Pastorals Gone East

_N9A4373

“Simplicity is the glory of expression.” -Walt Whitman

A road trip last summer into the high plains off the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

_N9A4498

_N9A4284-Edit

_N9A4204-Edit

CameronKarsten_Landscape-8

_N9A4524-Edit

_N9A4276-Edit

_N9A4195

_N9A4376-Edit

_N9A3792

_N9A4723-Edit

_N9A3931-Edit

_N9A4967-Edit

_N9A4442

_N9A4008

_N9A5986

For more work please visit http://www.CameronKarsten.com

Cameron Karsten Photography

All Across Africa: In Uganda

Day8_UgandaJinja-657

Meet Margaret, a paper bead jeweler from the Lira District in Northern Uganda. Margaret moved to Jinja in the early 1980s to escape the Lord’s Resistance Army. Today, she is able to pay rent each month all thanks to All Across Africa in Uganda.

Day9_UgandaHornsPalm-395

Day8_UgandaJinja-759

Day7_KampalaBeads-943

Day8_UgandaJinja-217

Day9_UgandaHornsPalm-357

Day8_UgandaJinja-359

Day8_UgandaJinja-467

Day7_KampalaBeads-129

Day7_KampalaBeads-648

Day7_KampalaBeads-752

Day9_UgandaHornsPalm-700

Day8_UgandaJinja-640

For more visit www.CameronKarsten.com

Cameron Karsten Photography

All Across Africa: Crafting the Burundian Culture

Day5_BurundiNgozi1-341

All Across Africa is venturing into Burundi, seeking opportunities to help empower and employ the citizens of this small East African country. Burundi rates 167 out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index (2008) with approx. 67% of its 10.16 million people living below the poverty line. AAA is looking to create sustainable business cooperatives, which allow the people to build their own businesses utilizing their traditional crafts and making them available to the global marketplace. Here are these people and their land.

Go to www.allacrossafrica.org to support their work in Burundi and East Africa

Day3_BurundiCrafts-162

Day4_BurundiNature-136-Edit-Edit

Day5_BurundiNgozi1-282

Day5_BurundiNgozi1-409

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-354

Day5_BurundiNgozi1-414

Day5_BurundiNgozi1-241

Day5_BurundiNgozi1-144

Day4_BurundiNature-260

Day3_BurundiCrafts-121

Day3_BurundiCrafts-170

Day3_BurundiCrafts-148

Day5_BurundiNgozi1-512

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-328

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-66

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-49Day6_BurundiNgozi2-590

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-736

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-691

For more, please visit http://www.CameronKarsten.com

Cameron Karsten Photography

All Across Africa – Women’s Cooperatives in Rwanda

Day1_Weavers_BuyDay-891

In February of this year, I joined All Across Africa in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi for an amazing two-week journey through their women’s basket weaving cooperatives, as well as sewing schools designed for young adults. It was a beautiful experience showing the strength of a non-profit empowering locals by providing proper skill set training as well as a growing community of business development. The following are images throughout Rwanda. All products can be purchased by going to www.AllAcrossAfrica.org

Day13_RwandaSisalDye-576

Day2_Sewing_Bracelets-451

Day1_Weavers_BuyDay-522

Day13_RwandaSisalDye-1302

Day1_Weavers_BuyDay-425

Day1_Weavers_BuyDay-73

Day1_Weavers_BuyDay-1032

Day13_RwandaSisalDye-1163

Day2_Sewing_Bracelets-691

Day12_RwandaGikondo-296

Day1_Weavers_BuyDay-1258

Day2_Sewing_Bracelets-303

Day1_Weavers_BuyDay-1371

Day13_RwandaSisalDye-386

Day13_RwandaSisalDye-479

Day13_RwandaSisalDye-790

Day13_RwandaSisalDye-303

Please visit www.AllAcrossAfrica.org to support the women of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi

Cameron Karsten Photography

All Across Africa – Designs by Nightingale Handmade

All Across Africa in Kampala, Uganda

Earlier this year I spent two weeks with All Across Africa helping them rebrand their work throughout Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. With their new website up and running, I’ve fallen in love with Margaret’s (Nightingale Handmade) designs on a few of the images created for AAA. Enjoy these beautiful postcards and go visit www.AllAcrossAfrica.org to make a purchase for the women of East Africa.

All Across Africa in Rwanda

Weavers and a Buy Day in Rwanda for All Across Africa

All Across Africa in Kampala, Uganda

All Across Africa in Rwanda

Weavers and a Buy Day in Rwanda for All Across Africa

Cameron Karsten Photography

STORMR Campaign: Olympic Wildness Pt. III

_N9A4726After a night’s rest, the men returned to the waters, this day wading into the flowing waters of the Olympic tributaries. Their STORMR foul-weather gear proved protective and durable as fishermen Simon Pollack and Skyler Vella threw flies before returning steelhead and salmon.

_N9A4689-Edit

_N9A4791

_N9A4665

_N9A4350

_N9A4334-Edit

_N9A4432-Edit

_N9A4439

_N9A4537

_N9A4545

_N9A4636-Edit

_N9A4598

_N9A4461

_N9A4311

For a complete portfolio, please visit www.CameronKarsten.com

logo_blackTrajan

STORMR Campaign: Olympic Wildness – Pt. II

_N9A3916

Fishermen Simon Pollack and Skyler Vella reload and reseek the elusive steelhead within the Wild Olympics on a recent campaign for STORMR foul-weather gear.

_N9A3940

_N9A3946-Edit

_N9A3934-Edit

_N9A3971

_N9A4198-Edit-Edit

For a complete portfolio, please visit www.CameronKarsten.com

logo_blackTrajan

STORMR Campaign: Olympic Wildness – Pt. I

_N9A3703-Edit

 Walking into the Olympics of western Washington is a step back into time. Undisturbed and wild America – a land of the tallest trees, isolated mountains, rugged coastline, and an epic run of salmon and steelhead. Here’s a sneak peek at a recent campaign for STORMR foul-weather gear with fishermen Simon Pollack and Skyler Vella.

_N9A3330

_N9A3375

_N9A3824

_N9A3773

_N9A3579-Edit

_N9A3634-Edit

_N9A3636-Edit

_N9A3645-Edit

_N9A3641-Edit

_N9A3646

_N9A3639-Edit

_N9A3675

For a complete portfolio, visit www.CameronKarsten.com

logo_blackTrajan

Africa Transporting

While on assignment in Africa for the first two months of 2014, I was captivated by the way humanity transports itself and its’ cargo. This new project highlights the unique and massive modes of transportation the African continent moves about. From West African countries Benin and Togo to East Africa’s Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, all modes are the same: extreme, beautiful and oddly delicate.

Day4_BurundiNature-136-Edit-EditThe paddle boat is an easy means of transportation for fisherman and the obvious choice for floating villages – Lake Tanganyika, Bujumbura, Burundi.

Day3_Ganvie-356-EditA woman paddles with her child in the early morning to the floating market of Ganvie – Lake Nakoue, Ganvie, Benin.

Day4_BurundiNature-512-EditBikes are cheap and easy to fix, but the roadway and traffic can be horrendous – Bujumbura, Burundi.

Day3_BurundiCrafts-121Oil drums being transported through downtown Bujumbura, Burundi.

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-717Bicycles are ubiquitous, and so are mountainous hills, in northern Burundi. Men hitch rides by grabbing onto the sides and rear of large lorry trucks heading up and heading down – Northern Burundi.

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-684-EditMany young men hop lorry trucks when traveling up and down the northern hills of Burundi – Northern Burundi.

Day4_BurundiNature-272-Edit-EditA long walk to the border from Bujumbura, Burundi to The Democratic Republic of Congo. Burundi is ripe with agriculture, so many travel to the border to sell their harvests to Congolese – Bujumbura, Burundi.

Day10_RwandaVirunga-17-Edit-EditIn the countryside, the movement of people on foot often looks like a mass exodus. People walk miles to crop land, distant markets, and back home within a day – Virunga Mountains, Rwanda.

Day10_RwandaVirunga-25-EditSlopes are carved out with foot paths that lead to neighboring villages and fields – Virunga Mountains, Rwanda.

Day6_AlladaVodou-578Dotting Africa are a host of infrastructure projects, most sponsored by Chinese firms. Here a Djagli, a mythical bird in Vodou culture, rests between performances – Allada, Benin.

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-736-EditAn infrastructure project in Northern Burundi, which was washed out by the previous season’s flash floods – Northern Burundi.

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-544-EditA tea picker near Ngozi, Burundi walks home after a day’s work – Burundi.

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-552-EditAn empty wheel barrel on the tea plantation – Ngozi, Burundi.

Day3_Ganvie-159A young boy fishing on Lake Nakoue – Ganvie, Benin.

Day5_BurundiNgozi1-411Along a construction road, young boys and men haul bananas to roadside stands offering produce, charcoal grilled corn, meats, and assorted snacks – Northern Burundi.

Day6_BurundiNgozi2-739-EditTraffic careens and passes the two-lane highways, passing villages, bustling markets and school courtyards. Traffic hazards are many for motors, cyclists and children heading to and from school – Northern Burundi.

For more visit http://www.CameronKarsten.com

logo_blackTrajan

The Vodou Trail: Resurrecting the Royal Wife

Day16_Houegbo-380

I’m exhausted. We’ve been traveling, working, shooting, exploring, discovering, eating, drinking throughout Benin, West Africa. It’s been almost three weeks. Now early morning, with already two hours of rough roads underneath our belts, I feel sick. Constantine and I have come north to Houegbo; a small rural town, more or less community, spattered along a passing highway. We’ve come here to witness what we’ve been told would be an initiation rite of young practitioners emerging from a year of training, which includes dance, ritual, language and study of this ancient belief system, called Vodou. We’ve come to see them emerge into society as true initiates. But soon we learn this is not an initiation ceremony. Nope. Definitely not.

A woman approaches. She’s introduced to us as our guide Stephano’s aunt. He hasn’t seen her for over a year. She’s a Vodou practitioner. Stephano is not. He tells us before we see her that since he was a little boy he has always been scared of her. His Christian mother used to tell him stories of his aunt, demonic ones of strange impossible things she would participate in. Thanks to our recent escapades, he was willing to see her.

“I’m amazed. Just amazed!” he chimes in full of awe. “It’s too hard to explain, but it happens. And it’s beautiful.”

So he called his long lost aunt and she invited us into her home.

Day16_Houegbo-224

As mentioned, I’m exhausted. Constantine is not. He’s recovered from a cold he had since arriving in Benin, one I’m now contracting. Jerk.

At 8:30 in the morning, it’s already balmy. The dry West African heat drenches me. The air I inhale burns my nostrils. My hair is wet, damp for what feels like weeks. Beads pour down my forehead. They sting the eyes as rivulets of dust crease my cheeks. My head slowly starts to pound.

Inside, the room is dark and the couches spring-less. We sit and sink into their frames. The Great Aunt offers us refreshments. Coke? Un Bier?

I take a beer, Constantine a coke. Within five minutes the 22oz of Les Beninoise is empty. She brings another. I’ll need it because we just found out the truth of our presence, the Why have we come so far?

Day15_Ketou-76

We ask The Great Aunt. “No,” she points out. “This is not an initiation ceremony. It’s a ritual for a young woman. She has been taken from us while working in the fields. We will attempt to bring her back.”

“Where’d she go?”

“While she was working she was struck down. Sakpata took her as his royal wife.”

I shook my head, not sure if I was hearing this correctly. “Sakpata?”

In Vodou mythology, Sakpata is the god of well being for mind, body and spirit. He is also the god of disease. To honor Sakpata, one will remain healthy throughout life, and if one were to become ill, sick, contract AIDS or a virus, one’s sole survival tactic would rely on Sakpata, worshiping him in every waking hour until one’s last breath. Apparently this woman we’re here to see failed to honor Sakpata. She birthed a child. The child died. She visited a Vodou priest who told her to perform specific rituals for Sakpata. She ignored the prescription. This angered Sakpata and so he was out for payment, which happened to be her.

This all sounded pretty dismal to our ears, but we soon learnt the great fortune this woman overcame by being struck down by Sakpata. She had been potentially chosen to be Sakpata’s royal wife, a huge honor in Vodou society. This upcoming ceremony was to confirm her royal matrimony. It would be an ancient practice long thought to be dead, but instead extremely rare and secretive when it does becomes necessary.

I finish my beer. It’s 9AM and the infamous Resurrection is about to take place.

Day16_Houegbo-54

We’re sitting before the priest of Houegbo. The man’s name is Hounnogan Letoby Hounfodje and he begins telling us about this ancient practice:

“The ceremony that takes place is Vodou. It is a very old Vodou ceremony that was performed by our ancestors. They handed this down to us.

But not all used to practice this. Zedego and Malego were the ones who brought Sakpata here. Then Sakpata took the whole region. They started to appoint Sakpata priests in every part of Houegbo. Here are the roots of Sakpata Vodou.”

Constantine raises a hand. “What ceremony are you performing today?”

“When Sakpata chooses to take a wife,” the priest continues, “it is something truly extraordinary. It doesn’t happen every day. Today, Sakpata has taken a wife here. Three days ago we showed the corpse of the girl to the whole village. Today, we’re going to bring the corpse out and resurrect her in front of everybody. Sometimes we try to resurrect, but the body doesn’t wake up and we call the family to come and bury it. But if Sakpata truly chose his wife and the priests do the resurrection, the person will come back to life. There is no other way.”

Day16_Houegbo-294

We listen to this man. He’s seated in a dashiki; colorful fabrics folded one over the other. A hat adorns his head as cowrie shells and metal beads hang from his neck and wrists. Seated around him are his people, his son and fellow practitioners. They listen contemplatively, their eyes cast down nodding in subtle submissive agreement. Their only other movements are hands that rise and grab a fold of fabric to wipe the heat from their faces.

Beyond our interview are the chants of the village. Women wrapped in pagne garments. Beads and cowrie shells embellish. They’re dancing in circles, singing to the sounds of small drums and clanging bells. They’re all here to witness this event, to put the depths of their belief into the resurrection of this young beautiful girl. They want her alive as much as Sakpata does.

“What happens if she’s awoken?” I ask.

“She will dance throughout the night and then become devoted to Sakpata. She will be Vodou.”

Day16_Houegbo-122

We’re watching the chanting women. Their scarification shines beneath pearly sweat, while hours of suffering and devotion pour into their song, the rhythm of stamping feet. Men throw coins and make offerings to their gods. Some ask for the resurrection. More ask for health to family and friends. Others need it themselves.

Inside the shrine, Constantine and I are restricted behind an invisible line. Beyond it we see a courtyard where young devotees take shots of sodabi and perform more unique dancing. They twist their bodies as if in trance, throwing back their heads in swirls, before erupting in spurts of spontaneous laughter. Beyond them is a door.  And beyond that is a room where the woman is being prepped for her resurrection. We ask to enter, but are declined. We ask again. No. Only Vodou initiates.

At this point, as the hours pass and we wait, we wonder at the possibilities and suddenly realize the lack of suspicion we harbor. Up to this point I’ve believed everything the priest has told us. Of course we were going to witness a resurrection. Of course these practitioners believe in it. And of course I believe it. I’m in Benin, on the Vodou Trail, in search of the truth behind Vodou. Everything will happen.

Day16_Houegbo-142

Through this thought process when one is so immersed within the environment, the outside doesn’t exist. Like a climber on the slope of mountain ice, one doesn’t reflect on breakfast with family, that dinner party with friends, those personal or worldly affairs they’re missing. Like the climber summiting the moment before them, there is only one real world, the world they’re in, that mountain and the summit of their existence. It’s a Nano-second to Nano-second burst of life, there and gone to never exist again.

The Buddha proclaimed, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”

Magic, myth, the Vodou Trail, this resurrection. An outside individual can only presume it is all fake, an illusion of the mind tricking one to believe the impossible. The community of Houegbo believes otherwise and has gathered with the full force of their believe system to help resurrect this young woman. They will be concentrating the power of their belief to help her reawaken into the world of the living.

Day16_Houegbo-89

A cluster of young men appears. They are chanting, bodies covered in a pattern of scarification. Then a larger procession, and a larger, before a crowd carrying what looks to be a 6-foot long slimmed-down chile relleno appears. The priest is there. He’s holding a 12-foot pole topped with palm fronds, cowrie shells and two flailing chickens. Everybody is in a rush of frenzy as they slide out of the temple gate and onto the dirt pathways. They begin marching through the community. Constantine and I follow.

For the next forty-five minutes the band of devotees sing and dance, speeding through the village in circles carrying this chile relleno. We soon learn this is the woman. She has been prepped and wrapped in a reed blanket. She looks tiny from how tightly wrapped the human relleno is, and as the ceremony’s procession continues, the crowds swell to observe. They all join in song and some create clusters of their own chanting and clapping. The band carrying the woman stops. They swing her side to side, spit sodabi over the reeds and slap chickens over its exterior. Then they bring it to rest on a mat. The crowd settles. Only the priest speaks, as well as another old man, whom we presume to be the village witch doctor. He carries a staff of cow jawbones and seven times repeats a prayer where the crowd calls out in response.

Day16_Houegbo-341

I find myself crouching close to the woman in the reed blanket. I’m pressed between the crowds who squeeze forward to have a closer look. I can’t see Constantine, but I trust he is where he needs to be. We wait but have no idea what we’re waiting for.

Suddenly, on the seventh call and response, the priest yells out, drags the cow jawbones across the human relleno and in a stale moment of silence we hear a muffled shout. The sound emanates as if coming through a wall. It is brief, like a cheer of jubilant emotion. It is soft, like a young woman’s cry for release. It is apparently this very young woman, from beneath the tightly bound folds of the reeds, crying with fresh inhalation. The crowd immediately erupts in chaotic enthrallment, like a crazed New Years party, tearing at a gift from the gods.

What we see happen next is a caravan of people pull out a young woman from within the reeds. She is bare-chested, waist wrapped in a pagne, and with urgency she is hoisted in the air to be paraded through the grounds. They are moving fast, too fast to check if she is breathing. But her eyes are closed as if in sleep. We are shuffled away as the parade with the girl in the air makes their way back into the confines of the temple. She has arisen, or so we are told, thus the animal sacrifices begin.

Day16_Houegbo-409

We’re back in the Great Aunt’s house. “Tonight, the young woman will come out of the temple and dance Vodou all night. She is awake and will now be devoted to Sakpata. The ceremony was a success.”

I could see her pride. She was a believer and from what we saw, the Vodou ceremony worked and the woman was resurrected. People were excited. They believed, but we were skeptical. Constantine and I could not stay to see the dance. We could not talk to her and confirm her… humanity. We were caught in a suspension of disbelief.

During our interview with the priest of Houegbo, his son Moladje Adime Hounssode spoke up about their god: “Sakpata, the God of the Earth, only does good for the world. If we are behind him we don’t lose ourselves. Everyone here is a Vodou adept. If we haven’t had goodness, we wouldn’t see them here. So that is why we are still behind him. Longevity, children, money and good fortune; that’s Sakpata. He never did any bad. It’s not only him that does good. All our Vodou divinities do good.”

A suspension of disbelief is the art of storytelling. In some philosophies, it is the world we live in, living a great dream where we all act in character, like a grain of sand in the ocean, ebbing and flowing with the tides of change. We witnessed this magical act as if in a circus, but it wasn’t a circus. It was these individuals’ lives. It was their grand dream. And it was this woman’s. It was enough to make me believe in the inexplicable powers of Vodou. All the more reason to return to find her breathing among the living, and learn more about this much-misunderstood practice and this ceremony believed to be extinct.

Day16_Houegbo-447

Day16_Houegbo-300

Day16_Houegbo-355

Day16_Houegbo-150

Day16_Houegbo-101

Day16_Houegbo-426

Day16_Houegbo-231

Day16_Houegbo-51

Day16_Houegbo-9

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,162 other followers