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!
It was a tempting offer, one I could hardly refuse: Display Smooch! images on a 38-inch digital display installed in a lobby wall at the U of MN Boynton Health Service. This would be the first opportunity for the Smooch! to ‘strut it’s stuff’ in a way I had always imagined: Hundreds of archive images appearing one after another in a continuous loop. Of course, I happily jumped all over it.
Hard to believe this was back in March 2010. Since then, with very few interruptions, 200 photographs from the Smooch! Archive have silently taken turns appearing and disappearing every few seconds, to the delight of staff and clinic visitors alike.
I took this documentary photo six months ago, in preparation for this story (plus for a planned video yet to be created). I was there for almost an hour, taking sequential still exposures to capture the display as it changed. I attracted attention from clinic staff, as I did not appear to be like the typical college students they usually encounter.
When I explained who I was and why I was there — Oh, my! — the smiles seemed to light up the entire lobby. “I love The Smooch! Project!” almost everyone exclaimed, an outburst quickly followed with a description of which Smooch! photos they liked the most. Often it was the ones that included pets, like the one captured in this photo. Or maybe it was the ones with babies in them. Then there is that funny old guy and his wife. As more photos appeared I’d hear, Oh yeah! Oh yeah! That one too! As you might expect, my time there that day collecting documentary photos was entirely enjoyable.
After awhile, when I was no longer a novelty, I was left to my work and could simply watch how people interacted with the photos as they displayed. There’s an elevator on the wall opposite the digital display. People would walk through the lobby, press the button and wait. Most often, they would turn and begin watching the display as the photos came and went, appeared and were replaced. To me, a digital display of Smooch! photos is delightfully restful, similar in many ways to standing on a quiet shoreline as tiny waves rhythmically wash up on the sand before your feet. That day I saw many missed elevators, doors opening in vain for people who, for a moment at least, no longer felt a need to be anywhere else. I wondered whether my Boynton Clinic supporter, Dr. Gary Christenson, knew that Smooch! photos were interfering with students & staffers getting to where they needed to go.
I knew there was no need for concern, as I already knew Gary’s thoughts on this. He had sent me a quote a few months following the launch of the display. “Both lighthearted yet serious, the healing images on the display have proved to be delightfully mesmerizing for staff and patients alike,” Gary wrote. “Their feedback has been extraordinarily positive.” I also had two more reasons to know that all was well. Gary had founded the art program at Boynton Health Service, an clear indication of how strongly he supports arts in healthcare. Added to that is the fact that he’s also a Smooch! Project Hero. To find out exactly what that means, you’re invited to read his Hero feature.
In the meantime, I think I’ll put together another set of photos for the Boynton display. High time they had 200 new reasons to miss an elevator!
The Smooch! Project Gratitude Gathering: December 3, 2011. What an amazing evening it was. An opportunity for me to offer a simple meal to a very select and special group of people — the Smooch! Project Heroes, the 200+ volunteers who have given me so much over the past 5+ years. A small token of my appreciation for their many, many gifts to me.
Heroes have managed Smooch! shoots, helped with office tasks, provided valuable advice in their areas of expertise and more. Heroes step up to a task as needed and return to the sidelines once their job is done. More often than not, Heroes volunteer a single time, content to step back and watch the project grow from that point forward. I’m happy to say there are now literally hundreds of Smooch! Project Heroes in the world.
From within the ranks of Heroes rise an elite group of people I affectionately call The Smooch! Project Dream Team. Dreamers are Heroes — but more so. They are dedicated ongoing volunteers who share the dream of collecting 10,000 photographs from around the world. Dreamers form the inner circle of support for the project and are consulted for advice, expertise and more. They are The Smooch! Project “worker bees.” Dreamers both shape and create the future of The Smooch! Project. Throughout the year, I call on them for help. A lot. And they step up to assist. A lot.
Without the Heroes — and most especially the Dreamers — the forward momentum of The Smooch! Project would slow to a crawl. How blessed I am to have these generous, smooch-committed people in my life. And how awesome it was to treat them and their loved ones to an evening filled with good food, beautiful projected photographs, and an opportunity to meet others who also love the Smooch!
It began snowing that afternoon and never stopped the entire evening. Driving was treacherous but 43 people made it to the event. I was greatly touched by the commitment of my guests. We enjoyed hot soup, salads and breadsticks galore. Stories and laughter too. There was cake and candles and a rousing rendition of song to celebrate the recent birthdays of three Heroes in attendance that evening. We checked out the new website on a row of waiting laptops. We had fun. It felt like family. I think we were that evening. I was very pleased. Kudos to everyone for making this such a special event. Smooches too.
ARE YOU A DREAMER? THE SMOOCH! PROJECT DREAM TEAM 2012
Each December, I reach out to the current Dreamers and invite them to commit to another year of working with me on the Smooch! In January, I put out a call for new Dreamers to step up. Are you a Dreamer-in-waiting? If so, I’d love to hear from you! Please send me an email to start the discussion. I look forward to hearing from all of you interested in the possibility.
It’s time to celebrate The Smooch! Project Heroes — the generous people who have volunteered and helped move this project forward since its beginning in April 2006. I am sooooo thankful for all the assistance I’ve received over the years. I’m very happy to host a new and oh-so-smoochy annual event, appropriately named The Smooch! Project Gratitude Gathering.
ALL Heroes and a loved one are heartily invited to attend. Just like my Smooch! shoots, this event is FREE, fun, and it won’t hurt a bit. Here’s the details:
The Smooch! Project Gratitude Gathering
Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011, 5-8pm
Eddington’s Restaurant, 5125 Edina Industrial Boulevard, Edina, MN 55439
Food will be served all evening, so guests may arrive at any time, up to 7:30pm
A short welcome & presentation will be offered at 6pm
This is designed to be a heart-warming opportunity for all Smooch! Project Heroes to come together and celebrate this past year and meet other generous people who also support the Smooch! Non-Heroes and Hero-wannabes are most welcome too! There’ll be lots of wonderful food plus a projected display of all the Smooch! Archive photos so far collected for the project. Everyone who has helped move this project forward — all the Heroes — are welcome to bring a loved one to this FREE event. Additional guests are asked to contribute at the door: $10 per person, $30 per family group, children under 5 are free.
No reservations are required but RSVPs are appreciated, to help us plan for the evening. Please send your RSVP email (include the # of people in your party) to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our menu: All you Can Eat Soup, Salad & Breadsticks
Come celebrate The Smooch! Project with us! This promises to be a wonderful and warm event. I really hope to see you there.
It is our goal to create a 10,000-image archive of people from all over the world demonstrating their affection to someone they love. We do not have any big name backers or corporate sponsors (we’re working on this!) which means our source of revenue is limited to photo sales, sponsored Smooch! shoots . . . and generous people like yourself.
If you believe the work we are doing is worth accomplishing (help lift people’s hearts in challenging situations & encourage them to recognize our similarities rather than our differences), please make a tax deductible donation now. Any amount, no matter how small, would be gratefully accepted.
Thanks so much for your support. May your life be filled with heart-lifting smooches!
Last month, I went to the hospital. Specifically, I went to the Emergency Room of Children’s Hospitals And Clinics of Minnesota – Minneapolis. No, I did not have an emergency health need. I was there to collect photographs. Photos like this one:
Children’s Hospital recently purchased 22 photographs from The Smooch! Project Archive for the express purpose of installing one in every private room within their Emergency Department. I had come to the hospital to document these photos now residing in their new homes. I could not view all the rooms, of course, due to patient privacy. That day, I found eight empty rooms, all from which I collected documentary photographs.
Frankly, I cannot imagine a better place for Smooch! photographs than this. For me, this is a real-life example of how images from the archive are being put to work in the world, helping lift the hearts of people in challenging situations. My happy heart filled to the brim just seeing them there. Then, a surprising and remarkable thing happened. As I was packing up to leave, one of the ER nurses walked up to me. “Thank you for making these,” she said. “Thank you for The Smooch! Project.”
Gah! My already full heart suddenly felt like it would burst in response to that generous gesture. I caught my breath, smiled and thanked her for her kindness. But I knew how these heart-lifting photographs had come into being. I knew who truly deserved her thanks. And I knew exactly what I needed to do next: Share this story with Smooch! supporters.
I am very clear about this: The Smooch! Project and its growing collection of archive photographs would not have been possible without the help and support of the 220+ people — The Smooch! Project Heroes — who have helped me in so many ways, large and small. These are the people who deserve to be thanked for these beautiful photographs. For all you have done to help me move this project forward, that ER nurse — and I — are immensely grateful. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all so very much.
As a token of my sincere appreciation, I hope all of you will be able to attend an event to celebrate the Heroes of The Smooch! Project!
We held our very first thank you party last fall. It felt so appropriate that I decided we should try to hold one every year. Calling all Heroes (and their loved ones) — Please save this date:
November 12, 2011, 5-8pm
The Ivy Building, 2637 27th Ave. S., Suite 207, Mpls, MN 55406
This event will be FREE to all Heroes (plus a loved one). We’ll be offering everyone a hearty fall dinner of soup, salad, & breadsticks. Lots more details to come very soon. Smooches! to all!
Whew. What a trip, in more ways than one. The invite to bring The Smooch! Project to Coronado/San Diego has been such a great gift, for which I am truly grateful. Actually accomplishing this had been my primary challenge for the last few months. This was our first Smooch! Away Mission (SAM) where we would travel by airplane. Figuring out how to “fly the Smooch!” turned out to be both fun and anxiety-inducing. Was I going to rent, borrow, or bring my own equipment? I decide to use my own, but what was the best way to get it there? You’ll see my solution in the photo below:
This is Martha Delaney, Super Smooch! Supporter with greatly relieved me just moments after we landed in the San Diego airport. The photographer is her mother, Martha Lepore (more about both of these remarkable women below). Between us is literally the Smooch!-on-the-move: Two heavy-duty cases holding all the necessary electronics (strobe lights, laptops, and more) plus a huge black duffel bag holding everything from light stands, power cords to my personal items. The cases were checked as luggage and could not exceed 50lbs each. The oversized duffle bag would not be accepted if it weighed more than 100lbs. I was very, very close to being overweight on all three pieces and had worried for days that I had exceeded the airline limits. As you can see, the baggage made it, along with with us. No mishaps or challenges to overcome so far. The San Diego SAM was off to a great start.
This smoochy adventure would never have come about without the amazing support of both Martha Mom (MM) and Martha Kid (MK). Mother and daughter worked together to set up the trip, taking care of all the travel and accommodation details. MK accompanied me to Coronado/San Diego, where I am now very comfortably staying with MM. I am so very lucky!
MM is a highly energetic retired marketing pro who continues to work tirelessly to help the Smooch! make a big splash while here. I arrived four days ago. Three days ago, I gave a presentation to the local Optimists Club. Two days, I was taped live on a local TV station. Yesterday, we went to the Coronado Public Library to set up the equipment. Today we hold the 106th Smooch! shoot there. All organized by MM. Early next week, MK has offered to be my San Diego tour guide, as we check out some of the amazing attractions that entice millions of people to visit this area every year. On Wed, MK & I will return to Minnesota.
I’m just over half way through the Coronado/San Diego SAM, which has literally been a dream come true. My newest wish: More Marthas for future Smooch! SAMs! These two women made this trip both fun & easy, really setting a high benchmark for all upcoming smoochy trips. As I’ve already said, I am exceedingly grateful to both Marthas. I have no idea what the future holds for Smooch! Project trips but if they are anything like my Coronado experience, I am gonna be one spoiled photographer!
I’ll be frank: My life seems to be turning into something pretty darn incredible. Sure, I’m as broke as the rest of you but, from a gifts-from-the-universe viewpoint, I am so wealthy it simply takes my breath away. By way of example, let me tell you about one of the more amazing miracles in my life:
This is Dawn Mikkelson (along with hidden-at-the-moment shoot assistant Heidi Tugseth). Obviously Dawn’s a filmmaker. Actually, she’s an AWESOME filmmaker. (I’ve even got the footage to prove it — Just check out the links below.) I took the pics in this blog entry during one of her recent film events.
Here’s the miracle: Dawn’s decided her next documentary film effort will feature The Smooch! Project. This is a big hairy deal! Her new film is most appropriately entitled SMOOCH The Documentary. It’s about the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. If you haven’t seen the trailer for the film, you really should, IMHO. This film is going to be incredible.
There’s a secondary benefit to the miracle of SMOOCH. Dawn is collecting stories on the topic of forgiveness from people like you and me. Most of this footage will appear on her website. Some of it is destined to appear in the film itself. I’ve seen some of the stories collected so far. They’re poignant testimonies to the truly resilient capacity of the human heart. Here’s an amazing example collected at the shoot where I took these pics. Follow this link and you’ll also be able to check out a variety of videos relating to the film.
Got an opinion about forgiveness to share? We’re holding a joint Smooch! Shoot & SMOOCH Forgiveness Filming at Midtown Global Market on July 23 & 24. See the Smooch! calendar at the right for details. Come on down and Smooch! or SMOOCH. You can even do BOTH if you’d like. You’re invited to participate. Just like Brother Love, below. (Don’t ya just love the name?)
The world sure need hugs & kisses — mostly love. Your project brings it all to life.