Rodney Ladson is an artist whose photography and video production alone speak to his talent and commitment to the arts. But, for me, it is Rodney’s commitment to supporting other artists that stands him apart from many other great artists I know. I met Rodney through another photographer and member of ASMP DC chapter. I had just been accepted as a member, having moved to Washington, D.C. from Kenya, and was trying to find a market for my work in Africa.
It’s easy to push the shutter button of a camera and, with a creative eye, capture interesting and visually stimulating images. But the real challenge is penetrating a competitive market, even more so when one is coming from Africa to the crowded field in Washington D.C. Upon arrival I met tons of professional photographers and amateurs with a professional bent. I realized that social media was flooded with images, giving a false impression that shooting remarkable images was easy. The reality is that the world is, indeed, full of good images on a great diversity of subject matter, yet agencies tend to seek images from war zones or conflict areas, like the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I’m currently living.
Rodney agreed to meet with me at a wine and coffee joint in Arlington, VA to discuss ideas, emerging crowd sourcing and “Kickstart” ideas, and the risks and possibilities of artists working together. We discussed grants and pitching as well as the future of photography and new media effects. Instagram was the fashion of the moment–if you didn’t have your work on Instagram you were, apparently, old school. Rodney and I agreed to meet again and discuss more ideas. FotoWeek D.C. had just ended, and we noted that most of the photos exhibited were about war or poverty or suffering—Africa’s many conflicts, Haiti’s poverty and post-earth quake misery, the Arab Spring, Mexican drug violence, Pakistan’s child wives. There were none about Africa’s thriving growth and emerging economic success, like the incredibly popular mobile banking, which has revolutionized entrepreneurship and commerce across the continent.
Rodney and I challenged ourselves with putting the continent on the map with rarely seen imagery of hope, perseverance, and positive change. Africa is a cradle of humankind—there is amazing history there. True, conflict exists in many places across the continent, and democracy is still on trial in most countries where it exists at all, but there are great stories that never see the light of the day in the international media, save for a few powerful search engines that bring them up when you type in “DRC” or “Nigeria” or “Somalia” or “Kenya.”
While I was in the U.S., FHI 360, a nonprofit human development organization, supported the screening of a film I helped produce. The screening took place at their auditorium in Washington D.C. and was followed by a panel discussion. Rodney volunteered to support a fellow artist, capturing everlasting images of the event.
When I left Washington to take up residence in the DRC, Rodney and I stayed in touch. As I share images of the incredibly resourceful, hopeful, and colorful Congolese people, Rodney continues to be a sounding board and supportive friend. He invited me to participate in an exhibition that he was organizing with a number of photographers in the city. While I was confident that my images would be a strong addition to an excellent exhibition, I was keenly aware that my participation added extra work for Rodney. Without access to quality printing here in the DRC, I depended on Rodney’s generosity and energy to seek a good printer and arrange for my images to be printed and framed. I trusted him implicitly and was proud to be his partner and friend in this first of hopefully many collaborative efforts.