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Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 02:13 pm

Exhibition: Inspired photographs of poverty and hope in Africa


Storeowner tends his shop of homemade wares at the entrance Mathare Valley.

Seen through a camera lens is a world of extremes.

Extreme poverty, disease and death. And then there’s the love, hope and courage it takes to remedy them.

These are displayed through the images of Josh Hester — Springfield photographer and videographer.

Hester’s work is on display at the Robert Morris Gallery, with an opening reception on Jan 7. The show runs until Feb 19.

“The Valley of Mathare” is a visual representation of Hester’s eight-day experience in the Mathare Valley — a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Using both photography and video footage, Hester says his intention is to represent the hope and pain that still exists in the Mathare Valley.

“I think what the show is attempting to capture is the extremes of Mathare,” Hester said. “I think what people will see is the extreme poverty, disease . . . the circumstances these people are in.” In spite of their pain, the people in the valley are full of faith, Hester added.

Hester not only works in photography, but also audio recording, documentary film and video and all are shown through his exhibit at the gallery.

The Springfield native had not yet seen much of the world and had a sense of longing to travel. Over a span of two years, Hester went through a self-reflection and began to “research opportunities.”

Through his inquiry, Hester found Bright Hope International — a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “provide for the physical, economic and spiritual needs of people living at the lowest economic level through personal, empowering, holistic, local church partnerships,” according to the mission statement on their Web site.

Josh Hester photographing the orphans of the Kariobangi Orphanage established by Bishop Daniel Ogutu of the Outreach Community Church, which houses and educates 200 children.

The organization helps Argentina, Bolivia, Cambodia, Chile, China, Haiti, India, Kenya, Peru, Philippines, Thailand, Uganda and Zambia to build education, promote health and spirituality through their various projects.

Part of what inspired Hester to help is the lack of education. Mathare Valley is the home to roughly 500,000 people. Of the total population, 300,000 are under the age of 15 and of those children and young adolescents, 296,000 are without access to education, according to Hester.

Hester volunteered his photos for the organization and was inspired upon arrival back into the U.S. to display them at the Robert Morris Gallery.

Hester said his intention for the show was to “maximize hope” and to shed light on a truth that we, as Americans, cannot always see.

“We get tunnel vision a lot here,” Hester said in regard to getting caught up in everyday life and lack of awareness. “I think for me the story in a lot of ways is tragic, but also inspiring,” he said.

“It has been a gift in that I think about my friends there often. It’s very hard for me to go through a day and not think of those people and the experience I had.”

The bigger picture for the photographer is to make a project of this scale a radical effort. “I’m not doing this alone,” he said. “Not anything of this scale ever gets anywhere without other people. Those who are brave enough to be surrounded by those who are not afraid to walk the walk,” Hester said. “There is a valuable connection here that we’re building.”

Optional donations of $5 will be accepted at the exhibit to benefit education in the slum.

Lyndsey Taylor of Springfield, a California native, won 10 statewide journalism awards while at Santa Barbara City College. Her goal is to graduate from a university in Illinois. Contact her at lyndseytaylorcreativity@gmail.com.


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