Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery – Jordan Bush Photography

Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery by Jordan Bush Photography.

Photographing at Arlington National Cemetery has been high on my list of things to do for a number of years. My close friends (and second photographer) Matt and Sarah Jordan lived in Arlington and last year we headed there bright and early on Memorial Day. I was particularly anxious for two reasons. For one, it brought back a flood of memories of my Grandpa who served in the US Navy from 1942-1962. I wore his watch that day, a 1963 Hamilton Storm King VII, given to him by his sister who worked at Hamilton in Lancaster, PA. Most of all, though, I was hoping to find the site of another close friend’s friend, to photograph it and bring back printed photographs for him.

Early that morning, President Obama’s motorcade was en route to the park, breaking the silence of an otherwise somber atmosphere. I was struck by the scale of it all, asking myself what the stories of all of these men and women might be. Among those, there were many unknown graves throughout the cemetery and a few where trees had grown up around the headstone, as if making it somehow all the more permanent. It was harrowing. What would these fallen soldiers think of the country we live in today? What they gave the rest of their lives for, and potentially the generations that were lost with them? Confederate soldiers joined those ranks, and from my northern perspective once touched deeply living in the south, I was moved by the inclusion of a brother who fought for his country, too. Not everyone in the park died in action but all gave their lives to serve. Endless views serve as reminders of the price our country has paid for so many freedoms, of speech, of religion, assembly, the right to vote for our leaders… Empty plots show the losses still to come.

As we walked through Arlington National Cemetery that morning, we saw a Vietnam veteran sitting against a headstone looking at another. I really wanted to photograph this man which I did so from afar, but wanted more. We approached the area he was in and he directly requested a photograph of him with his camera, which to my surprise was 35mm film. I put my 35mm camera down to meter with my DSLR, dialing the settings in on his to be certain it turned out. He flew Israel where he now lives to spend time with his Sergeant, something he said is an annual event. He mentioned his Sergeant was from Pennsylvania, and of all places in the world, he, too, was from Lancaster. I wonder if Sergeant Joseph Eugene Jackson’s family knows the story of this man who comes to the United States every year to visit him. My own curiosity grew and, to my amazement, this is what I found:

Joseph Eugene Jackson (June 23, 1938 to January 27, 1966) was from Lancaster, PA. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, serving as a rifleman with 3rd Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, B Company. As a young man, Joseph was in a Lancaster, PA, based quartet, “The Hambones.” Their name is derived from the style of singing and the rhythm kept with clapping, which you can watch here from Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour on May 29, 1954 (the web host has since been discontinued, I have been unable to find another source. If you have better luck, please add the link to the comments below).

His obituary found in a Special to The Philadelphia Inquirer on January 29, 1966:
“LANCASTER, Pa., January 28.- Marine Sgt. Joseph Jackson, who three months ago publicly appealed to Lancaster area residents for bandages and medical supplies for Vietnamese civilians, was killed Thursday in the Chu Lai area when he was struck by a mortar shell.
His mother, Mrs. Eric Stewart, of 523 Woodward st., was notified officially Thursday by the Defense Department of Sgt. Jackson’s death. A graduate of McCaskey High School, Sgt. Jackson enlisted in 1957. His body will be brought to the United States for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.”

Years ago, I found a memorial page to one of the destroyers my Grandpa served on during his service, the U.S.S. Kenneth D. Bailey. I left a post and was too overwhelmed by the responses of his ship mates to know how to reply. There are many who don’t have grandchildren to remember their legacy and a price paid most of us cannot begin to imagine. This Memorial Day, I encourage you all to remember with me.

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Some of the many contributions you've provided for the photography program with Rafiki Africa Foundation's school in Kenya.

Staying the Course – Part Three

I was trying to not make this a thing, but when friends who work at your favorite coffee shop are even getting concerned and ask questions… Yes, I realize that 147 mostly Christian students were killed in Kenya yesterday. Yes, it breaks my heart. Yes, I am concerned, it will make travel more difficult, and yes I’m still going. No, the shooting is not that close to where I’ll be.

When you know you can help others in a way few are in a position to follow, there’s a sense of responsibility to go. I’ve heard many war photographers say the same even after near death experiences. That’s another level but the principle is the same. The camera is really incidental, though it is my contribution to go do work that can help others. If I were a farmer, I’d be doing a different kind of work to give back.

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Some of the many contributions you’ve provided for the photography program with Rafiki Africa Foundation’s school in Kenya.

When I started photographing full time, much of the reason was because I wanted to be able to use my work to help others without needing to ask permission from a boss or use vacation time. The goal, and it’s worked (ish) so far, was to use the day to day work from the business to support international and domestic photojournalism for advocacy. It’s been far more difficult than I ever imagined, especially in a watered down market. But I feel I’ve been given a gift, and while it is mine to grow and nurture, it is a gift none the less. I feel it would be selfish for me to not use that for good, and I have the liberty to make that choice. That principle is remains foundational as to why I am building JBP.

I generally knew it would be beyond difficult and paradoxically rewarding, both going on this trip and starting out on my own. But it also put the tools in my hand, as well as the time and flexibility, to use what I have regularly to intentionally to help people. It’s not about money, though that’s an important tool. It’s not about doing something that looks glamorous. The resources invested to do this type of work locally and beyond greatly outweighs the apparent (false) romanticism of going somewhere far away.

Many people have reached out in support to us as we start a photography program in with Rafiki Africa’s LightHouse Academy in Kenya. I never expect anyone to step up but many have, contributing computers to cameras, books to memory cards, funds for classroom supplies, a lot has come in. There are a few people in my life that I have known who have always been there in support, and one of whom was Daniel Mast. He was absolutely unfailing in that regard, it wasn’t even a question for him. He knew what it took. He always gave where he could. I haven’t talked about it much online but there’s still not a day that goes by when I don’t think of him. And it’s not really easier, just less crippling. Every hard day with a camera, or not, I still wish I could talk with him. He was dedicated to his family, but if he could, he’d be out here doing the same thing.

When Daniel passed away two years ago next month, a big question remained as to how to continue his legacy. In raising donations for the school program his wife, Rebecca Mast, called me without having settled on anything. As she talked, she decided one of the best ways to honor his legacy is to send one of his cameras along to Kenya to help build the program. I initially protested but soon realized it wasn’t up to me, though it also has to be challenging for her in ways I can’t understand. His camera alone will be like having a super car in a village that needs a moped, but it lays an incredible foundation for this program to grow, for these students to have a real shot. I am humbled that I get to carry his personal camera to an area where so many have never even held a phone. It won’t hit me until we’re there, until I see a student using it hopefully one day to report on issues in Kenya as a photojournalist. That camera earned a living for the Mast family, and now it can continue that now in a place with very few options for work. He is still making a difference. The need is still there. Evil will always continue, so must we to fight it incessantly with transparency and love.

I leave for Kenya on Sunday. Today is Friday, April 3rd. To all those who have contributed to this ambitious but amazing journey, I can’t thank you enough and look forward to bringing back stories of how those contributions have planted a seed in Kenya. Thank you.


Building a Photography Curriculum in Kenya with Rafiki Africa – Part One

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Teaching Photography in Kenya
About a year ago, Dorothy and Roger of Rafiki Africa Foundation invited me to have a rather serious but exciting discussion with them. The conversation wasn’t new, but it was now formal: “What would it take to start a photography program for students in Alendu, Kenya, and can you help us?”

It’s ambitious for sure, as it needs to be, teaching digital photography in a community without electricity, internet, and barren of computers. Grasping that scenario alone is difficult. In the U.S., we’re inundated with technology. How many old iPods, iPads, cameras, and computers are lying around your house right now, or in a drawer or box because they are a few years old? We rely on our tech devices heavily, an aspect of life unknown to this community. To make this program manageable and to begin overcoming challenges, we plan to start with two or three students with an eventual goal to offer a certificate program to many others. The students will be given opportunities to learn photography basics and photograph for Rafiki’s academy before offering paid services to the community.

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Creating Opportunities and Jobs for Students
Kenya’s education system includes 8 years of primary schooling, 4 years of secondary high school, and 4 years of college (none of which are free, if even available). Rafiki’s LightHouse Academy is a private school offering K-8th grade programs on site, making education available to students through child sponsorship and the proceeds of Rafiki’s Deli at Lancaster Central Market. Families who can afford a very nominal fee for their children are charged simply to place value on education.

A significant challenge in this system is that, after completing 8th grade, the majority of students can’t afford to go to high school, let alone college. That’s also assuming their academic path has overcome of preventable social disparities such poverty, HIV/AIDS, family loss, malaria, malnutrition, teen pregnancy… A technical program can teach them real world skills to provide a living. Skills such as tailoring, jewelry making, sewing together washable women’s sanitary pads (CVS isn’t a thing), and soon photography, will open up doors to help keep these children off the streets. Many young girls and women in the surrounding areas have little options beyond marriage in a historically polygamist culture, while many turn to prostitution. Education is truly life changing.

Immediate Needs to Source (as many as possible) by April 1, 2015
-Portable White Erase Board and markers
-Relevant Photo Textbooks
-Digital Cameras (anything working is great, DSLR bodies, trying to maintain a single brand for simplicity is wise but probably unrealistic)
-Memory Cards + Reader
-Apple Notebook Computers, Potentially iPads
-Apple MagSafe Charger(s)
-USB Powered Hard Drives
-Solar Panels

-Help developing the foundational curriculum, from objectives to pace and cultural considerations.

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How You Can Help
I’ve had a couple of donations of older technology that is in great shape but simply laying around unused because they are “outdated.” One MacBook has been donated, I picked up a new battery for it but no MagSafe charger, and another MacBook is the way. I have robbed my bookshelf to start a photography collection at the school, while adding a few culturally sensitive magazines to help illustrate visuals in place of projectors & screens. The Academy has a solar panel used for one computer in their administrative office, largely for accounting. I’ll have my Goal Zero solar panels, Nikon photography equipment, and MacBook Air for temporary use on the trip.

I don’t expect to get everything together immediately, especially to scale, but if anyone has any connections at schools, with an author, tech company, grant opportunities that may be of aid, or old devices laying around, anything would be appreciated. Logistically, desktop computers are too big, and the machines need to be in good working order for them to be worth the weight in shipping them 8,000 miles across the Atlantic ocean and two continents. But resources will be needed to help the students continue learning and for facilitators on the ground to continue developing their skills.

Thank you all for your support and interest in this opportunity to empower those who can truly benefit from this work. Part two of this conversation will be posted on Tuesday, discussing what photography in Kenya looks like, more about my role, and I dish on my personal thoughts. Feel free to ask in the comments below or contact me directly.

Rafiki Africa Foundation Jordan Bush Photography_4If you’re interested in learning more about the individuals of Alendu, Kenya, and Rafiki’s work there, check out my feature article from Fine Living Lancaster here.

Being a Friend to Kenya Jordan Bush

As the photography project has come to life in Kenya, check out Building a Photography Program in Kenya – Part Two.

Part Three – Staying the Course.

Part Four – The Journey Begins.

Part Five – Teaching Photography in Kenya, The First Week: The African Experience

Part Six – Teaching Photography in Kenya – Meet Violet

Part Seven – Living a Legacy: Daniel Mast & the Rafiki Africa Photography Program

Part Eight – A New Instructor Goes to Kenya! Meet Elina!

Part Nine – Visiting Benta’s Home with the Photography Students in Kenya – Coming Soon!