I went to Kenya with a vision, a plan, an idea of how I would capture my experience. I knew exactly the types of images I wanted to create. It didn’t happen. When I looked at my images, I was disappointed. I know many can relate. There is often a bit of disappointment when your camera doesn’t capture what is held in your heart. I have all of these amazing memories in my head, memories that pop up randomly during the days and weeks I’ve been home. Five days in Kenya have provided me with a lifetime of pop up warm fuzzies. Why aren’t they shown in my images? I had to really think about this, had to figure out how, as a photographer, I hadn’t done the job I set out to do. And then it hit me…
…my mind went as a photographer, my heart went as a member of the family. My trip back to Kenya was me re-joining my Kenyan family. The memories I have that aren’t in pictures are the ones with me simply being with my family. It’s the same here at home as well. I have no real pictures of my favorite times with my family and friends. Christmases and dinners, those little moments when you laugh until your side hurts, times of comfort, these aren’t captured in pictures. They are held in my heart and my head, and when I need them, they pop up.
So now I look at my images with new eyes. I thought I could be on the outside, discreetly capture the lives of these amazing friends and document with passion, but at a distance. I’ve seen many photographic journeys on Africa and I challenged myself to rise to that level of artistry. Maybe I could do that elsewhere, but not in my Kenya, my Soweto, my home. From the moment I stepped into the airport, I was embraced. A huge lift you off the ground, swing you around, squeeze you like you had never left hug from Samuel changed the entire course of my documentation. I could not be detached. I could not shoot without being seen. Every child knew where I was every moment I was there. They would surround us as soon as we stepped out of the car. Little hands raised up to touch, to hold, to just be a part of my world. This was not a wedding. I could not sit back and document an amazing time in someone else’s life. This was my amazing time. Do I back away from these little hands that want nothing more than to embrace and love me and hide away to ensure I fulfill my vision, or do I let myself be engulfed by thousands of tiny fingers? As a photographer, this is a decision I have to make almost daily – photograph life or be a part of life.
I chose to be a part of life in Kenya. Sure, I have pictures. Yes, I accomplished part of my original plan. More importantly, I recognized that God was turning my feet and pushing me onto a different path. This path led me to where I am right at this moment – homesick. I’m sitting in my house, on my street, 2 minutes from family and friends. And I am homesick. I find myself constantly looking at the clock and adding 8 hours to figure out what everyone is doing right now in Soweto. I am homesick for mango, for lush green fields, for dirt roads with no names, for little voices yelling “mzungu”, for learning (and butchering) a new Swahili word each day, for people who are cold in 80 degree weather, for beautiful smiles and joyful souls, and for tiny fingers holding on tightly.