The Hungry Eye
with Mike Deal
09/4/2014 3:33 PM
A few weeks ago I met with and photographed Colin Vandenberg, who had just finished challenging himself to eating only about $1 worth of food each day for a month. The effort arose from his trip to Malawi, a country in Africa, and his volunteer work for New Life Centre documenting life there.
I briefly talked to him about some of the challenges he experienced there and back at home during his month-long food awareness challenge.
When you were overseas helping New Life Centre as a photographer shooting photo stories, was there a point at which you felt that what you were doing was really going to make a difference?
"I always hope and I felt strongly about my role as a witness. Someone who might be able to amplify the voices of individuals whose stories aren't necessarily known by others. It's always my hope that it's enough to be a witness, to share those stories. It is always my hope that that would result in further action from other people who might hear those stories."
"With this trip to Malawi there was a strong sense that it wasn't enough to only be a witness, that it was important to also have a response, my own personal response. Beyond just being a photographer telling stories. I wanted to take part in a positive way in those stories."
My understanding is that you have challenged yourself to live off of the same amount food that the people you visited live off of.
"Well I think it would be impossible to replicate experience of hunger that the Malawians go through on a daily basis. I chose, ultimately it's an arbitrary number, I think Malawians earn on average 85 cents per day, but what that money has to go towards is other things as well. They might also have access to crops that don't cost them any money. So, it's hard to say, ‘OK, this is me only eating a dollar worth of food a day is the same as a Malawian living on 85 cents in their context.' So, I knew it would be impossible to replicate it, but the idea was more to take some time to think about my relationship to food and to approach food not just primarily as a source of pleasure, which I think we do a lot in more affluent societies. Food is pleasure, food is something that we enjoy eating and we stop when we are full or when we are concerned about our body image or health. Whereas for Malawians, food is nourishment and survival, and they stop when they run out of food more often than when they are fully satisfied."
When you were over there what was the hardest part about being a witness?
"I had a moment the first time that I came into the children's ward in the hospital where I was photographing. An infant who had been at the point of starvation and there was a question on whether or not the child would survive. I feel strongly that in my role as a photographer, in any role that is trying to make a positive change, it's important for it not to become about your own emotional experience of what you are seeing. It's important that you play a part and to put that person before you, and so I had this kind of initial reaction internally of feeling really heartbroken seeing this child and not knowing if they would live for the next few days. I had to check that emotion right away and kind of put it aside. It was something that I was able to reflect on later in private and not feel like it was compromising what my position there was.
"Those initial moments when you are startled by something and the impact of it is deeply moving, but feeling strongly that it shouldn't become about me feeling deeply moved by this child who could potentially die. It still has to be about the child and what the child needs in that moment and what I could possibly offer them. Which in this case was to tell their story in the hope that that would effect change."
What was the hardest part for you during this challenge, knowing that what you experienced overseas... and back here, having to deal with your hunger?
"There were definitely difficult moments, but I think that all of those difficult moments were tempered by the awareness that I'm still experiencing something so minute compared to what Malawians are experiencing. I was limiting my food intake, but I wasn't experiencing the psychological impact of being afraid that I wouldn't have food the next day, or that I would have to choose whether I could feed my children that day or not. I had moments where I felt my stress levels were higher and I knew that part of why they were higher was because I was hungry. So, dealing with day-to-day stuff could be harder, and fatigue, in certain moments. So those moments come up, but immediately my mind goes to, ‘OK, and yet I'm not experiencing this to the extent that the majority of the world experiences this.'"
I'm sure that while you were over there it wasn't all doom and gloom and sadness. I'm sure that there was happiness there. Most people make the best of their situation. Was there anything in particular that you experienced living with them?
"I spent a few days in a small, rural village and my friend there was my host and he is a few years younger that me, just a very gentle, kind, soft-hearted person. I was always moved, every time we sat down for a meal, he would say a very brief prayer and the sincerity with which he prayed these words, he would say, ‘Dear God, we thank you for this food.' and it didn't go much beyond that, but just the impact of those words, the gratitude that he was expressing for something that for them is seen as so essential and not always available. I think that had a strong impact and I felt very moved by that kind of courage to appreciate so little and yet the recognition that it had been provided whatever it was that they did have. They didn't take if for granted. That was definitely one of the big things."
07/25/2014 8:08 PM
On a recent Sunday, Kimberley-Anne Johnson (a.k.a. The Crazy Spider Lady) was standing behind the table of her booth at the Manitoba Reptile Breeders Expo holding out a tarantula that filled the palm of her hand while a five-year-old girl tentatively stroked its furry back. I have to admit it made my skin crawl a little.
There were plenty of geckos and snakes on display, but the non-reptile spiders are what really make me want to run screaming from the room. So, I just had to go and talk to Johnson to find out what it was that made her crazy for spiders.
How did this all start?
"My husband and I walked into River City Reptiles, when they were still up and running. He asked me if I wanted a snake and I said, 'Are you crazy?' So, he said, 'How about a tarantula?' and I said, 'Well, OK.'
I'm an avid animal lover. I wanted a ferret, I wanted a parrot and I had a Rottweiler; I still do. We were driving home and my husband says to me, 'I will make you a deal, as long as you don't have any other pets aside from your dog you can have as many spiders as you want.'
It's eight years later and I have 160. We have found that it's my passion."
If you could give a piece of advice to a large group of people what would it be?
"Live life to the fullest. I've battled cancer three or four times. Most of my insides are gone and I've come to the realization that you have to live each day for its day. You can't worry about tomorrow or you can't worry about yesterday, you have to live in the moment and just grasp life and live it."
What is the best or most amazing feature that people might not know about tarantulas?
"They all have their own personalities. Some are really skittish, some are like rocks, but you have some you take out and you hold them and when you go to put them back, they don't want to go back. They would rather be sitting on you just chilling.
A lot of tarantulas are what you call ‘hair flickers' and they will take their back legs and rub them on their body to send out hairs. If the hairs get in your eyes you could be blinded. If you breath the hairs in you could have respiratory problems for the rest of your life. If you get bit and you are allergic to bees or wasps then have an EpiPen handy....
"Whenever I get a spider I learn as much as I possibly can about it. My husband is always telling me I should go to university... If somebody goes to a pet store and has questions about spiders, they usually send them to me. I have the largest collection in Winnipeg. I have the only true Goliath Bird Eater in Manitoba and I'm not tooting my own horn, I've been told this by everybody, I'm the most knowledgeable person there is to talk to about spiders or tarantulas."
So the hairs can be dangerous. Have you ever had a situation where...
"At the last expo, I was leaning over my Goliath tank to decide whether or not I was going to bring her. She decided that she would send up this big poof of hair that got me all over the bottom of my face. The best way I can describe it feeling like is taking your face and dipping it in pink insulation."
The experience of owning these spiders must have given you an opportunity to meet really interesting people.
"I've met interesting people, but honestly the biggest downside of it is that a lot of people misunderstand tarantulas. A lot of people are scared of them. That's the biggest thing, people are too scared to get over their fear of spiders. When I first got into them, I was petrified of them. I just fed them in their tank and watched them. Then I started to handle them and my fear lessened every day.
"The thing that I like the most about it is when you have families at the expo and you have little two or three year old kids and the kids are willing to hold the spiders. That is so awesome, because then they are not growing up with that fear."
06/3/2014 12:41 AM
A couple weeks ago I was sent to go and take photos of someone who dresses up as Spider-Man, Iron Man and Elmo for birthday parties. I wasn't sure what to expect from the person behind the mask and I honestly wasn't expecting to meet someone with so much passion for the job.
I met Gregory Marrast at the Cube in Old Market Square and every time he changed into a new costume he became the character. As Spider-Man he didn't walk: he crouched on the ground, jumped up onto a picnic table, then leapt back to the ground. All the while strutting and making witty comments. He probably had his photo taken with a half dozen people before we were finished with the Spidey costume.
By the time we got to the final costume, Elmo, I was convinced this guy could play any character. Elmo was the icing on the cake though: this time, he changed his voice as well as his body language. I couldn't keep from smiling and I wasn't the only one. People in passing cars were honking their horns and shouting, "I love you Elmo!"
After he changed back into his street clothes I asked Gregory if I could have a little chat with him.
What is your greatest struggle right now?
Right now, as an actor, I think it's finding opportunities in this city. Just because Winnipeg is such a hard place to break through in terms of actually becoming a success. I have a bachelors of arts in theatre and film at the University of Winnipeg, but so far the most jobs that has gotten me is a job at a shoe store downtown.
It's kind of a struggle, opportunities come and go, you have to audition a lot. You've got to put yourself out there, but what I have found with what I am doing right now, is that I'm kind of creating opportunities for myself.
What about doing this makes you happy?
I just like seeing that smile on kids' faces and it doesn't matter what I'm doing, whether I'm Spider-Man or another superhero or I'm Michael Jackson, I'm just coming up to them and smiling at them or giving them a sticker or just taking a picture with them, I'm making their day. I like seeing that sense of joy and passion in kids' hearts when they see someone that they admire. I never got that opportunity when I was younger.
Do you have a story of a particular moment while doing this that you remember that has stuck with you?
One birthday party I did, I was in my Spider-Man costume, and a little girl had fallen off a slide and she was hurt and crying. I was just like, "Oh no! Spider-Man is going to fix this!" I ran into the house and the mom handed me a Spider-Man ice pack and I ran to her. I put the ice pack on her head and I said, "It's ok, Spider-Man's got you." She looked up at me and said, "Thank you Spider-Man, you saved me." That kind of stuck with me more than anything else I've done, just because that little girl just really believed with all her heart that I was the hero that I was presenting myself to be. Even though I'm just a guy in a costume. I honestly felt like a superhero in that moment, just because I had saved her in that instance.
Have you ever gotten to that point where it is the complete opposite, you're like "OMG! What am I doing?"
Where I have doubts about this? No. I've never had a doubt about doing this. Acting and theatre, I've always just known it's a passion of mine and I've never wanted to not do it.
05/12/2014 4:28 PM
On Sunday afternoon there was a great gathering of community on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature. A rally to raise awareness about the nearly 300 abducted schoolgirls in Nigeria.
Many of the people gathered were dressed in red to show solidarity, but off to the side was a man dressed in the most amazing suit I had ever seen. It was a beautiful lavender colour.
After introductions Daswell McLeod said that he had a red suit, but thought it might be too much.
I asked him if he had any advice he could give.
"Let us come together and work together and be as one."
Has there ever been a situation where you felt that getting people together, getting the word out, and it wasn't happening?
"Yes, there are times when we get together and we want to get the word out, but it never materialized. I think it's time for us to really push hard. That an event like this, get out there and people pay attention. All of us, all of us as citizens, all of us that love this beautiful country of Canada can get together and help our fellow human beings around the world. That's what we are here for as a people."
What might your greatest struggle be right now?
"What I struggle with is the injustice, it's the unfairness that I see, even to some degree creeping into our country. I think we need to understand that people are people and everyone of us needs help. We can be selfish in what we have, we need to help each other."
Have you ever been in a situation where you couldn't help others?
"I have never been in a situation where I couldn't help anybody. In terms of money, I don't have a lot of that... but I've given my time, my energy, my input, I'm always there ready to do that. I have done that in the past, over and over again."
About Mike Deal
After freelancing for the Winnipeg Free Press for three years, starting in 1997, Mike Deal landed a part-time job as a night photodesk editor.
His first day in the new position was supposed to be September 12, 2001. But when he woke to the news of the two towers on September 11, he automatically headed into the newsroom.
For the next few years, he split his hours at the Winnipeg Free Press between photo editing and photography. In 2008, Mike was hired full-time as a photojournalist.
Mike’s training includes a journalism diploma from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. He also spent time at the University of Manitoba, working at the Manitoban and the U of M photo club and taking fine art courses.
Having also just finished shooting a personal project that involved taking 2,013 portraits using just his iPhone in the year 2013, he looks forward to taking the portrait project concept to another level. He will NOT be shooting 2,014 in 2014! Don't be surprised if he stops you in the street and demands a moment of your time. You have been warned!
Another personal passion of his is street photography, capturing the people of Winnipeg amongst the beautiful architecture of its downtown.
In his off-hours Mike enjoys taking photos with his iPhone, walks in Assiniboine Forest, and spending his free time with his partner Ariel and daughter Anna.
"I go to the street for the education of my eye and for the sustenance that the eye needs - the hungry eye, and my eye is hungry." -Walker Evans
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