Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Remarkable Story of Ken Carl


This man is sitting in my office. I am one of those people who expects miracles and coincidences as a regular feature of life, but even I have trouble believing how this one came to pass.

Several months ago,  our Chartered Accountant asked us if we would like to participate in a photography project which they were hosting here in Dehradun. Momenta is the name of the American organisation behind it and their philosophy is that photography can be a force for social change. They organise tours for professional photographers to different parts of the world and - through links with voluntary organisations like ours - assign them to an NGO and encourage them to document whatever work the org is involved in.

The idea sounded great to me and I agreed, but, to be honest, without giving it a lot of thought.

When I announced it to my colleagues, however, one of them (our resident firebrand) took grave offense. He thought it was ridiculous for American photographers to come all the way to India to take pictures of our disabled kids ("as if they don't have any of their own.") and implied that we were basically "putting our children up for sale."

While I thought his comments were over-wrought, they did make me realize that I hadn't even done the most basic of background checks on Momenta. So without further delay, I started googling them. 150,000 results, all looking quite legit.

One result included a long list of Momenta "students" - photographers who had signed up for workshops past and future and who had their own websites so you could get a sense of the kind of work they were doing.

I had some time on my hands and I am always a sucker for good photography, so I began trolling. I went through around fifteen different students' sites and got more and more impressed as I went along. These people were amazingly talented. One in particular - a guy named Ken Carl out of Chicago - particularly caught my fancy. His home page had a picture of a girl walking down a street in what looked like Jamaica which I just couldn't get out of my head. The curve of the background building she was walking past (brilliantly yellow, bracketed by a white picket fence), the wet street, her graceful frame, her pensive look . . . I liked it so much that in my email to my colleagues responding to the firebrand's charges, I included a link to Carl's site, saying "This is a Momenta photographer. If the one we get is even half as good as this guy, just imagine what kind of stuff he might shoot for us!"

I know you can guess where this is going, right?

When the team arrived in Dehradun, our CA had already alerted them to our concerns about possible misuse of the photographs of our children. the tour organizer called me immediately to explain thier "model release" policy and to assure us that they were as concerned as we were with any possible exploitation. "That's why we've chosen our most experienced student for your organisation," she continued. "He's also a very sensitive guy and does really creative, subtle work. You can see his work on his website - a guy named Ken Carl out of Chicago."

I almost dropped the phone. What were the odds? Of course she shared the story with Ken - so when we met the next day over coffee at my house, we felt like old friends reuniting.


Ken is one of those rare people so at peace within himself that he brings calm and peace wherever he goes. He spent his time with us mostly in KV School and he made himself so quiet a part of the background the staff and children simply forgot he was around. He caught moments so beautiful and diverse they take your breath away.

Here are just a few:


There are too many to post and anyway, each one tells a story just aching to be told. I don't want to share them all at once. But Ken's visit was the highlight of my year and a turning point in my life which I am still absorbing. Oddly, it forced me to slow down my own photography for a while just to take stock and think a few things through. I will always be grateful for his having spent so much time with us and for being such a warm and generous person, so willing to give his talent to the world.

2 comments:

Entropy said...

Thoughtful and relevant post .. Thanks for sharing ..the links and info..

"The master said you must write what you see / But what I see does not move me / The master answered Change what you see."

— Louise Gl├╝ck.

let it be said...

Thanks for sharing ...keep up the good work.
Firebrand aka militant hehe..