Sunday, November 30, 2008

Brett Dances Merengue

Friday, November 28, 2008

View from my window

Above: a panorama view from my balcony of lviv after a fresh snowfall.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Khutorivka Seminary Panorama

Above: a panoramic assembled in photoshop of Khutorivka Seminary, where I took these photographs. If you look at the lower right hand corner between the towers, you can see the beginning of my old neighborhood. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What First Snow on a Ukrainian Doorstep Looks Like

Above: Various Ukrainian apartment buildings that are on my route to work in the morning. I live in the center of the city, and woke to a blizzard blanketing the city in close to a foot of snow. Just lovely. Looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow and watching the snow fall. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Faith in the East and What the West Has Wrong

Above, top to bottom: A Dominican monk waits with a basket for alms after the Youth Mass at 7:00 p.m. outside Holy Trinity Church in Krakow, Poland on November 23, 2008; Bozena Hrycyna, an english teacher in Lviv, Ukraine, explores Holy Trinity Church, which is connected to a Dominican Monastery, before the Youth Mass; the halls of the monastery are open to the public during the day. 

Coming from an American Catholic background, I usually expect church pews on a Sunday evening to be half full with last minute churchgoers, the church to echo with watered-down, feel-good hymns from the Oregon Press, and the sermon to be less than engrossing. In the spirit of the confessional, I'll admit that up till about a year ago, my sisters and I would often challenge each other to thumb wars and regularly break into the church giggles. I consider myself to be a fairly devout catholic that goes to confession if he misses mass on Sunday, but I'm no saint. After Krakow, I want to be one. 
As the splish-splash ring of polish hymns drowns out the howl of a blizzard outside, it seems like the poles might have a monopoly on piety in the Roman Catholic Church. They are here in droves on a Sunday evening, packing the aisles, the stairs, even the altar, and surprisingly, they are almost all under 25 years of age. It might be the famous Dominican Church Youth Mass from George Weigel's book "Letters to a Young Catholic," but it surpasses all expectations. This mass will change your life. 
Poles get it. They seem more alive and comfortable as a catholic culture than any group I've ever had with the pleasure of praying. Sure, they have their problems. Not everyone sings, not everyone goes to church(more than 95% of the country is catholic, and almost all of them attend church on a weekly basis), and they don't always do as they pray. But they are a far cry from France, where the Catholic Church is openly ridiculed, Notre Dame is like the Batman ride at Six Flags, and the people are proud their culture gave birth to secularism.
I've never been in a Catholic Church with open-mic intentions. Churchgoers of all ages walk up to the pulpit to state their intentions, and everybody keeps it short and appropriate. No one laughs, and everyone listens to the sermon. I was struck how the church was packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, and during the transfiguration(when the priest consecrates the bread and wine into the Body and Blood) you could've heard a pin drop. I realized that there is almost always background noise in American Churches, and rarely is the congregation silent. 
I love Poland, and in Krakow, where John Paul II(then Karol Wojtyla) was a student, priest, then bishop and later cardinal, you know you've seen the soul of the country.  

Monday, November 24, 2008

Your friendly Polish tour guide

Above, top to bottom:  Krakowians navigate slippery sidewalks on the evening of November 22nd, in Krakow, Poland on Ulica Sienna; Me in the Rynek Glowny; Bozena Hrycyna, a fellow english teacher at UCU, and Robert Marko, a fulbright professor from Michigan, outside the Franciscan Church in Krakow; Josh Marko trying to not get smothered by falling snow near the Sukinnice; the dark, candlelit underbelly of Awaria(Avar-ria) Bar was filled with smoke and the sound of an old gravely voice singing softly over piano music "see ya lata, alligata. In a while, Croc-o-dile," while we smoked Cuban cigars and sipped spicy hot wine. My lens was fogged from the cold. 
I left for the First World on Thursday night, otherwise known as Poland. A member of the European Union since 2004, Poland has held the title of 'fastest growing economy' within the E.U. and the home of Pope John Paul II, who once served as Archbishop of Krakow. We took the overnight bus from Lviv to Krakow, an all-night fiasco that starts at 10 pm and ends at some cold, dark outpost in the early morning. 
Ukrainian border crossings are like a peek into an oppressive childhood: you're not really sure what you did wrong, but by God, they are going to find something. Ukrainian border guards vacillate between two extremes: bitter, corrupt, ex-soviets and the prissy, drop-dead attractive women wearing strong floral perfumes that burns your eyes. Hey, don't you have to frisk me? Or did you want to bring me in for further questioning? 
The poles, by contrast, might actually go out for a drink with me if I asked them. They are always polite, addressing everyone in the light southern polish accent that I admire so much, and are quick, business-like and punctual. They don't have the hard edge of the germans, but retain the organization. 
This trip, I was taking a fulbright professor, his son and another english teacher on a tour of Krakow. They raved about the city by the time we were done, and just as my friend Amanda Sheaffer, and she'll tell you just how wonderful Krakow really is, and how much of a surprise Poland can be. 
I feel so alive and happy in Krakow, and I fit in so well, that I think I just might move there. After this weekend, and after going on a tour with a Pole who spoke near perfect english, I think I can be a travel guide. I would love to live in Poland for a year, or even a summer, time-permitting. If the opportunity should arise, I think I would pick Krakow, move there, and spend a year learning polish, teaching english, giving tours and freelancing. I love the people, I love the city, and I'm an American speaking better english than most poles. Come the 2012 EuroCup that will be hosted in Krakow, there will be a great need for guys like me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Backyard

A huge slap sound sends me jolting out of bed, and I realize it's the sound of my phone crashing into the floor. The obnoxious rhythm of the 'everlasting' ringtone style thumps at me mockingly from my bedside, and for a moment, I consider just leaving the phone on the floor and rolling over. But mind and hand are too distanced by lack of sleep, and I find the phone at my ear before my brain can protest.
"You up?" It's Irene, my American neighbor from upstairs.
"Yeah yeah yeah, been up for hours," I say, smacking my face. 
"You wanna go for a run? I'm going to show you the park," chatters Irene in her upbeat Seattle accent.
Jeans, sweatshirt, fleece jacket, hikers and skullcap come barreling out the door with me and my Nikon D300. We go soaring up a hill as Irene explains the gothic building to our right was the meeting place of the Ukrainian militia, named after Hutzel tribe leaders. Her father was one of them. 
I shake off flashbacks of our old apartment that was firmly entrenched in the Soviet nightmare we called Hasheka Street. Marveling at the woods around me, I realize I've swapped concrete buildings and rotting sidewalks for towering pines and oaks, a forest floor covered in brilliant shades of fall, and the tallest hill in Lviv which is literally right behind my apartment.
"Wysoki Zamok is that way," says Irene, pointing off to the left, "and Shenchivski High is over to the right." 
Wysoki Zamok(High Castle) is a huge lookout point and has the best view in Lviv. Just 15 minutes away is Shenchivski High, a tourist park filled with Ukrainian cultural houses, animal pettings zoos and another gorgeous forest. Did I mention the main square is just 5 minutes walk from my door? 
We reach the top of a hill in the thick fog, a sort of look-out point for us. 
"This is what I wanted to show you," says Irene. "This is our backyard."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In Krakow again!

Above, top to bottom: A remake of a photo I took in 2005 on my first trip to Krakow when I was studying the polish language at Jagiellonian University through the University of Iowa, before I transferred to Marquette that fall; A couple posing for wedding pictures in Wawel Castle in Krakow, September 28, 2008; The grounds of the Wawel; and Wawel Castle from the outside(we declined to climb the bell tower, which I think I've done 3 times. What a number on my back); And finally, Jagiellonian's main courtyard in the old campus near Krakow's center.  
I'm going with a fullbright professor here at UCU to meet his son in Krakow for the weekend. Should be a good time. I plan on taking lots of Krakow pictures, finishing my story on my grandmother, and planning my photo class for next semester. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Greatest Generation Revisited

Above, top to bottom: a man checks out a .50-caliber machine gun on a B-17 bomber from World War II in Rockford, Illinois in August, 2008; A box blur panorama from the top gunner turret on the B-17; children exit the aft door of the B-17; the "Betty Jane" P-51 Mustang. Words fail me. Lovely plane.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

They call me "Misha"

Above: Portraits of members of Faith and Light, a catholic day program for individuals with disabilities, including mental and physical. In the second frame(taken by my canadian friend) I am laughing as the room applauds my successful pouring of 5 candles, which was a lot of fun, I must admit. Best part is the free candles for my apartment(just kidding). I have since become "Misha,"(a diminutive form of "Michaelo" [Mee-hi-lo] my Ukrainian name. "Misha" is close to "Mike") and they insisted I come back to photograph again. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ukraine's Forgotten Disabled

Above: members of Faith and Light work on arts and  crafts for the morning until snack time in the afternoon. We visited two of the four centers for the mentally disabled run by the group.
I recently began photographing for the Faith and Light Program that works with the developmentally disabled. For the sake of brevity, we can say that Ukraine has a 'minimalist' approach to mental health care, i.e., it barely exists. My previous post on mental health described a seclusion room where the unmanageable cases are kept. Basically, 30-50 people stuffed inside a three rooms about the size of a medium ranch house. 
Not the case with Faith and Light. The program was founded by Henry Nouwen, a dutch priest, and has several campuses scattered around Lviv. We visited two groups this past week, one that was older ranging from roughly 30-50 years of age, and another of teenagers and young adults.
As my previous projects with the mentally disabled have taught me, this is some of the most rewarding work you can do. No one cares where you're from, who you are, what your background is or what baggage you might be carrying with you. Forget all that. 
Do you want to pour some wax into this tin and make a candle? Because that is the greatest thing in the world, next to turning on the kettle and watching the wax melt. 
Do you like to make scarves? Stretch? Drink tea? Eat chocolate? 
Life has never been better for these people. I might go so far as to say that they enjoy life better than most people I know, regardless of their disabilities.
A canadian was with us for the trip, and as we sat down to afternoon tea, each of us with our own cups, I realized I had a cup different from everyone else's. Mine was flowery and white, while everyone else got a bland blue, green or red mug. 
"I have a special cup," I said, nudging my canadian friend.
"Now now," he said. "We all have special cups here." 

Last view of Fall

Above, top to bottom:A woman walks in Strisky Park in the thick fog of early morning; the last seeds of a flowering plant wait to be blown away by the freezing winds of winter, near the outskirts of Strisky Park; A group of band players in their white uniforms walk through the Russian Cemetery on Lychakivska Street; and a woman calls her dog during a walk in the early fog in Strisky.
More to come with this series, fall is so beautiful here and it's over! No more, but oh well! I got some great pictures from my first and probably last fall in Lviv.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bye bye, neighborhood

Above, from top to bottom: 1)this building is right next to the prison in the old neighborhood. I've seen guards with AK-47s hanging around in towers there, and there is always black smoke rising from its innards. I've heard it's horrific. I would love to visit and photograph. 2) Right down the block from me is this produkty(shop) in the lower left-hand corner of this image. In the fog, these buildings are beyond imposing, they become oppressive. 3) Some men dangle from wires as they put up styrofoam as insulation on a building near the prison. They turned away when I pulled out my camera, as most Ukrainians do. I took their pictures just to piss them off. 4)A woman walks to the bus station in the fog near the road outside the neighborhood. In order to reach my workplace at 8:30 for class, I have to leave at 7:45 to avoid rush hour. If I don't get on a bus by 8 am, I might as well walk and be 15 minutes late. Traffic's so bad you could wait an hour in it.
Brett and I have officially moved out of the old neighborhood and into the new one. I will post photos of my new, splendid accomodations soon enough, but till then, revel in the images of a soviet-envisioned, communist-version of Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Portraits at the University, I'm going to be in a gallery!

Above, top to bottom: Bozena Hrycyna, an english teacher from Toronto, Canada, with her class at Khutorivka(Holy Spirit) Seminary in Lviv, Ukraine. Robert Marks, a Fullbright Professor from Dominican University in Michigan, poses for a portrait with Greek Catholic nuns at the seminary.

I like assignments. As a photographer, I can either shoot for myself(which often doesn't produce much money, at least not now) or shoot what someone else wants. The first is evermore gratifying, and the second is evermore lucrative, but rarely do they intersect.
I've been shooting for RISU, a university department that functions as a type of religious news service. But really, RISU does just about everything. I've been editing stories for them, designing a yearly brochure in InDesign that goes out to every donor by Christmas, and photographing on occasion.
I'm currently pursuing a story on mental health recovery in Ukraine that started with a wild car trip with a priest two months ago. I'm currently photographing for the Faith and Light program that runs several mental health workshops around the city. In a country where just a few years ago, the horrific collaboration of pimps and corrupt administrators allowed mental health patients to used as sex slaves for money, the university I work for is performing miracles. Someone actually cares what happens to these people and the quality of life they live.
In February, my work will hopefully be displayed in an art gallery in downtown Lviv as a part of the project. We shall see, but I don't have a specific date yet.

On this busy week, why I'm behind on posts


I have been unusually busy these last few weeks, and am running behind on several stories. I wanted to let you all know that I am fully aware of the problem and am, by no means, going to become lax and a "once a week blogger." I am making up the missing posts and will continue to post every day with new photos, videos, stories and multimedia presentations as long as there are readers. 
The arrival of my grandmother and father in Lviv, giving my first test, moving out of my apartment, the election, and many other factors have contributed to my missing posts. Not to worry, I'm not welching on you! 

Thanks for reading,