In 2013, a group of world changing photographers embarked on a life changing adventure to Kijabe, Kenya (blog post here). The photographers were the first group to take part in our co-led “Workshops With Purpose,” a workshop designed to educate and equip them in the art of non-profit storytelling. The result was an overwhelming success for the participants both in their professional and personal lives.
Once Marianne and Andrew Nicodem, Kevin Kubota and I collected our thoughts after the amazing trip, we knew that WWP was something that needed to continue, and as frequent as possible.
WWP, powered by Emote360, is set up in a manner that creates a win/win for those involved. We partner with world changing organizations on the ground who provide logistical support for the team. In turn, they receive world class photography to help better tell their story. Participants gain knowledge in the areas of photography, lighting, travel gear, the legalities of model releases/working overseas/contracts, and most importantly, time in the field with the NPO/NGO’s staff using their storytelling skills. As instructors, we’re continually inspired by the heart and passion of our students as well as those we get to help tell the stories of.
In April of this year, WWP partnered with Food For The Hungry (fh) to help tell the stories of their “Little Ones” project located in Torotoro, Bolivia. Little One’s is a program designed to encourage child nutrition and wellness and overcome high malnutrition rates in the area.
With a generous donation from our photo lab, WHCC, and amazing support from our liaison Heidi Wright and Fh coordinator Abi Valda, we set out for the country of Bolivia with an amazing group of world changers.
This trip, however, differed from past trips. Heidi had decided early on to bring her son Fraser, who has spent time in Kenya while Heidi’s husband Keith served as Fh’s President. Kevin decided as well to bring his son Nikko, who has been able to travel to a few different countries with his Mom and Dad. For the first time in my own adventures, I decided it was time to bring my 11 year old son, Parker. Heidi, Kevin and I all agree that traveling with kids and showing them the world is a wonderful way to teach by doing–and hopefully–help the kids to think about others in general.
Fast becoming tradition, Kevin and I look at these teaching opportunities as a chance to do a bit of learning and exploring ourselves. With our sons by our side (as well as a couple of dear friends from our past workshops Laura and Tina!) we started flight one of ten for WWP :: Bolivia.
Left, we learned that our airline discourages odd behavior, like hanging out in the bathroom–upside down. Right, a double exposure (D750) while we waited in Miami.
Parker loves adventure. He was born for it. He always has at least two bags packed for a potential adventure. He also loves to fly, but this was his first looooong flight. After checking all of the seats “systems” including the tray table, remote and window shade (multiple times), he settled in and was a rockstar on the flights.
Downtown LaPaz, near our hotel (iPhone).
Getting on a plane in Miami and exiting in LaPaz feels something like going from breathing through a warm wet blanket to sipping oxygen through one of those tiny coffee straws. El Alto airport in LaPaz is the de-facto highest airport in the world at over 13,000 feet. It was actually exciting for me to be back at that altitude, having not suffered it since our trip to Kilimanjaro Last year. Parker and Nikko felt the effects of the altitude when we landed, but adjusted well and were soon ready to walk the streets of LaPaz.
Left, I love birds in fight, haven’t been hit by a bomb yet… Right, one of the many beautifully textured doors of LaPaz. (Both iPhone.)
This particular market catered mostly to the locals. (iPhone)
LaPaz proper is 1000-2000 feet lower in elevation than El Alto Airport and is filled with color, life and the busyness that accompanies larger cities. With a population of about 2.3 million, it’s an epic place for a downhill cab ride.
While we spent the first day acclimating to roughly 13,000 ft, I thought it would be fun to buy some flowers in the market and hand them out to the ladies who were working. Got some smiles (iPhone)
Top, an iPhone panorama of the beautiful city of LaPaz. We rode the cable car system for a birds eye view of the city–breathtaking. Bottom row, D750 + 14-24, 70-200 2.8VR.
Left, you just never know where you’re going to find good advise these days. Right, an iPhone hip shot just to show the mommas and their rad bowler hats–I’d love to do a book just on the ladies and their fashion…
I’m a sucker for texture. (D750)
A beautiful, colorful market day in LaPaz. (iPhone)
Top, more of the market area in LaPaz. Bottom, I think there’s a short somewhere in there, should be easy to find though… (iPhone)
Parker looked and felt right at home as he walked his first international city tour. Almost immediately, Parker was struck with the number of stray dogs in the city. LaPaz is filled with them. Some run in packs, some look like they’re on their way to work, some in love, some fighting, some hurt. They were everywhere. Something clicked in Parker and he became attached. Dogs became the topic of conversation for the rest of the trip.
Admittedly, I grew a bit weary of “dogs” on the beginning of this trip. I guess, maybe sadly so, I’ve become a bit calloused to my canine friends after having children and then seeing more hurt in the world that pertained to human suffering. I had originally hoped Parker would latch on to the “people” of Bolivia, but his heart leaned toward the furry.
Toward the end of our stay in LaPaz, Parker’s canine conviction hit a bit of a confirmation or legitimacy. Kevin and Nikko flew ahead to meet the workshop attendees in Cochabamba, while Parker and I stayed back to meet up with a attendee who was coming in later than the rest of the group. We had an extra 3/4 of a day in LaPaz. Kevin had found a good vegan restaurant we wanted to try but we hadn’t located it yet. Upon walking the streets we found a woman carrying a dog. After speaking with her, we found out that not only did she own the restaurant we were looking for (which was two doors down) but she operated a small non-profit helping to find foster care for the dogs on the street that had the temperament to be in homes. The dog she was carrying had a broken leg and she was caring for it. You can imagine Parker’s excitement. We got her information and will be sharing images with her.
It was also a valuable lesson for me. Henceforth, if my child has a passion, especially one centered around helping others (furry or not) I will do all in my ability to support and encourage them–even if I have to hear the word dog 47,000 times in an hour.
I’m so very proud of my Parker.
Parker gravitated toward the canine population of LaPaz, and there were many to love. Hundreds and hundreds of stray dogs. The Woman here, Dona, has a non-profit dedicated to finding homes for many of LaPaz’s stray community. The pooch pictured here had a broken leg and was on his way to the animal hospital. Parker wants to start his own non-profit, Bark Relief :-)
Parks in the city.
Traveling with my son is one of the greatest privileges I’ve had–and I can’t wait to do it again.
It’s almost like a Lion King moment, almost…
I surprised a young couple in love with an impromptu session in an aptly titled park, ‘Love Park,” which overlooks the city.
We made a visit to the LaPaz office of Food For The Hungry. FH is an amazing organization and were were blessed to tell stories for them.
In between walk-about days in LaPaz, we visited one of the most amazing places I’ve seen–the largest salt lake on the planet at over 4,000 square miles. I will never forget sharing this time with Parker, Kevin, Nikko, Tina and Laura. A truly blessed, remarkable time to watch creation and fellowship with good people.
We made our way to the incredible Uyuni salt flats. The locals are stoked for a new road that’s going to speed up travel time and decrease anal compression. It’s a real thing. Bumpy roads and such.
Parks was always ready.
Our Uyuni guides, Toshi and Mauricio, took us to the train graveyard. At this point, we were fairly close to the Chilean border. Unfortunately, their economy collapsed in the 80’s when the tin market fell. No tin to export, no moving trains, train graveyard. Pictured, Parks and Nikko GTS’n (gettin’ the shot.)
A few more of the train graveyard (D750).
Parker found this little fella. We emptied our water bottle in a plastic bag and gave him a drink, he hardly knew what to do with it. He followed us a round for a bit, then found some shade :-). (D750 + Nikon 14-24 2.8)
A frequent pose for Parker on this trip. Taking a knee and giving loves.
A couple of iPhone grabs from Uyuni. This was a hotel we visited. Like ours, it incorporated a lot of salt in the interior design. Which came in handy if we needed an extra pinch for our dinners…
The incredible reflections of Uyuni.
iPhone panorama of Parks and Nikko taking a stroll, Uyuni.
Coming in at just over 4,000 square miles, the Salar De Uyuni is roughly 100 times larger than the Bonneville Salt Flats in the US.
Parker loved his salt flat boots and would spend quite a bit of time sloshing around and looking at his prints.
I’ve been to some pretty nice restaurants, some with very nice views. I’m going to have to call this one top of the charts. Pars and Nikko digging up some salt pre-lunch. I’ll never forget sitting here with beautiful friends.
Where did we park the Land Cruiser?
Nikko got a pair of the Storm Trooper boots. Epic. (D750 + 14-24)
The exterior of our hotel in Uyuni near the end of a long day.
iPhone captures of the amazing lodging we had while in Uyuni. Floors? Salt. Walls? Salt. Did parker lick a chair to make sure? Yep. :-)
One of our guides, Toshi, rollin’ in his Nissan. We were racing to get to the perfect place to watch a sunset.
The salt mines. This is were workers would excavate salt from the floor, load it on to trucks and haul it into town for processing. This location reminded me of a Zeppelin album cover.
Parker, Nikko and I getting some sun. Image courtesy Kevin Kubota.
Our guides were meticulous in making sure our experience in Uyuni was unforgettable. They loved traveling with photographers because we “get” the beauty they see everyday. We appreciated their knowledge, expertise and hospitality.
Parker and I enjoying our first sunset in Uyuni. Traveling with kids is a must. It’s not always convenient, but I wouldn’t trade it. Image courtesy of Kevin Kubota.
Kevin giving some insight to the padawan.
Capturing my first sunset in Uyuni. Image courtesy Kevin Kubota.
Would this sell Land Cruisers? We think so… Getting to travel and teach with my buddy Kevin is a priceless honor.
Kevin, in his element. We were all “flying in a blue dream.”
Sunsets (and trips) are often best spent with friends. In this case, Laura and Tina share a moment. Laura wanted me to clone out the phone on her butt, but I refuse.
We all found something beautiful to see.
The amazing pastel sunsets of Uyuni.
Nikko’s album cover. I promise he’s not peeing…in this one.
Flags from all over the world are hung here at this point on the flats, with the exception of a USA flag. Had we known, we would have brought one.
iPhone pano from a Uyuni sunrise.
Kevin and Nikko share the sunset. #fatherandson
The “ink blot” sunset.
Kevin grabbing some pixels.
There were times that we felt we were on the continent of Antarctica. This wasn’t one of those times, but they happened.
Not often in one place for too long, we scored a 2 hour timelapse location that allowed me to shoot the setting sun. This tiny old Poloroid tripod was amazing and got my D750 close to the waters surface. This is what insurance is for (and back-up cameras.)
Here is the (short) result of the time-lapse
Uyuni Sunset from Benjamin Edwards on Vimeo.
We found an abandoned homestead not far from our hotel, near the salt flat. Kevin found an arrowhead, Parker and I found a dead dog. #nofair
The Guanaco is a relative of the Llama. They are endangered and protected by the Bolivian government. Our friend Tina got a few shots of the Guanaco and we decided to make some Napoleon Dynamite references making sure Tina “ate her food.”
When you try to build a hotel in a sweet location, you have to make sure it’s not built on an Incan ceremonial site. #bummer.
Tina had a fun idea at the salt flat. Workshops With Purpose baby!
From the incomplete hotel.
Our guides wanted to surprise us.. “Parker, don’t be scared when you walk in.” Nah, just some skeletons in the fetal position and a gnarly old Puma hanging from the doorway. #noprob
A couple more from the abandoned homestead. (D750)
iPhone grab out of the window of the area we ate breakfast at the hotel. Not a bad place to sit and relax.
Uyuni had some pretty sweet rides. (iPhone)
Our last night on the flats we pulled over for some long exposures of the Southern hemisphere. In-credible.
Parker and I met our new friend Susan at the airport and proceeded to hook up with the rest of the team in Cochabamba for the official start of WWP :: Bolivia. We were excited to meet the rest of our students, as well as get some better sleep as the elevation in Cochabamba is lower than LaPaz.
From Uyuni, it was time to catch up with our arriving workshops students in Cochabamba. We started out with a little impromptu shooting session with the amazing Abi Valda, who works with FH in Bolivia. Abi accompanied us on the workshop and was sincerely one of the kindest souls any of us had ever met.
Classroom time! Attendees learned about working in other countries, legalities of working with NGO’s, shooting and Lightroom workflow (just to name a few.)
From Cochabamba we loaded onto one of the coolest buses in the world, and began our roughly six hour journey, mostly on a cobblestone road, to the “Jurassicesque” Torotoro, a town within a National Park that shares the same name. Torotoro is mostly known for it’s tourism–hiking, caving and dinosaur footprints that have been preserved in several locations. The team was growing a bit weary of the bus ride, but all that faded when we crested the long hill that brought us to the edge of town.
Parker’s capture of the incredible geography of ToroToro. While it takes days, then many hours on cliff hugging roads to get there, I haven’t seen many a more beautiful place than this.
iPhone panoramas on the road to Torotoro.
The town of Torotoro from up on top of the hill. Torotoro is a town that sits within the National Park that shares its name.
An iPhone pano of the view from our balcony at the hostel in Torotoro.
Doors of Torotoro.
Texture, light and beauty everywhere.
Traveling with my Phantom isn’t easy, but it gives such an increase in production value it’s hard to leave it home. It always seems to draw a crowd too.
An ariel of the town square of Torotoro. This morning was a little cloudy, so the mountains are veiled.
Torotoro enjoys a small number of tourists who come to enjoy hiking, spelunking and yes, dinosaur footprints. This is an ariel taken with the Phantom Quadcopter w/gimbal and FVP.
You’ve likely heard the saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or “one man’s pain is another man’s pleasure.” Our first night in Torotoro went something along those lines. We witnessed, what was for most of us, the most incredible thunderstorm we had seen. Lighting struck what seemed like every second, a torrential downpour of heavy rain soaked our hostels manicured garden and it went on, and on. While the power fluctuated and some washed with cold water as the “widow maker” electric shower heaters flickered, most of us sat and enjoyed the sheer power of nature. The storm passed, but it’s effects were felt for long after.
We learned the next morning that most of the farmers in the area had devastatingly lost their papaya crops in the storm, which left inches of hail in numerous places–ripping the protective leafs that shelter the papaya off the plant. Some had seen the storm coming and tried to cover their plants, but with no success. Some had been working on their crops for two years and in one evening, their financial future was taken from them.
It was an honor to be there with them on that day. A day that saw the community come together to talk about what they can do next–with and for each other. A day that saw Fh–who does a lot of agriculture work with the villagers–come along side their countrymen to help determine a course of action. We were there to help tell their story.
I’ll forever remember the farmers during a thunderstorm and remember too how my perspective on an event or moment in time might be different should I be in another’s shoes.
An amazing storm took place our first night in Torotoro. We marveled at the sheer power of it and enjoyed it’s brilliance from the safety of our hostel. In the morning, we learned that there are two sides to every story… These are a few images Parker caught of the lightning strikes. #prouddad
Parker was trampled by a dino. As he sat in the footprint, Kevin pointed out that Parker was, in fact, in a butt-hole.
FH helps the residents of Torotoro, like Dona, quite a bit with agriculture projects. Dona allowed our group to do an impromptu session with her and her “little one.” Not far from her house sat a beautiful little church, I asked if we could walk over and make a few images. It never hurts to ask :-)
Mr. Aguilar is Dona’s husband. I could have photographed him for hours, but he was tending the sheep.
Parker giving Kevin some input on possible subjects. (iPhone)
The storm that we so enjoyed the first night in Torotoro destroyed years of crops for many living in and near Torotoro.
Jose, an FH field worker, talks with this young mamma about the storm and what can be done about the damage.
A Mother and her babies…
The Little Ones program exists to extinguish child malnutrition in Torotoro. Here, a Father lovingly instructs his son on the finer points of growing limes.
“Ode to Nacho.”
Two young ladies at the Rodeo Escalon School walk down to collect water from the river.
Tree climbing is kind of a global thing.
Gerardo and Juana have been helped by FH for agriculture projects.
Gerardo and Juana, full of joy.
FH has helped farmers with live giving irrigation.
Gerardo and Juana sitting on their bed that FH helped them get.
Although a difficult morning for many of the famers in Torotoro, everyone we came in contact with was eager to tell their story and felt blessed that FH was their to assist.
Here, Laura snapped a BTS image showing how I got the shot. We photographed a couple young ladies of various heights :-). The final image on the right shows a smiley hand washer. (Nikon 14-24)
Water . Gives . Life. (and cleans faces!)
These two changed into their favorite white dresses and followed us around. How could we not have photographed them all day?
This beautiful woman was walking down the road and agreed to have a portrait taken.
Ruben and Cristina wanted a portrait of themselves. When I asked them what their favorite possession was, this is what they came up with :-)
Maria and her husband Damaceno are blessed by FH’s work in Torotoro.
I love it when people want to have a portrait taken.
Cristina, a beautiful soul. She and Ruben lost two years worth of Papaya in the storm.
Surveying the damage.
Rodeo Escalon School
Laura Yoder. One truly hip Grandma. I’m not sure we can travel without her, and thankfully, she’s said that may not be an option.
Parker receives a gift from the FH staff in Torotoro.
It hurts real bad. On the way home.
On the trip home, we had an extra day in L.A. Kevin had his friend Andy come and pick us up in his sweet Tesla and we went for a seaside breakfast as we chatted with our new friend. Nikko and Parker found whole sand dollars and we looked back upon our trip, fond of the memories, already missing our friends as we looked forward to new adventures.
Kevin, Nikko, our new friend Andy, Parker and I under the pier at Manhattan Beach.
The beautiful thing about ending a chapter of one adventure is, there’s a new one on the next page. Manhattan Beach pier, iPhone.
To say I’m proud of every single one of our participants would be an understatement.
Traveling with Marianne, Andrew, Kevin and our kids was a complete honor.
Where will WWP go next? We’ll see, but I can’t wait. Will Parker come with me again? I hope so. I can’t imagine traveling without him.
From here, we have some amazing things happening in our personal life that I can’t wait to share, but that time hasn’t come yet.
In a few short weeks, Lauren and I head to South Africa and Mozambique with Unseen to tell the stories of orphans and those who work hard to ensure their health and safety. I’m so thankful for our dear family who make it possible for Lauren and I to travel together on occasion.
Amazing weddings and portraits, exciting commercial and video work are on the horizon, but I have a renewed sense of passion and desire to make sure a good deal of my time is spent helping those who have a voice and need to be heard. What that looks like, time will tell.
Oh, and if you feel lead to help Food The Hungry and their incredible work in Bolivia, this is a great place to start.
Peace and love.