All photos and text are property of Dave Forney and may not be used without express permission.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Airplanes

I promised you I wouldn't get so deep this time, so I'll just show you a few simple airplane pictures.  These first two shots capture one of our Cessna Grand Caravans taking off and landing on a village strip.



Wherever the strip is in close proximity to a village, there will almost always be a crowd of people surrounding the aircraft after arrival--especially children.  Airplanes are fascinating!


Here's a shot of Lima Delta Romeo (LDR) touching down on our home field at Kajjansi.  Notice how the the dust curls out and around behind the aircraft.  Cool hugh?


When I flew in East Kal we dealt with very short, slippery, soft, muddy strips.  The challenge there was to fly an extremely precise approach and pinpoint touchdown and at a specific airspeed (translating to a specific ground speed) so that you could land AND stop without running off the end of the little patch of grass they called an airstrip.  Here, the challenges are a bit different.  Most of the strips here are considerably longer, and comprised of nice, hard gravel.  That makes the landing and rollout more comfortable, so the concern isn't as much that you're going to run off the end, but rather that you might bang up the prop and aircraft from all the flying gravel.  And it isn't even dry season yet!


Besides the Caravans and Grand Caravans, we also have two Cessna 206's.  Here's a shot of one of them taking off in Kajjansi.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

East African Eyes

OK, here's something you might not have known about me.  I love eyes.  That may sound a bit weird, but for as long as I can remember I've always liked eyes.  And not just peoples' eyes either.  We had a beautiful purebred Siberian Husky, when we lived in Alaska.  He had the most captivating, light blue eyes you've ever seen!  Our pet python in Indonesia (all of our pet pythons actually--yes, we had quite a few over the years) had very intense, crystal-clear, sinister eyes.  Have you ever looked into the eyes of a tiger, or jaguar?  It's like they can see inside you!  Well, either that or they're just sizing you up for a meal.  Haha.  I've taken a lot of very closeup macro shots of dragonflies and other insects over the years--their eyes are amazing!  In the case of spiders, all of their eyes are amazing!  

But it's peoples' eyes that are most interesting to me.  I'm sure you've all seen the very famous National Geographic cover photo, by Steve McCurry of the Afghan girl with the striking green eyes?  That's become one of their most famous and well-recognized photos of all time, and it's no wonder why.  Those eyes are absolutely captivating, and they're frozen in time by that image.  People are left to imagine--to fill in the blanks.  (Well, not anymore, since Nat Geo tracked the girl down and did that for you.  But you know what I mean.)  With a photo like that you can see the image over and over and over, and even years later it still pulls you in like it did the first time.  Why?  Because there's so much that's revealed in and by a persons eyes.   And yet, behind the beautiful catchlight lurks mystery, and intrigue, and untold stories.  A photo that captures a person's eyes, captures all of that intrigue and mystery, but doesn't actually reveal it outright.  You, the viewer, are compelled to imagine what the real story is behind the eyes.


As a photographer, I'm always looking for those striking eyes, and I love nothing better than to capture them in super, sharp focus.  But as a believer and follower of Jesus, it is the person behind those eyes that interests me most.  Each pair of eyes represents a unique and special person, created by God, in His image.  And He desperately loves each one.  No matter their skin color, social or economic status, family name, tribe, country or the myriad stories that are hidden (from our view) behind those eyes--the owner of each pair of eyes is not a mystery to Him--to the One who created them.  He loves each and every one equally, and desires nothing more than to have a personal relationship with them.  Perhaps that's what so intrigues me about peoples' eyes--they're like a shadowy window into someones soul.  And a soul is eternal, and I care a lot about where they spend that eternity!  I want each one to know the peace and joy that surprises all understanding--to know and accept the love of the One who created them, and sent his one and only son, Jesus to die for them.  No matter what stories are hidden behind the eyes, the story of Jesus is radical enough to overwhelm and change them all... forever!

So this is a post about the eyes of some of the East Africans whom I've met over here in the past few months.  I'd love to hear what you think in the comments.  Like everywhere else I've lived in the world, I find the people here to have very captivating eyes.

One day a Karamojang family was standing off to the side, watching the airplane.  I had my camera out and gestured to it and to them (they don't speak English) if I could take a picture.  They were happy to oblige (photo above).  They didn't pose or move or do anything different than what they were already doing.  (Well, I think the kid in the black shirt crossed his arms to try and look tougher, but the rest of them--especially the three on the left--never twitched.)  That's exactly how they were standing, and I just had to get the camera settings I wanted and snap the picture.  With the shadows created from the very bright African sun and their dark skin, it's a bit hard to see their eyes from a distance.  But when I was taking the photo I immediately noticed how striking their eyes were--especially the three on the left.  When I showed the picture, below, to Joy, that the first thing she mentioned--their eyes.


Here's a tighter crop of the above image.



In the above image, the guy's eyes were actually a bit hard to see because of the way the shadows fell.  But a few minutes later he had wandered over to watch what I was doing and I saw that he had the same type of captivating eyes that seem to stare into infinity, so I took another photo (below).  I really wish I could speak their language, so I could find out more about who they are.  But it would be impossible to speak all the languages in East Africa.  Fortunately, we fly people into each area who do speak the local language, so they are able to play that part.  And our part is to get them into and out of those remote places safely.  I'm glad I get to play a small role!


Earlier I mentioned catchlight.  If you haven't heard that term before, it refers to the specular highlight from a light source that's "caught" and reflected in someone's eyes.  In a photo, if there's no catchlight at all in a persons eyes, they will look dead... or psycho.  But some types of catchlight are more flattering than others.  If you take a picture with a point-and-shoot camera, while standing directly in front of the subject, and the flash goes off, you'll see a pinprick of light in the dead center of the person(s) eyes.  In my opinion that gives a very unnatural and unflattering look, like a deer in the headlights.  I much prefer naturally reflected catchlight--or at least an indirect or bounced flash if a flash (or more than one) is used at all.  

If the eyes are very sharply focused, and the shot is tight, and the light is right, you can often even see other images reflected in the eye itself.  In the shot below, on my mac at full resolution, you can actually see a clear reflection of me in the boy's eyes, as I take the picture...even though I'm probably 30 feet away.  Dark eyes like these are very good for reflecting light.  By the way, almost none of my images are posed.  Most, like the one below, were taken with a long lens where I was standing off in the distance, ready and waiting until the person turns of their own accord.  Then, in an instant I (hopefully) grab the eyes in crystal clear focus and snap the picture before the person realizes what happened.  Those are the most natural-looking images in my opinion. But you have to be careful so as not to offend people.  That's why I tend to have more pictures of kids--they tend to love having their pictures taken.  Adults, not so much.  


When taking photos here, because of how the harsh light of East Africa mixes with the nice dark skin of the people here, their eyes are often shrouded in shadow.  That only adds to the mystery.  If I had the liberty to position people better for a photo, or use reflectors or fill in flash, it might be easier.  But frankly, it also might detract from some of the realism.  I like the natural look.  But frankly, it's actually pretty tough to take pictures of adults here--they're really not all that excited about it.  You have to be respectful and careful how you go about it, as you don't want to offend someone, or worse.  This guy saw me with my camera and indicated that he would agree to have his picture taken.  Then he immediately snapped to attention like a perfectly straight statue.  I would have loved to move him somewhere else, where the lighting wouldn't be so harsh, or where the airplane wasn't distracting in the background.  But I got the distinct impression that this might be my one and only chance and I had better just take it now or never.  In some ways, the harsh light and the soldier-like pose sort of adds to it I think.  In a weird way it sort of reflects the reality of life and light out in the bush of East Africa.  Harsh and extreme, yet rigid and poised.


The younger ones, however, seem to love to have their picture taken.  At least in Northern and Eastern Uganda.  Not so much up in S. Sudan--but that's probably more b/c of the security situation up there than the kids themselves.  It's just not too kosher under the present circumstances, to be taking pictures of much at all when they're in the middle of a civil war.  So all of the pictures in this post come from Uganda.  Perhaps some day, when things cool down a bit up there in S Sudan, I'll get some shots from there as well.  This one, below, is right along the border between Uganda and S. Sudan.



I've found that a lot of people out in the villages--especially kids, but adults included--have very yellowish eyes.  I'm no doctor, but I know that's indicative of some health issues.  For most of us, the stories and struggles that are hidden (not so well hidden in some cases) behind many peoples' eyes here, would or should, at the very least bring tears to our own.  But frankly in many cases, to borrow a phrase from the movie A Few Good Men, I don't think we could handle the truth.  In our comfortable, western society, we're often sheltered from real pain and struggle.  We see it on TV but it's over there, somewhere far away in Africa, or wherever.  But not in our home.  Not our kids.  Not us.  


"Poor kids" we say to our friend over a steaming $5 cup of mocha...  Meanwhile those poor kids go without food for another day.  Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with enjoying a mocha, but I just think we're often so detached from reality, in the suffering world around us, that we're completely unaffected by it.   We have NO IDEA what it means to suffer.  We can't handle the truth.  We don't even want it.  

I think we know, deep down inside, that if we ever were truly confronted with it first hand, we would never--could never--be the same.  Never again could we be comfortable in our detached complacency!  Our lives, our entire way of life, would be forced to radically changed... and to many of us, that would be the very definition of pain and struggle.  Unfortunately, for many of us, that also makes it virtually impossible to ever grasp or achieve true joy and contentment.    


Which is perhaps why it's so convicting and contagious when you see kids smiling like this (below). 


We've only been here 5 1/2 months and we've already been humbled and challenged in so many ways, as we've seen people who have almost nothing (materially speaking) and yet who have everything!  Some of them, despite hiding stories that we could never imagine in our worst nightmares, have true joy and contentment.  And thus, they are wealthier than the richest person in the world who still seeks more.  You can see it in their eyes!  And if you don't believe me, or if you want to see the flip side of it, look into the eyes of the person who has everything (materially speaking) and yet still seeks more.  You'll see what I mean.  

When you look in a mirror, which type of eyes do you see looking back?


Next time I'll have some new airplane shots, and I'll try to keep it a bit lighter. :-)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Great News! & Red Cliffs 2

Great news!  I've passed my Ugandan commercial pilot conversion exam, and so hopefully should have a Ugandan pilots license and be up and flying again within the next two weeks.  Woohoo!  Thanks for your prayers regarding this stuff.  It's been a long process...seems like I've been non-stop studying, and taking exams, and/or waiting for exams to be ready to take, and then waiting for results, ever since we got here back in late March.  So it's really nice to finally be done with that process!  

Last week I rode along with another MAF pilot--partly so I would keep the flight stuff fresh in my mind, since I've been grounded for a while, and partly so I could take some photos of MAF in action.  I managed to get some great shots, so I'll begin sharing those next week.  First, I just wanted to finish up the Red Cliffs post, and thereby complete the posts I've done off and on since last October on our family camping trip in the National Parks of the Western U.S.


This final Red Cliffs post is centered around the evenings and mornings that we enjoyed so much.  Above, our campsite, with the dinner fire blazing and the stars beginning to come out.  Below, just outside our tent door, looking out over the desert at dusk.


During our camping trip I was the one primarily responsible for food and cooking.  At home, it's Joy.  In the wilderness it's me.  We ate a bunch of fun stuff that wasn't really healthy for us, but sure tasted good.  Hey, we were tent camping and we didn't have a sink or oven or any of the conveniences that most American campers have in their RVs.  So we had to keep it simple.  Like mountain pies--below.


Despite the admittedly mundane-looking faces in the pictures above, the mountain pies were always a big hit.  There's a wide variety of pies that you can make over the fire.  Obviously this night we were having pizza pies, below, with pepperoni and black olives.  The kids got really good at cooking them just right.  Joy and I usually didn't have to make our own, as there were always plenty of little volunteers wanting to cook another one. :-)


For dessert?  More pies--this time strawberry pies with whipped cream from a spray can.  Hey mom, it's not like I was going to make my own whipped cream out there in the middle of nowhere.  It was sure tasty!


Once the sun fully set, the stars came out and we enjoyed staring up and trying to grasp the magnitude of God's creation.  (That streak on the left is from a plane, probably departing from distant Las Vegas.)


This shot, below, was taken much later, after everyone else was already asleep in the tent.  I love sitting out and gazing up at the stars.  As beautiful as this was, it really didn't compare to the starry nights we had up in Bryce Canyon, and Yellowstone, where there's less light pollution and therefore darker nights, with more visible stars.  If you haven't already seen them you can check a few of those pictures out here: Bryce Canyon 1,  Bryce Canyon 2,  Bryce Canyon 4,  or Yellowstone 1, Yellowstone 3.

Can you spot the North Star below?


Does this help?  That's how much the earth rotated in 25 minutes of exposure.  This shot reminds me of many years ago, way back in 1993, when I spent the summer working in the Iteri village deep in jungles of the Sepik region of Papua New Guinea.  One night while I was there I did a similar exposure, but that one lasted most of the night.  The results were actually pretty striking.  Back then it was film cameras, not digital.  So there was no way to instantly check your results.  I was shooting all slides--Kodachrome 64 or 100 or 200 or 400...  I put the camera out on the grass airstrip, surrounded by jungle on all sides and a billion stars overhead.  I got everything set up just right and locked the shutter open.  Then I went to bed.  I woke up before dawn and brought it all back to the hut.  Then, I anxiously waited for over a month until I returned to the U.S. and had the slides developed so I could see the results.  I remember being pretty stoked with what I got--but frankly I have no idea where those pictures even are now.  Probably buried deep under my pile of old junk from my high school days in my parents attic. Someday I should dig them all out and scan them into digital files and share a few with you.


Anyway, back to the present...or at least last fall.  This is the scene that greated us each morning when we awoke.  Amazing hugh?  Absolutely brilliant colors--blue skies, orange-red cliffs, green scrub and trees.  The air was so clean and fresh. (This is taken from the exact opposite direction of the first picture in this post at the top.)


I was usually up in the dark, before everyone began to stir, making coffee for Joy and I, and getting hot chocolate ready for the kids.  That was especially necessary up in the northern parks like Glacier and Yellowstone, where the morning temperatures were at or below freezing, and we were absolutely freezing our buns off, being used to tropical temperatures.  But here the temperatures were "just right" so it was more about the ambiance and experience, rather than needing to warm up.

Some mornings we kept it simple, like instant oatmeal and a banana.  But often I went all out.  This morning was one of those days, and I was obviously behind schedule as it's already quite light outside.


Bacon, eggs (fried in a little bacon grease) and pancakes (again fried in a little bacon grease), smothered in butter and maple syrup, with a cup of hot chocolate on the side for the kiddos.  Like I said, healthy--maybe not.  Delicious--absolutely!


This picture pretty much sums up the entire wilderness camping experience for Joy, and for our family.  It was so refreshing and rejuvenating!  We were pretty exhausted back then, and we needed the time as a family, away from the distractions and the busyness of life and ministry, to just soak up God's creation and be together as a family and focus on Him.  It was absolutely invaluable!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Red Cliffs 1

Last fall we spent a few weeks camping in some of the epic National Parks in the U.S.  My previous post was on the Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park.  Since I'm back to that theme, I'll finish up with the last place we stayed on our camping trip--which although one of our favorites, wasn't a national park at all.  We only stayed in Zion for a day and a half, because although it was absolutely breath-taking, and I could have spent many days exploring there, it was just way too crammed with people for our liking--the campsites, the roads, the bus system--everything.  So I spent the first night studying the maps of the area and found a little spot off the beaten trail that looked promising...Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.


It was about 30 minutes to the West of Zion, so we figured we could camp there, and then drive into Zion to explore each day for a few days, and at least avoid some of the crowds while camping.  That was our plan anyway.  But once we got there we didn't see much point in leaving.  Other than a few excursions to find ice and some food supplies, we pretty much spent the majority of the next three or four days relaxing and playing in and on the red cliffs that surrounded our campsite.  If you look closely in the picture below you can see our kids scrambling up the face of that sloping rock, and the top of our green canvas shade tent sticking up from behind it.


We had the place mostly to ourselves and the kids were having a blast climbing on the rocks that were everywhere.


Again, if you look closely you can find the kids in the distance, just left of center, up near the top of the rocks.


Since the kids were so content scrambling around on the rocks near our campsite, and Joy was happily watching them while reading a book, I was able to sneak away and do some of my own exploring.  I following a stream and eventually it led to a narrow, winding canyon.  I had the camera and was taking some pictures, but decided that without a person in this photo you really don't have any perspective on the size.  So I took a cheesy self-portrait.


And then, after working myself way up high onto some cliffs surrounding the valley, and being in the cheesy-self-portrait-mood, I took another.  You can't tell from the picture, but it drops vertically a couple of hundred feet or so directly behind my feet.  I don't know why, but I like standing on the edge of things.


Mine wasn't the only cheesy portrait I took though.  Yeah, as I was scrambling back down I came across this rather large fellow, hiding under a clump of grass I was about to step on.  He gave me a loud rattle just before I made the biggest mistake of my life--or death.  I accidentally forgot to tell Joy about the rattle snake until much later, knowing that we'd of had to pack everything up right then and there and drive at least 2,000 miles north, until she was sure we were out of rattlesnake country.  Somehow, even though she's terrified of snakes and knows they are out there, it's when you actually spot one that she feels you must take action.  So I just casually mentioned later to the kids that this might be rattlesnake country, and reminded them to be vigilant, and of the places they like to hide.


I did take a few nicer shots as well.  As the late afternoon sun began to work it's magic on the landscape, it became obvious why they call the place Red Cliffs.  The colors were amazing!


Even the reflections in the puddles and pools of water were vivid.


It took me about two days to convince my kids that they should explore up the canyon with me.  Up to that point they were totally content to explore all of the rocks and boulders in the vicinity of our camp.  But finally Britt and Hannah came along with me for a walk.  They loved the stream and canyon and started working on their younger brothers and mom to join.


So on our last day there, with the help of my older two kids' prodding's, the rest of the family finally decided to come with us to explore further up the little canyon.  It was a glorious afternoon, and we had a great time!  The shot below was not posed.  I was out in front with the older kids and the camera, and every time I looked back it seemed like Joy was stopping and staring in awe at the beauty around us.   Well, either that or she was trying to make sure the twins weren't getting into too much trouble.  I just loved the way the light and shadows and colors were all working together here.  And Joy and the kids give you an idea of the size of the rocks.


We came to the spot where you have to work your way around a ledge, where there's some footsteps carved into the sandstone.  When I had been here before, the water in this deep pool was crystal clear (that's the first picture at the top of this post), but today it was cloudy.  Still, it was a beautiful place.  


We spent a few hours playing in the stream...


...and climbing on the rocks.


For being the only non-planned place we camped at, not to mention the least well-known, and least expensive, it turned out to be one of the favorites for our kids.  It was like a giant, natural playground!  Below, a sign of just how much fun the kids had! :-)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Angels Landing

Remember how a few weeks ago I did a post about Eastern Uganda where I showed some shots of some of the scenery over that way?  And I had a picture of a mountain top and said that some day I'm going to find a way to climb up there?  Well, that got me thinking about the Angels Landing trail that my two oldest boys and I climbed last year in Zion National Park in the U.S.


And since I'm actually not flying right now, as I wade through the process of trying to get a commercial pilot's license here, I figured I'd take a break from the East Africa stuff, and do another post or two on the U.S. National Park stuff that I never finished up earlier this year.  If you didn't get a chance to check out those posts, just go over to the column on the right and scroll back to October, 2013 and work your way forward.  Or go directly to the first post here, and then start working forward.

Anyway, as I already said, this one is about the Angels landing trail, which is in Zion National Park.  The photo above is a picture from the valley, looking up toward the rock fin, on the left side, that we were about to ascend.  Below is a picture of one section of the trail, where there are a series of very sharp switchbacks one right after the other.  This is probably one of the most scenic and craziest public "hiking" trails in the U.S.  I can't believe they actually let people use it still, as there's been quite a number of people that have fallen to their death on the trail.  They even have a prominent sign posting those figures part way up.   But the trail is absolutely amazing!  They carved it straight out of the solid rock back in 1926, and as you work your way up it's hard not to gape with your mouth open at the beauty of your surroundings...and the craziness of those people who decided to carve a trail to the top!


The first two thirds of the trail is a lot of fun, and pretty amazing, but frankly, it's rather benign--meaning, you'd have to not be paying attention to fall off and die (unlike the upper portion).  I mean, it's paved or cemented (with natural colors that blend into the surroundings) and wide enough to comfortably have several people walk side-by-side, or pass each other, even if it does drop off hundreds of feet sharply on one side or the other.   But then you eventually get to the point where you have to make the decision to either start out on the fin itself (below), or sit down and enjoy the "safe" view.  This is where many, or most, of the people stop and simply enjoy the view.  Even from here you can see up and down the canyon in both directions and the views are astounding!  And from here on out, things get a lot more hairy!  The trail winds it's way up to the very tippy top of that fin (below).  It might not look like much in this picture, but trust me, there are many places where one wrong foot, or one little stumble would result in certain death.  That's part of what makes it so exciting--it's an unparalleled view, that's available only to those who make the effort.   By the way, if you look closely in the picture below, you can see little people walking along the section of the fin where it dips.  That gives you a sense of the scale.


In many places the trail is barely three feet wide, and drops absolutely vertically on either or both sides--up to about 1,500' on one side and about 800' on the other.  In some places they have a chain anchored to the wall to hang on to, but it's not like a safety chain that will catch you.  It's always on the wrong side for that.  It's up to YOU to hang on to IT!  If you slip, or let go, that's all she wrote!  There were some places where you had to transverse a short lateral slope that was quite steep, and ended in a cliff, with gritty sand on the smooth rock.  Frankly, those parts were a lot more unnerving for me that the stretches like the one in the picture below, where at least your footing was sure if you kept your wits about you.


Frankly, the pictures here just don't capture it really well.  Despite what you or my wife might think, I was in fact keeping a close eye on my two boys, making sure that they were being safe and deliberate in each and every step.  So the scariest places where it would have made best photos--well I didn't get photos of that b/c I was helping them navigate.  There are a number of places where it's too tight to pass, so it becomes single file in those places.  Fortunately we had risen early and were among the first to ascend that morning, so there wasn't much pressure from behind, and no one coming back down yet as we worked our way up.  It was just a lot of fun!


At the top, the views are unbelievable!  The sky was so deep and blue and clear, and the sun was rising and painting the rocks a golden yellow in all directions.  Amazing!  It was hard to take it all in.  I love being on the top of mountains, and wish I had more chances to climb.  Some day I'd like to climb the Rwenzori Mountains along the border of Uganda and Congo.  They are the highest mountain chain in Africa, and have snow and glaciers year-around, and some crazy fauna and epic vistas (if the clouds part, which doesn't happen often).  But you're not allowed to climb them without a guide and that costs money that we don't have right now.  So that will have to wait till who knows when.


Anyway, my boys wanted to peer off the edge, but it's literally 1,500 feet straight down.  So I thought it best that they not stand directly on the edge.  Besides, if I didn't fall to my death on my own, my wife might have killed me if she'd have seen a picture of that.  So we deleted those pictures and... ha!  Just kidding.  So what we did was we laid down and just looked over the edge so we could see straight down 1,500 feet and stay perfectly safe in the process.  See, I am responsible!  It was fun to watch the little tour buses way down below, and the people down there looking up.


Here's a view looking one way down the canyon...


And here's a view looking the other way.


Well, after an hour or so on top we started making our way back down.  Sometimes going down can be worse than going up, but again my boys did great!  I don't know how many people commented on the way down about my son, Hudson, who was 9 years old at the time.  I think he made a lot of people feel bad--him with his big grin on his face, tackling the trail confidently but carefully, and many of them content to look from a distance at those last 500 meters of the fin.  Trust me, it wasn't for the faint of heart, or those afraid of heights.  It would not be a good place to have your knees start knocking together, or to freeze up, especially when there's so many people trying to go both directions, and several places where it's only single-file.  But Britton an Hudson were both rock stars.


It was a great experience for us to share together, and one that I'm sure we'll never forget!  Maybe someday my boys will be back with their own children, and tell them about how they first hiked this trail with Grandpa Dave way back in 2013.  Sheesh!  Now I feel old just thinking about it!!


On the way down we stopped to enjoy a picnic lunch along this bend in the trail.  Not a bad spot to eat lunch eh?