Hope in the Midst of Despair

Seed School (1 of 29)During my time in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, I visited the SEED school at it’s center.  Here, children ages 5-8 are given an education and some hope of escaping the life that awaits them outside.  Padlocked for safety and built of tin, the school teaches the children english, math, reading and religion.  It is most likely the best, and possibly only, meal these children get each day.  Mary and I were given an incredible welcome with the kids singing and dancing in our honor.  It was moving to see so much hope in the middle of such despair.




Think Tank Airport Helipak Review

6-21-2015 11-34-38 AMThink Tank has done it again.  They have filled a need for a lightweight, portable pack to carry the Phantom Quadcopter anywhere and everywhere.  For the past couple of years, I’ve kept my Phantom Vision Quadcopter in a Go Professional hard case.  While it was packed perfectly and safely, the case was extremely heavy and difficult to carry long distances as it only had a handle, like a suitcase without wheels.

What I wanted was a backpack for my drone so that I could take it anywhere I wanted, whether it was through the city or on the trial.  Enter the new Think Tank Airport Helipak.  This bag is almost perfect!

Featuring a lumbar support, adjustable shoulder harness and a removable padded waist belt, I can carry this bag forever without really noticing it is there.  Inside, there’s plenty of space for any Phantom model, or similar sized quadcopters, including plenty of extra batteries, remotes and other accessories. (Oh, if you’re looking around for the top quadcopters under 100 dollars – find more info there.)  There’s even room for a professional DSLR and a lens or two.  Pictured here is the bag with my drone, all the accessories, a D810 camera body and a 28-300 lens.  There’s an outside pocket for a 15″ laptop, iPad and other things.   There is also an organizer pocket for a smart phone, wallet, business cards and the like.  And, as if all that wasn’t enought, there is a side pocket for a water bottle as well as small pockets on the shoulder strap for a snack or cell phone.  The interior can be reconfigured as needed.  It is sized for either international or domestic travel. _DSC0918

As with all their bags, Think Tank put a lot of thought into this bag and truly left no stone unturned.  My only quibble is that you have to take the props off in order to stow the aircraft.  I’m sure this is to keep the bag to a reasonable size and remain within airport standards.  A quick visit to the local drone store revealed that most bags and cases require removal of the props.  They even provided rubber protective tips for the rotor threads.  The bag is water resistant and it comes with a full, waterproof cover in case you are caught in a downpour.

As a Phantom 3 owner, I’m very excited about this bag.  It is the absolute perfect solution for taking your quadcopter anywhere you want.  At only $239.75, this bag is an absolute bargain.  Use this link and get a free gift and free shipping when you purchase one.

Thank Tank Airport Helipak

Seeing Cuba: Paticia

As I’ve mentioned before, in the center of Havana lays Parque Central, an oasis of wealth and tourism that is so opposite of anything more than a block away.

Fast forward to my last day in Havana.  It’s 5 o’clock and I’m still on the prowl for opportunities to photograph the people and culture of Cuba.  Jennifer Spelman saw me in the lobby of our hotel and asked me if I’d like to meet Paticia and see her home, “She lives close by.”  About 100 feet from the hotel and kitty corner to the building is a beautiful bakery, with prices only tourists could pay.  We stopped in because “Paticia loves baked goods”.  After buying some lovely looking baked goods, Jennifer took me to a barely noticeable door right next door.   When someone unlocked it from the inside, I entered a different world.  In spite of the facade seen from the square which included the aforementioned baker and state-sponsored restaurants (again, for tourists), we found ourselves inside a shell of a building is horrible disrepair.  Beautiful marble and iron work of 100 years ago was cracked, rusted and falling apart.  We climbed the three floors up to Paticia’s apartment where a neighbor let us in to the common eating area for all the dwellings on that floor.

The Neighbor ©2015 Alan Lawrence
The Neighbor ©2015 Alan Lawrence

We knocked on Paticia’s door and was met by a wonderful woman that, despite her poverty and poor health due to a stroke two years prior, was full of spirit, spunk and, well, life.  She immediately took to me as I did to her.  She showed us photographs that one of my fellow travelers, JoAnn Rosen, had taken on a previous trip.  She was so proud of those images.  Her husband was there as well.  A gentle soul, he showed me to one of the two rockers in the room and brought in the two electric fans they had to keep me cool.

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Seeing Cuba: The Eye of the Cyclone, Part 1

On our very first night in Cuba, Mary and I struck out on our own to wonder the streets of Havana.  Little did we know what was in store.  When traveling, I love to get lost.  Getting lost allows you to photograph what happens without any planning.  It’s easy to do in Havana, but, as I later learned, pretty much all streets led back to Parque Central, the central square of Havana where our hotel was located.

Immediately, we were on sensory overload as the streets of Havana provide a feast of sights, sounds, smells… of humanity struggling to make ends meet.  Havana is a city in flux.  The condition of the buildings are somewhere between completely collapsed or getting repaired in preparation for the new economy hopefully brought on by the lifting of the U.S. embargo.  The streets are full of rubble.  Rubble from crumbling buildings, rubble from the laying of cable, water lines or other forms of infrastructure (all dug and built by hand) and rubble from simply things in ruin.  It’s a dusty place.

Sifting (Nikon D4s, 1/160sec at f/1.6, 12800 ISO, 35mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence
Sifting (Nikon D4s, 1/160sec at f/1.6, 12800 ISO, 35mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence

As we walked, we happened upon a family working together on one of these piles.  With a hand made sifter, they were going through the amassed piles of rocks and debris sifting out the sand to make huge and, obviously, heavy sandbags.  I later learned that these bags were used to fortify parts of their homes, sold on the black market to create concrete and other things, or saved for later use.  With exaggerated pantomime, I asked if I could photograph them. They welcomed me to shoot and showed us what they were doing.  As the week wore on, I was struck by how the Cuban people utilized everything they could find to create things they could use.  There is no waste in Cuba.

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Seeing Cuba: Grab a Taxi in Havana

(Sony A6000, 1/60sec at f/8, 100 ISO, 15mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence
(Sony A6000, 1/60sec at f/8, 100 ISO, 15mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence

Havana has a plethora of taxis.  Some have meters, most don’t.  The first thing you learn about taking a taxi in Cuba is to negotiate the price before getting into the cab.  It’s really hard to know when or if a cab that stops for you is actually sanctioned.  To me, it really didn’t matter as long as we were clear on the price and he could get me where I was going.  Let’s face it, I don’t look Cuban, so wherever we went, we were constantly asked if we needed a taxi.  Apparently, Cubans know Americans don’t like to walk.

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Seeing Cuba: Impressions

Where are you from? United States. America? Yes. Obama is bringing us hope and change. Very good. Would you like to take my picture? Gracias. Please, come in. Thank you. Cuba. The country that the world has forgotten. A neglected land with proud and hopeful people. A strange world where people who have virtually nothing are proud of their heritage, welcome strangers into their homes and have hope beyond reality. That’s Cuba. And coming from a place where entitlement rules the land, it was an unbelievable breath of fresh air.

(Nikon D4s, 1/40sec at 2.8, ISO 1600, 35mm) ©2015 Alan Lawrence

One of the first things you notice is people are out in the streets talking to each other. Everywhere you look, people are actually interacting with friends and strangers alike. There are no cell phones, stock markets, cable television, Game Boys, no http://www.p4rgaming.com services, laptops, iPads, iPhones, iThis or iThat. No texting each other at the dinner table. Yes, they actually talk to each other just like our grandparents did. It’s quite wonderful and liberating. It doesn’t take long to notice the lack of socio-technology and, surprisingly, appreciate the lack thereof.

Cuba takes you by surprise. It sneaks up on you. I can see how easily one can become obsessed with the Cuban people and culture. Only ninety miles from the U.S. mainland, it’s a 50-year time shift to a time where hope and a smile still mean something.

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Kasha-Kauwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Just sixty minutes from Santa Fe are the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. I got in the car and made sure I was at the entrance to the park at 7am when they were supposed to open. Well, things happen a bit slower here in the Southwest. The park rangers moseyed on in at about 7:10 and then discovered that neither had the keys to the gate. A few minutes later, ranger number three arrived with the keys and I was permitted to enter. With a tripod in one hand, a water bottle in the other and my D800 slung cross-body and hanging against my back, I began my hike on the Slot Canyon Trail. Alone, I sometimes had to squeeze through rather tight spaces as I worked my way to the fairly steep climb to the top. Along the way, I snapped a few shots (below) and began my ascent. Those of you who know me know that I am a rather avid cyclist. As I climbed the rocky trail in the 8am desert heat, already 75 degrees, I realized that I was soaking wet and breathing heavier than I would expect. It wasn’t until later that I found out that Santa Fe sits at 7000 feet above sea level. Okay, I was a bit redeemed. Anyway, here are a few shots from today.

Color Version of the Same Image as the black and white below.
Color Version of the Same Image as the black and white below.
Black and White Treatment of Slot Canyon
Black and White Treatment of Slot Canyon

Slot Canyon