In a recent conversation with Laura Valenti Jelen, my wonderful photography mentor, it dawned on me what really drives my photography. Creating an image I and others really like is very pleasing, as is being selected for show in a competition but I get the most satisfaction from taking pictures that move the viewer and in my case that involves some kind of cause or inequity. Perhaps I’m living the rebellious college years I never experienced because I was having too much fun instead. This insight hit me as I reflected on my Africa pictures and what inspired me; giving a voice to the incredible people living without running water, electricity and basic medical supplies and yet who live very rich and satisfying lives. Then with Laura’s help the real insight hit me, do I really have to go halfway around the world to give voice to people who need it?
The simple answer is no, if I take the time to look around there are many people living on the edge of society who need a voice along with those who are reaching out to help them. I am now working with a local Portland organization called Operation Nightwatch. This is an incredible organization of volunteers who provide hospitality to those in need. As Gary Davis, their Director, explained to me, their goal isn’t just to support the homeless, instead it is about providing hospitality to those who need it. Through Operation NIghtwatch I have been privileged to spend time with some wonderful people I am lucky to have had the opportunity to meet.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I see many similarities between the people at the Operation Nightwatch centers and those I met in Africa. They both have very tightly knit communities where they look out for each other and they aren’t looking for pity, in fact that is exactly what they don’t want. I won’t say they choose this life but they certainly appreciate everything they have. Before my first meeting I wasn’t sure what I would experience, again very similar to my feelings before I arrived in Africa and now I have spent some time with Operation Nightwatch I am incredibly grateful for some of the friendships I have made. It humbling to hear how someone has survived and eventually kicked drugs while living on the street through multiple Oregon winters. I have heard one story after another of simple courage about living one day after the next; more inspiring than I can explain.
I’m not sure where this assignment is leading but I’m certainly enjoying my involvement and you’ll hear a lot more from me about Operation Nightwatch and the homeless/needy people in our communities in upcoming posts. If you want to learn more about Operation Nightwatch, please check out their web site here.
I love this, Andy! There are some strong images here, too. What a wonderful, deeply enriching experience this is. I’m so glad you acted on this! it’s so encouraging to watch you explore this new territory with your work. Bravo! Can’t wait to see more 🙂
Thank you Laura, you have opened new doors for me and I look forward to catching up in a couple of weeks.
As my favorite Englishman has so often said, “Well done.” My hat is off to you, Andy. It’s all right here in our own backyard, is it not. I’ve been getting ready to write a piece on a homeless woman I’ve been watching on Burnside. You have inspired me to get it done. Thanks
Hey Phil, we are traveling in the same direction as usual, and we’ll have to get together and compare notes soon.