Some stories are just too unbelievable to be, well — believable. I think this story is one of those.
A few months ago, I decided to sell a piece of camera equipment — a handheld light meter — on Craigslist. Shortly after posting the ad, I received a response from someone named Joy. After exchanging a few emails, I felt comfortable enough with this person to share my phone number.
Turns out that Joy was male, not female as I had assumed. He wanted to meet very soon to buy the meter He was shortly off to Bangladesh, where he was born, and hoped to put the meter to good use while there. I agreed to meet him at a neighborhood restaurant so he could see and buy it if he wished.
Joy Islam turned out to be an energetic and enthusiastic Smooch! fan. He had done his research before meeting me and was bubbling over with questions about how he could help us move this project forward. We talked for a long time before he left to prepare for his trip. I discovered several things that day. Among them, I learned that Joy received his name because he was born in the year his nation was founded (1971). He taught me how to properly pronounce Bangladesh (bæŋ.ɡlə.ˈdesh). I also learned that his family operates a nonprofit hospital in their home town of Chuandanga.
I left our meeting feeling noncommittal about involving Joy in the Smooch! Project. After all, I meet many people approach me with proposals, large and small. The vast majority of them do not pan out. But for the weeks that Joy was in Bangladesh, I found myself thinking of him and the hospital his family had founded. Hmmm, I mused. A hospital. In Bangladesh. The Smooch! already had some really great history of working with US hospitals. Why not another one on the other side of the world?
So I decided to do some research myself. Here’s Joy with his mother, Tandra, and his father, Anwarul “Baby” Islam, a famous Indian and Bangladeshi cinematographer and film director. Baby Islam founded their hospital in 2005 and named it after his mother, Motaharun Nessa. He passed away in 2010 and Tandra now oversees the facility. The Motaharun Nessa Maternal & Infant Care (MMIC) hospital continues to serve poor and destitute pregnant mothers and infants each day for little or no cost. This is almost entirely funded through the generosity of the Islam family. From what Joy had told me, they are hoping to expand staff hours, which would require outside financial support.
This is when I began to feel that Joy and I were destined to work together. Bringing the Smooch! to Bangladesh would help us both reach our goals. This collaboration would bring Joy’s family hospital to the attention of a US audience, where funding could be found to support its expansion. The Smooch! would have its first international shoot under the care of a supportive local family. I re-connected with Joy when he returned from Bangladesh, to ask if he wanted to pursue the idea of working together. His answer: A resounding “Yes!”
I’ll be leaving for Bangladesh in late February, early March. I will be traveling with Tandra, who is here in the US renewing her green card. I will be staying in their family home. Tandra tells me she is looking forward to making my stay there as comfortable as possible. I have no doubt it will be an amazing experience, made easy with her generous help. I’ll be collecting Smooch! pics as well as photos documenting the hospital, which will be used to help win the support of US funders when I return.
Joy and I are fundraising to support the trip and expand MMIC Hospital programs. If you could help, many people here in the US as well as Bangladesh would be very grateful. FYI, all donations are tax-deductible.
That’s the story of how I found Joy — via Craigslist. Amazing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am one very lucky photographer! And a grateful one as well. Who knows what the future might hold? Stay tuned and we’ll all soon find out!
Silly word puns aside, this shoot was truly one for the Smooch! record book. Not only was this a remarkable experience, it was also a total blast! I am constantly seeking new opportunities to collect unique images for The Smooch! Project. When I met Mairi Doerr of Dancing Winds Farmstay, located near Kenyon, Minnesota, and learned she offered guests the opportunity to experience life on a goat farm, I knew I had to try and wrangle a Smooch! shoot there. Fortunately, Mairi was very amendable to the idea. By the end of our initial phone conversation, the “Meet the Kids” shoot was on the Smooch! schedule.
Our next step was to decide which one of several buildings on Mairi’s property was best for our purpose. The final choice: A former chicken coop now used to store hay. I arrived at the farm a day before the shoot to begin preparations. This city girl (moi!) even helped move bales of hay to clear a space for the shoot area. I learned a lot from my minimal experience on Mairi’s farm. For example, I belatedly realized that it’s not a good idea to wear a hoodie with hand pockets while moving hay bales. That evening, it took me almost an hour to pick the straw out of them.
The following morning Marsha Rumbarger, a Smooch! Project Dreamer (one of a group of dedicated volunteers), arrived to serve as shoot manager for the day. You can see her here petting one of the very sweet baby goats exploring the shoot area. Another learning for me: iPhone cameras are lousy in low light settings. Hence, the blurry photo of Marsha at work.
The day of the shoot was one of the windiest I’d ever experienced. Mostly this turned out to be a very good thing, as it meant that a strong breeze blew through that chicken coop and kept us from overheating from the strong sun beating down on the roof. But dust and hay literally flew everywhere. The frequent gusts even sent one of my lights crashing to the ground (luckily missing all the kids — as in goats — running around the shoot area). Thankfully, the expensive gadget was undamaged. My next learning: If there’s any breeze at all, tie down the lights, even while indoors.
Mairi did a great job of inviting her friends and neighbors to the shoot. I photographed 27 humans, 5 goats and one dog that day. It was a wonderful experience and I succeeded in collecting several unique images for The Smooch! Project. Click this link to view all the Smooch! Archive pics from this shoot. To see the Smooch! Sandwich photos collected that day, just click here.
Following the shoot, I spent a very relaxing evening in one of the lodgings Mairi provides to her guests. This was despite the fact that a very strong wind storm moved through the area, complete with some really stupendous cloud lightning. For a short while, Mairi and I discussed moving to the basement of the main farmhouse in case it turned into a tornado. But the storm simply roared through the area, leaving only a smattering of rain. All in all, my stay on the farm was a wonderful — albeit eventful — experience.
Would I visit Dancing Winds Farmstay again? In a New York minute! The farmstay is open for visitors year round but I’m planning to make my next reservation soon. Mairi tells me that it has been a busy year with lots of guests. If you’re interested in staying there yourself, I’d recommend making your reservation early!
When award-winning filmmaker Dawn Mikkelson from Emergence Pictures first approached me in May 2010 to discuss her interest in creating a documentary movie about The Smooch! Project, I was of course intrigued. Hah! Blown out of the water would be a more accurate description of how I felt. After all, who wouldn’t want a movie made about an art project that’s become your life’s work?
Our initial meeting went very well and I agreed to collaborate with Dawn on her next and newest documentary-in-progress, appropriately called SMOOCH. For the next 2+ years she and I worked closely together, traveling to Detroit, offering joint Smooch!/SMOOCH public shoots and finding the solutions to the challenges inherent in a collaboration between two creative endeavors.
Frankly, I could not have picked a better partner for this effort. Now our work together has ended. Not because Dawn’s ground-breaking film is completed. Her work on this extraordinary effort continues. But all creative projects evolve as they mature. Over time, Dawn and I found our creative paths diverging. Her movie’s theme of forgiveness had strongly emerged as its central theme and The Smooch! Project component had become less crucial to the story Dawn felt compelled to tell. I totally agreed with her. It was time for us to part creative ways.
Don’t think for a minute that there was any breakdown in our professional relationship. On the contrary, I found Dawn to be one of the most generous creative persons I have ever had the fortune to meet and work with. Of course, she wants her film to remain true to her growing vision. She also would like to see The Smooch! Project to reach its goals as well, statement I don’t make lightly.
Here’s the irrefutable proof: When we jointly agreed to part creative ways, Dawn showered The Smooch! Project with awesomely supportive gifts: a new short video about the Smooch! (See it here.), funding support for our first international trip, and the promise of a short documentary film focused on our efforts (to be made sometime in 2013).
Frankly, I think we made out like bandits! I’ve so appreciated Dawn’s generous heart and commitment to professionalism ever since I met her in 2010. That hasn’t changed one iota, despite the fact that the Smooch! will not be included in her new film. I only hope that Dawn’s relationship with The Smooch! Project has been as helpful to her work. I’m happy. I believe she is too.
I heartily invite you to keep an eye on Dawn’s work as she completes what I believe will be an important and award-winning documentary film. The name of it may have been changed but not her commitment to sharing remarkable stories of forgiveness gathered from around the world. The best of luck to you, Dawn! The Smooch! team will be rooting for you from the sidelines!
Of course it was a great disappointment to me to discover the invite to bring me to South Africa fell short on funding. Yes, a grant was secured by my potential host but, in the end, it proved not enough to cover all the expenses anticipated. The Smooch! Project runs really lean (as in, this project doesn’t generate enough income to support itself). Add to the mix that my personal financial resources are so severely depleted at the moment (as in, I am too broke for words!) that I have accepted a temporary fulltime job to meet living expenses.
As much as I would have loved to bring the Smooch! to South Africa, it would have been no fun to get there and not have the financial resources to deal with the unexpected. I just did not feel comfortable taking the risk of getting in a tight situation so far from home. Talk about a potential “ET phone home!” scenario. While I am still holding out hope for a possible last minute “angel” to make an appearance to help cover the shortfall, at the moment it seems most likely that The Smooch! will be staying state-side.
Despite this (hopefully temporary) setback, I continue to dearly love and support The Siyazama Project, the remarkable effort to “promote the role of design and affirm indigenous knowledge and skills as a means to disseminate vital information about HIV/AIDs among the most marginalized and vulnerable people in South Africa — rural women.”
What a beautiful project! What beautiful work these women create. Massive and heartfelt congratulations to Prof. Kate Wells of the Durban University of Technology for her unstinting efforts to support, promote and publicize this very worthy project. Learn more about her good work on her Arts in South Africa blog.
Are you in a position to help get the Smooch! to South Africa? If so, your tax-deductible donation would be oh-so-welcome! Here’s a link to our donation page. Smooches to you!
I’m always inspired by projects like this that go a step ‘above & beyond.’