I am thrilled to be participating with ONE’s #LightforLight blog relay this month highlighting the issue of energy poverty in Africa and ONE’s #electrifyafrica campaign. A brilliant collective of photographers and storytellers are sharing their take and their images on “light.” I am humbled to contribute my own voice, memories and images to the cause.
LIGHT. It means very different things to different people around our planet. When I think of light these days, I think of the warm glow in the evening that bathes my yard in glorious light each night. I think of the beautiful images that light helps me create. I also think about that time I walked in pitch blackness looking up at an African sky with more stars than I had ever seen. I didn’t think about violence hiding in the darkness. I didn’t think about babies being born in the dark. Now, I do.
Light as necessity for my craft.
For a photographer, light is everything. We plan around it. We look for it, even chase it down (on foot, by boat, or vehicle). The word photography itself means “painting with light.” We talk to our clients about “golden hour” and why we have to schedule around that magical window of time. When we don’t have the sun working for us, we create artificial light with flashes and strobes. Suffice it to say, I could not do what I do without light. In that sense, light is a necessity for my business and craft.
Light as accessory.
My backyard is bathed in the most beautiful evening light I have ever seen before. When spring comes around, you can find me sitting outside watching my three blonde girls playing in the “back forty”, hair aglow in the light. It never gets old. I never lose interest in the light as it dances over my loved ones. I started bringing my clients to my own yard for their sessions. This light, however, was an accessory, not a necessity. It was that golden glow that illuminated each shot just right. Like that perfect pop of color in a necklace or those new red shoes. Light is the best accessory for any image.
(following images shot with an iPhone 6+)
(a girl, her guinea pig, and her dad. special moments.)
Light as necessity for survival.
Twenty years ago, I boarded my first ever international flight to Malawi, Africa. I was a naive, idealistic and very sheltered 16-year-old off on a summer adventure on the banks of Lake Malawi. Although I now cringe when I look back at some of the images of my time “serving” in Malawi (the terms “white privilege” and “savior complex” were not yet a part of my naive vocabulary), I cannot deny that the summer was, cliché and all, life changing for me. (the following images are photos of actual photographs from 20 years ago. please forgive the lack of quality)
We lived in tents, without electricity for 5 weeks. We walked to the Lake every morning to carry 5 gallon buckets of water to purify and use for drinking and cooking. We bathed in the Lake and washed our hair with buckets of Lake water. It was an adventure and I loved every second of it. Not once did it dawn on me that this was the reality of the Malawian teenagers we spent our time with. This was no grand adventure for them. Walking miles to carry heavy buckets of water was the norm for most of them. There was no studying, reading or working after dark. No lamps, no lanterns.
One of my favorite memories is how dark it was at night, and how many stars we could see as we walked to our tent site after dark. None of us were afraid for our lives. None of us felt the icy fingers of potential danger in the darkness around us. We were a group of protected American and Canadian teens. I just loved the stars and remember envying the locals for having THAT sky at night.
This was twenty years ago. Africa is still a continent with too many dark skies, dark homes, dark shanties, dark villages. The lack of electricity impacts people’s lives in at least five major ways, with a disproportionately negative impact on women and girls:
- Poor healthcare: Thirty percent of health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa lack electricity, making it impossible to store vaccines and lifesaving drugs, or operate essential medical equipment like incubators and x-ray machines.
- Stifled economic growth: According to survey data of African businesses, reliable energy access is a bigger concern than corruption, lack of access to capital, or sufficiently trained labor.
- Toxic fumes: Each year, more than three million people worldwide die from exposure to the toxic smoke of indoor open fires and kerosene for cooking, heating and lighting — more than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.
- Limited or no education: Ninety million children in sub-Saharan Africa attend schools that lack electricity. In many places, women and girls are forced to spend hours during the school day hunting for fuel.
- Lack of safety: Without streetlights, telephones, or other means of communication, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence after dark.
How do we, as a people and country with reliable energy access, respond to the constant threat of energy poverty for our neighbors in Africa (and much of the developing world)? First, we let our government know this is an issue that should be prioritized in Washington.
The House just introduced The Electrify Africa Act. We are almost halfway to our 50,000 signature goal. Please take a moment and sign this petition now. Let our government know that this issue is critically important. Here are some of the facts about the Act:
The Electrify Africa Act of 2015 would prioritize and coordinate U.S. government resources in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020 to:
- Promote first-time access to electricity for at least 50 million people, particularly the poor.
- Encourage the installation of at least an additional 20,000 megawatts of electrical power in both rural and urban areas using a broad mix of energy options.
- Encourage in-country reforms to facilitate public-private partnerships and increase transparency in power production, distribution, and pricing.
- Promote efficient institutional platforms that provide electrical service to rural and underserved areas.
Want to know more? Read up on the following posts about energy poverty and its impact on girls and women:
Do you have a story of light? A light-filled image? Join the fun and post your own light-filled images on social media with the hashtags #electrifyafrica and #lightforlight. Spread awareness of this important issue and galvanize your own network to make a difference.
Check out some of the other photobloggers who have posted in this series. Excellent posts, all of them:
- Electrify Africa by Karen Walrond
- Turn on the Lights by Laurie White
- There is a Light by Heather Barmore
- Light for Light by Tracey Clark
- Light is Life by Elizabeth Atalay
- Beneath the Light of Their Bedroom Lamp by Rebecca Woolf
- Finding the Light is easy when you know its going to be there by C.C. Chapman