TearSheet: Seattle Met’s “The 5 Oysters You Meet in Washington”

As part of an on-going multimedia project on the Puget Sound’s ocean acidification issues and the effects it’s having on the shellfish industry, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine’s March 2016 issue published a story about Washington State’s oyster species, utilizing some of the imagery from The Ocean’s Acid. It’s a great article written by Allecia Vermillion, with interesting characters and historical background of WA’s 5 main oysters.

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The Last American Homesteaders: Pt II

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Country living is dynamic, inside the cabin and out. Things don’t appear the same as if you’re living in an urban environment. Instead of concrete or brick foundations, walls are made of not just wood, but entire logs…big logs. And instead of finding house plants and framed pictures on these wall of beautiful distant locations, you’ll find what was once living in your yard stuffed, anthropomorphized and placed inside. Once again, country living is all about being in harmony, or being one, with nature, and then taking that to a new level.

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Sand rats are friendly despite their appearance once giving a human personality

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A black bear and badger go head-to-head for a dead sand rat.

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Stepping outside you’ll spot a frozen land awaken as a river passes listlessly through the valley. Hints of pinks and oranges wash away the purples of night while geese begin to ruffle and hawks take flight. Another day in the country.

Next Post (Pt. III) –>

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Robert Carlson’s Got New Glass

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From his glass imagination, Robert Carlson has created a new series of blown artwork. These pieces are delicately sown with vaporous hues and streaked with air pockets locked in time. Closest to a vase, they are signature art forms that glow in their own empty spaces.

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All Across Africa – Women’s Cooperatives in Rwanda

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In February of this year, I joined All Across Africa in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi for an amazing two-week journey through their women’s basket weaving cooperatives, as well as sewing schools designed for young adults. It was a beautiful experience showing the strength of a non-profit empowering locals by providing proper skill set training as well as a growing community of business development. The following are images throughout Rwanda. All products can be purchased by going to www.AllAcrossAfrica.org

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Please visit www.AllAcrossAfrica.org to support the women of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi

Cameron Karsten Photography

Vodou Footprints: I Have a Fetish For You in Togo

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Stepping out of the car, there is a flurry of excitement. Not the over-zealous, exaggerated enthrallment of celebration, but one of sprinted adrenaline, like termites scurrying from an anteater’s invasion.

We emerge from our vehicle as another approaches, spitting up dust from a pair of screeching rear tires. We have just pulled into a fenced compound in the middle of a thick market district of Lome, the capital city of Togo. It is late in the afternoon and the sun is low, casting a beautiful soft orange light through a low-hanging haze that spills across the bamboo sheds. People suddenly go from lounging on benches in shadows to shouting amidst a frantic escapism. But it’s not because of us.

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Walking into Togo, one has to step out of one’s car and pass through a series of guarded gates. First stamp passports at the Beninese customs stand. They couldn’t care less who you are. Next pass through a doorway where a man checks you have been stamped. Then into another concrete bunker where you’re waved through into Togo. Follow signs, enter another building. Stand in front of two Togolese officials and hand over your passports. They’ll take them and slowly go through the process of filling out a handwritten visa; and if you stand in front of their television, with a flick of the wrist they’ll tell you to move because they’re busy watching a dubbed-over original 1950’s version of Rashomon.

Looking around the scabby office, one will notice a few framed photographs of Togo’s president, Faure Essozimna Gnassignbe. He’s a round young looking man (actually he’s 48), comfortable and content with an education from George Washington University and the Sorbonne in Paris. Next to him is an intriguing sign. My partner points it out:

If the sheep’s courtyard is dirty, it’s not for the pig to say it.

I repeat it in my head while he silently laughs under his breath. We look at each other and then back at our guide Stephano.

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When passing through the series of gates from Benin to Togo, we realized Stephano presented no papers, no identification, nothing. Entering Togo he joked with the official and slipped him a quick cash-laddened handshake. When we asked him about this he shrugged and shook his head.

“Fucking Togo. I hate these corrupt bastards.”

Our eyes lit up and we laughed slapping him on the back. “But you have no ID,” my partner said.

“No. I don’t need one.”

“What do you mean you don’t need one?”

“I didn’t bring one,” Stephano confirmed. “I don’t want these fuckers to know me.”

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We couldn’t believe it until now, until we stood affront the two absorbed Togolese officials underneath the sign that spoke the truth.

The officials charge us both ten extra dollars for our visas and without argument we hand it over. The sheep’s courtyard is definitely dirty, but the pig’s is dirtier. We’re the pigs. The government claims to be the sheep. How dare we judge them as mere citizens.

We jump in our car only to be accosted by another Togolese official, this time a soldier wielding a heavy semi-automatic rifle. Stephano puts up a fuss. The soldier is adamant and so is Stephano. They argue back and forth, the soldier’s grip firm on the trigger, Stephano glaring into his eyes. He leaves the car. Surrounding us is Togo and numerous roadside stalls. They are selling fresh meats fired on grease-stained grills. Kabobs of red encrusted chicken legs and thin slices of beef steak sizzle. Towers of glass bottles reading Jack Daniels and Crown Royal. Packets of gum and tissue. Young men walking around selling toilet paper. And the older ones seated on stools with handfuls of currency from neighboring countries. Apparently, we weren’t supposed to get in the car at that particular point along the roadway. Fines are dished out.

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An hour’s drive and we’re in Lome. Nothing special. Just another African city. We find our hotel. Check in. Leave. Pass a restaurant called Mama Tampons. And then enter the market district. Today, we come to Togo for one thing and one thing only: The Akodessewa Fetish Market.

Tables and stalls of dried animal parts. Bones, skins and pelts, organs and jars filled with more anatomical remnants of species once living; we begin to take it all in as a man says goodbye. He’s thrown into the car that sped up behind us, the one that sent the market sellers in a frenzy. He’s cuffed and guarded by two soldiers harboring those semi-automatics. Everyone is dressed in civilian clothes and as quickly as they came, they’re gone. Just another day. Just another illegal deal.

A local takes us around. I’ll call him Steve. He’s a nice man, completely welcoming and excited we’re here. This is a new feeling to us because most individuals are suspicious, albeit welcoming, but suspicious. Steve, however, expresses none of that and kindly guides us from stall to stall explaining the uses of the ingredients and their importance to Vodou culture.

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Fetish. Not the toe-sucking fetish. The spanking, pulling hair, hand-cuffed lashings of S&M fetishes in Hollywood, but the West African fetish. You mention fetish to a Ghanaian and they shriek. You say fetish to a Beninese, they smile. You say fetish to a Californian, their eyebrows lift licentiously and they begin to think. That’s what my partner first thought. That’s what I was imagining. But a fetish in Vodou is a powerful tool, a magic ingredient, and a witchdoctor’s answer to the spiritual, which allows him to communicate with the gods and deliver their healing powers.

Take for example this live hawk. It looks depressed and any bird lover would see it in his eyes. The hawk has been underneath the table, tied at its fleshy leg to the wooden leg by a thick nylon cord. There is plastic debris surrounding it, along with a filthy bowl of water. I watched one of the hawks poop in the little plastic bowl, which is meant to be their drinking source. So much for nature.

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Well this bird is a tool used by Vodou practitioners. If a client comes to a Vodou priest explaining evil spirits possesses them, the witchdoctor will consult the god specific to his/her temple and discover the necessities to treat. Out at the market, the priest will purchase the ingredients, one of them being a live hawk. And the following day with the possessed client present, the doctor will perform the rituals and as a symbol of letting go, the hawk will be released with the client’s evil spirit upon it’s back. Client healed. Exorcism complete.

This is just one version of many different possibilities. Vodou is an open book and anything is available. At the fetish market, young boys run around showing us whale vertebrae bones, live baby crocodiles in yellow plastic jerry cans, stacks of dried herbs, cages of mice, frightened turtles, boxes of dried chameleons, enormous mummified cockroaches, shelves of stacked monkey skulls, decapitated wild dog heads with jaws open as if frozen in time, hippopotamus skulls, antlers four feet tall, snake skins, baboon, hyena and leopard heads, as well as the most poignantly disturbing of all.

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There was one little boy. He was the quietest of the lot. Others yelled out Monsieur! Monsieur! incessantly. But this boy was calm, tapped us on the shoulder and held up a foot.

There is that famous photograph of local rangers in the Virunga National Park within the Democratic Republic of Congo. The photograph by Brent Stirton is taken from above of a silverback lying on its back upon a tourniquet made of branches. Wrists tied back over his head. Feet tied at the ankles. A huge protruding belly facing the heavens. Locals are beneath the animal, carrying it through the war-torn jungles of the DRC, dead because of gun shot wounds by supposed illegal charcoal traders. This was the image I thought of as I saw the little innocent child holding up a dried gorilla’s foot. He wanted his photo taken.

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The next morning we return to Vodou’s largest fetish market. The oddity strikes and we know we want to discover more. For hours we linger, wandering the stalls, photographing, talking to the kids. A Vodou practitioner arrives on his motorbike. The sellers scramble, running toward him to garner the morning’s first sale. Then I realize, this is the first pharmacy ever. Take away the metal fence, the motorbike and the corrugated tin roofs. What you have left are wooden stands, bamboo walls and dirt. Locals come, foreigners from afar—they’ll all seeking a cure. If you have tendinitis. There is a cure. If you have a wart on you finger. There is a cure. If you want to win your next soccer match and score a hat trick. There is a way. Come to Akodessewa Fetish Market in Lome, Togo.

Next essay –>

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America’s Gun Culture: The Young Guns

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America has a gun problem. According to a Small Arms Survey in 2007 , 88 out of 100 Americans own a gun. That’s worthy of world domination. And after the latest elementary outbreak of gun violence in Sandyhook, Conn., questions continue to raise about the connections between guns, violent video games, and our American youth. Here are some images from an on-going project involving America’s young guns.

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One mother I spoke with regarding the project declined to take part, but mentioned a story about her son. He was never permitted to play with toy guns. He wasn’t ever exposed to them in their household or on television. And she was unaware about any activities involving toy guns at their friends’ homes, but as soon as he reached a certain age where he began to develop his own personality, walk and make decisions on his own, something became apparent. When they would stroll on the beach or trek in the woods, the boy was instantly drawn toward sticks. These inanimate objects took on a life of their own. They became his toy guns. To this day she refuses to buy him any of these colorful plastic pieces.

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When the United States military encourages their soldiers to play violent video games while on leave, and as the advent of drones is taking presence above foreign skies, it is intriguing how large the gaming industry has become. Not only is it exciting, competitive and imaginative, but it is also a fantasy world without consequences besides GAME OVER. From Mario Brothers to Grand Theft Auto, there has been an incredible evolution, blurring the lines of reality. America’s youth are also hooked.

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For more, please visit America’s Gun Culture

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Robert Carlson’s Glass Mind

BobCarlson-15Robert Carlson is an internationally-renowned glass artist and a master not in disguise.  Bob lives his life as an artist, from his work to his art collections and the uniqueness of his home, to the way he parties and likes his martinis.  I had the opportunity to photograph Bob while he was an artist-in-residence at the Museum of Glass Hot Shop in Tacoma, Washington, where he came up with and devised his newest creations from an imagination wild. Bob is pictured up, sketching his latest invention, pulling from depths of his mind something real.

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BobCarlson-448On-hand apprentices assisted Bob throughout the week-long residency. Typically, after the glass is blown and cooled, he’ll spends months with the pieces, studying their forms and subtle messages found within shapes and processes.  Next he employs a reverse-painting technique using mirrors to create the imagery. These will appear on the back side of the glass structures, which take on a whole new dimension while viewing through the various refractions of glass.

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BobCarlsonVert-044-EditHowever, after observing the unusual orbs and their phalangeal crystals, Bob decided otherwise and kept the mirrors on their walls and the pigments in their cans. The work was completely new and glorious in their own form. They are both animalistic and alien. They explore the connection of sexuality and misplaced possession. The glass art can be placed on one side and quickly flipped to be placed on a new set of legs, changing the viewers understanding of what is and what can be. These pieces are works of a genius, derived from a life undisguised from beauty itself.

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SOG Knives: What Not To Do/Drunken Beach Party

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Unveiling the faux SOG Knives Beach Party Campaign.  I had a blast with this shoot, from vision to pre-production to execution outdoors and the very fine details in-studio.  Then there was post-production.  Here you have the SOG Fielder knife, the SOG Machete and two SOG Tomahawk throwing axes (one chrome, one black) – and the characters that like to use them.

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Visit www.CameronKarsten.com for more

Cameron Karsten Photography

Hana Organic Skincare product shoot

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Hana Organic Skincare has a new line of all-natural organic products, which I had the pleasure to help showcase with product photography.  We threw in Ali Lorenz for something different, added a brush of essential creme down the right side of her face and shot her profile to come up with the above ad.  Go check out Hana Organic Skincare online or at the Bainbridge Island Farmer’s Market every Saturday.

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Cameron Karsten Photography

Photo of the Day: Athena Devouring Her Soldiers

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Inspired by Francisco Goya’s 1819-1823 oil painting Saturn Devouring His Son, the above project speaks of humanity’s innate compulsion to send its soldiers into the throes of death.  We fight for land.  We fight for possession and power.  It is our willingness to send man and woman into war; and Athena above, goddess of warfare (and wisdom) unleashes her rage over the very men and women we as a people send into battle.

On the other side of the coin, we also fight for freedom, for a voice, for the ability to live our lives as we choose.  There are always two sides, our decisions coming from a place we find within ourselves.

Shot with three Q-flashes, black back drop, and a 6-stop neutral density filter allowing me to shoot wide open, I brought the subject as close to the wide angle lens as possible to create distortion in her face and hands.  Goya’s image is offered below for reference.

Location: private residence

Camera/Lens Specifics: Canon 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Lens

16mm, 1/80 sec at ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, tripod.

Post: LR4 & Adobe PS6

Cameron Karsten Photography

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 1.23.58 PMFrancisco Goya (1819-1823 oil painting) Saturn Devouring His Son