who’d gone back to tracking—was tall and slender. He was quiet and shy, a man of few words.  He didn’t walk—he glided across the red sand dunes of the Kalahari. If an animal made a mark in the sand, he could say who made it, when, how fast it was traveling, its weight, and if it were well fed.  He could examine a blade of grass and calculate how long ago it had been bent by a passing wind or animal, taking into account temperature, humidity and the size of the animal.  He studied ants to calculate how many grains of sand they had moved inside a track in a specific interval. In short, he was a man completely in tune with his surroundings.

Dispossessed, displaced, many bushmen live lives of quiet desperation and Klaas was no exception. He’d struggled with addiction.  He had marital problems. I’ll never forget the awful moment when I got a phone call from Paul Funston, a lion researcher working in the Kalahari who had invited me to track lions with Klaas.  I had known Klaas for five years at that point, and jumped at the chance. Then one day the phone rang. “Our trip is cancelled,” Paul said, and I could hear the sob in his voice. “Klaas has been murdered.” I never found out why he was murdered. Only that he’d been stabbed with a knife. There are those you meet on assignment who become deeply embedded in your memory and, even, your soul.  They are extraordinary humans and their loss becomes a loss, not just for friends and family, but for all of humanity. Klaas Kruiper was such a man.

no strangers: ancient wisdom in a modern world will show at the Annenberg Space for Photography and runs through February 24, 2013. Learn more about Chris John here.

Hamid Sardar-Afkhami: 'The Duhalar Depend on...Domestic Reindeer Population'

© Hamid Sardar-Afkhami

By Hamid Sardar-Afkhami

The Duhalar reindeer people live in Hovsgol — the land of the blue lake — a territory of about 65,000 sq. km in Northwestern Mongolia bordering the tiny Russian Republic of Tuva. The Duhalar are the guardians of this hidden realm, patrolling a maze of evergreen forests and snow-capped mountains on the backs of their stocky reindeer. They gain a meager existence by hunting for furs and antlers, which they sell in a nearby Mongol town.

The Duhalar depend on a healthy domestic reindeer population not just for their milk and as a means of transport but also for their spirituality - to move through a forest haunted by the spirits of their ancestors who counsel the living through the shaman’s songs. If the reindeer vanish, the songlines of the ancestors will also cease to exist.

There are hundreds of ghost shrines, called “asars,” in the Hovsgol taiga. The entire forest is a burial ground. This explains why the Duhalar are so opposed to government plans to disfigure their landscape with mines. “I will become immortal in this forest after I die,” Tsuyan, the old shaman matriarch explained. 

“What is Dark Heaven?” I asked her. “It is the dark space on the other side,” Tsuyan says, “full of colors, sounds and voices from where the ancestors appear and reveal their message to the living.” On odd days of the waxing moon, Tsuyan would transform herself into a deer and fly off to a place called the Dark Heavens, a twilight world full of light, sounds and voices from where the ancestors reveal their hidden messages in the guise of various birds and beasts. “We exist in relation to three things she would say, “...our forest, our ancestor spirits and our reindeer. If we lose this connection, our spirits ‘ongots’ will abandon us and the demons will take hold of our destiny.”

The Duhalar choose one reindeer and mark it as a ‘totem deer’ that serves as a mount for the invisible guardian spirits of the tribe. In addition, every individual person is ceremonially linked to an individual deer that is believed to protect them throughout their life and follow them into the other worlds.

I was very much keen to express this ‘spiritual’ relationship between man and deer in my photographs. But after traveling with the Duhalar for several seasons and shooting thousands of pictures, I didn’t have anything that came close to what I would consider an iconic image. One day, after a long Autumn migration, I was talking photographs of the women milking the reindeer with children playing nearby. A young infant-girl sat next to her mother and soon fell asleep. Her mother gently placed her on the side of a white deer and continued milking. Suddenly, there it was. The composition of the sleeping child lying on the side of a magnificent antlered creature who was looking down at her with a protective, almost transcendental expression, perfectly captured my thoughts.

no strangers: ancient wisdom in a modern world will show at the Annenberg Space for Photography and runs through February 24, 2013. Learn more about Hamid Sardar-Afkhami's work on his official website.

Announcing The No Strangers IRIS Nights Lecture Lineup

Our first IRIS Nights lecture for no strangers takes place this upcoming Saturday, the same day that the exhibit opens. This sold-out debut lecture will feature the amazing Carol Beckwith & Angela Fisher.

We've just released the full list of presentation for this very popular series. Click here to see that list, which includes Chris Rainier, Bonnie Folkin, Caroline Bennett and Aaron Huey.

We expect the lecture series to conitune to be popular so  reserve your free spot as soon as tickets are released. You don't want to miss out on these great talks!

Thomas Kelly on Kayapo Dance

 © Thomas Kelly, Kayapo Dance

By Thomas Kelly

Sexual activity is regarded among the Kayapo as a natural and desired part of life. Rules regarding sexual activities are complex and vary between different sex and age groups; sexual faithfulness is a matter of individual choice rather than a common rule. "There are those men who do not like their women to be with someone else; there are others who do not mind," says Kwyra Ka. "Those who do not mind stay together, those who mind separate." It is a normal custom for Kayapo Indians to marry, split up and remarry several times, and as a rule chiefs have several sexual partners at the same time. Gorotire, Xingu Reserve, Brazilian Amazon.

In 1991, activist Anita Roddick founder of The Body Shop International, U.K. asked me to join her to document their fair-trade practices with the Kayapo Indians deep in the Brazilian Amazon with hopes the Kayapo wouldn’t surrender to outside pressure to sell out to gold miners, cattle rangers and forest destruction. 

We arrived in time for a ceremonial dance; the deafening sounds of wooden clubs beating against the central hut pillars by chiefs and warriors resounded through the moist air and within minutes I was focusing head on at a procession of freshly painted Kayapo women- plucked of their eyebrows, faces painted with red arucum seed paste, macaw parrot feathers in their hair, red and blue beads strung down to their waist and thighs, beads adorned their calves and ankles. I had a Canon F-1and 85mm 1.2 fixed lense loaded with Tri-x B&W film. After the dance, I set up a back drop at the ceremonial hut and had the extra-ordinary priviledge to make portraits of all the dancers. I spent the next ten days documenting the day and the life of the Kayapo.

Their seamless living in harmony with nature, uninterrupted by outside forces, afforded a way of life which supported their cultural values. 

I remember being awe-struck and not a little envious at the time of the Kayapo’s ease with their natural nakedness deep in the Amazon, and feeling awkward and overdressed in shorts in a shirt. That didn’t last long. After the ceremony, a gaggle of women laughing, hauled Anita and I over into a hut and stripped off our clothes and painted us naked. They were curious about our body hair and made comments about it.  They painfully plucked off our eyebrow, eyelash, and pubic hair. “That’s ugly,”they said. ”Now you are one of us.” They took Anita off into the forest and wrapped her waist with the root of a vine. Paikhan the chief turned to me and said, “You can take any woman you want now.” It makes me sad to think that very few Kayapo are likely walking around the village naked anymore. I guess this is considered progress, but I am not so sure. Like Octavio Paz who advocates the plurality of being as the very spice and color of life, what happens to us as humans when we start to wear clothes?

What is it we are concealing or what are we ashamed of? I loved their ease of being in their own natural skin. The Body Shop International created a Brazilain nut oil extraction business at source cutting out middle men and gave a cash injection that allowed the Kayapo to use the cash in whatever way they choose.

no strangers: ancient wisdom in a modern world will show at the Annenberg Space for Photography and runs through February 24, 2013. Learn more about Thomas Kelly's work on his official website.

Steve McCurry on His Image of the Shaolin Monastery Monks

 © Steve McCurry

By Steve McCurry

This image is of young monks training in the art of kung fu at the Shaolin Monastery in Hena, Province, China.

The original Shaolin Monastery was founded on Mount Shaoshi in the 5th Century. Though the practice of martial arts actually originated in China several hundred years before its construction, the temple has a long history associated with kung fu.  

There are many thoughts as to the beginnings of Shaolin kung fu.  The most common begins with a man named Bodhidharma.  According to the Yijin Jing, Bodhidharma stood facing a wall in total silence for nine years.  It is said that his stare created a hole in the wall.  After completing this task, he wished go back west to India.  The only thing he left behind was an iron chest which contained two books: the Marrow Cleansing Classic, which was taken by one of his disciples, and the Muscle Tendon Change Classic, or Yijin Jing. The story goes, that this second book was extremely coveted by all of the monks as well as the obsession for practicing the skills within.  The Shaolin have garnered a wealth of fame through their fighting skill.  If the stories of origin are true, the credit is due to their possession of this manuscript.

In Buddhism, there is a pervasive sense of the impermanence of life.  There is a cycle.  Things are born and they pass away.  Having spent a great deal of time in Buddhist monasteries, I’ve gained a strong appreciation for the unique way the monks look at life.  Rather than fear the certainty of aging and death, they expect and also embrace it.  Wander through the monastery or talk to devotees and you will see that their priorities and the things that they care about seem more sensible and more sane than in other parts of the world.

no strangers: ancient wisdom in a modern world opens at the Annenberg Space for Photography on Saturday, November 17 and runs through February 24, 2013. Learn more about Steve McCurry's work on his official website.

Mark Seliger, Bob Gruen and Kevin Bacon Chat About Music & Photography

Who Shot Rock & Roll may have closed at the Photography Space over the weekend but that doesn't mean we don't have to stop talking about the exhibit.

Mark Seliger, one of the show's featured photographers, has a new sitdown show about photography called Capture. The voiceover intro pretty much sums up what the show is about: "A great photograph needs no explanation. But on Capture, these incredible people tell the story of creating their most memorable images."

In the the latest episode of Capture, Seliger sits down with Who Rock & Roll's Bob Gruen and actor (and photographer!) Kevin Bacon for a chat about music and photography. The latter gives us our favorite quote of the day: "There are two things that hit you the hardest. One is photographs and the other is music." We couldn't agree more.

Seliger, Gruen and Bacon talk about those two subjects in depth. Watch the entire intriguing discussion above.

The Final Countdown Starts Today

With The Doors song "The End" playing in our heads, we're sad to announce that this coming weekend is your last chance to see Who Shot Rock & Roll as the show will come to a close this Sunday, October 21.

But you're in luck as The Final Countdown begins today! What this means is that we will offer extended evening hours so to accomodate as many of you as we can during the last few days of the shot.

As a reminder, The Final Countdown hours will be:

Thursday, October 18, 10am - 10pm (please note that part of the exhibit will be closed from 5pm-8pm for a lecture)
Friday, October 19, 10am - Midnight
Saturday, October 20, 10am - Midnight
Sunday, October 21, 11am - 6pm

Yes, you saw that right - we're open until midnight on Friday & Saturday!

In conjunction with The Final Countdown, several cafes in Century Park (that's name of the park in Century City in which we're located) will be extending their hours:

Cuvée: Open until 10pm on Thursday & Friday; 11:30am - 7pm on Saturday
Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf: Open until 8pm on Thursday & Friday

Also, during the extended evening hours on Thursday, Friday & Saturday, enter to win special prize drawings.

Don't wait because come Sunday at 6pm, our doors will close until November 17 so we can prepare for our next exhibit, no strangers.

Terry O'Neill Shot Rock & Roll: The Photographer on His Image of The Police


© Terry O'Neill The Police, 1982

By Terry O'Neill

I was photographing The Police in 1982 for a magazine. They were at the height of their fame and I wanted to picture them like three street fighters. They seemed to me to be the band that were taking on all-comers, punching above their weight in sell-out tours and had elbowed their style of music to the top. They were a pugnacious band with their punk, jazz and reggae influences and had led the new wave after a decade of glam rock. They must have liked the shoot because they used the images on several album and single covers. At the time the band were starting to move in different directions; Sting was making movies and doing solo albums, Stewart Copeland was writing movie scores and I felt there weren't going to be many more opportunities to get an iconic shot of the band together in a studio.

See Terry O'Neill's other images in Who Shot Rock & Roll, currently showing at the Annenberg Space for Photography through October 21, 2012. To learn more about the photographer and his work visit his official website.

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