The Blog of Chris Bohnhoff Photography

Portraits of Sierra Leone

Back in 2007 I accompanied OneVillage Partners to Eastern Sierra Leone to help document their work a small clump of rural villages. OVP’s model provides broad support to a very specific geographic area in one of the poorest countries in the world, aiding with housing, water, education, sanitation, medicine, micro loans and more to a clump of three small villages not far from Sierra Leone’s border with Liberia. It’s an area that was decimated during the decade-long civil war back in the 1990s, when villagers were forced to flee across the border to refugee camps, while the rain forests grew over those parts of their homes not pillaged and destroyed by rebels.

The people I met on that trip have been on my mind the past couple months, as Africa’s ebola epidemic has picked up steam. The villages I visited sit at the epicenter of the epidemic, and two of the three villages where OVP does its work have been quarantined. As a community of farmers doing their best to subsist and bring some goods to the limited markets available, I can only imagine the multi-leveled hardships presented by the disease: not only is there the health-related stress of not wanting to contract ebola, now their ability to feed their families is in jeopardy during the most difficult part of the year.

The act of making a portrait can be a very intimate experience. A successful portrait brings the viewer into a sphere of intimacy and creates a connection, a moment that can be used for learning. Those moments also stay with me as the photographer. Actually, they’re one of the reasons that I am a photographer.

Seven years after taking these photos, I remember and pray for the well being of these people who were somehow made more real for me through the act of taking their photo.

You can help. Small donations go a long way in Africa. Need a channel? OneVillage Partners is a small nonprofit made up of very smart people that you can trust, who help the very people you see on this page. Consider a gift today. And if not a gift, maybe just a moment of silence honoring their struggle, our shared human struggles.

Early this Spring I had the chance to photograph author Jan Dunlap for Guideposts Magazine. Jan had just released a memoir, Saving Gracie, about her relationship with Gracie, her black lab rescue dog, and the healing powers of the human/dog bond.

Dogs, like people, have different relationships with the camera. Also like people, I’m guessing the vast majority of dogs have… limited… patience in reserve for photographers. Gracie in particular was a bit notorious for actively foiling the best efforts to take a good photo of her.

But Gracie and I got along pretty well, given the circumstances. She protested only mildly when my assistant and I invaded her living room and rearranged the place. She tolerated just enough strobe light pops to get a good range of options for the magazine. And she didn’t run too far away during our time at the dog park.

A good dog, that Gracie. I can see why Jan wrote a book about her.

One of the best things to come out of my time collaborating at Heartland Restaurant has been my friendship with Chef Alan Bergo. Currently a sous chef at Heartland, it was Alan who prepared and styled the dishes we photographed. But, lucky for us all, Alan also runs a beautiful, entertaining and useful blog called Forager Chef. Over the past months I’ve consulted with him on his photography (read: hung out while he shot some stuff, offered a few opinions, then helped him eat his subjects), and a couple weeks ago he was kind enough to join me on a shoot foraging and cooking in the woods.

I’ve never been a person with strong feelings about mushrooms, but I feel like that’s changing after my weekend with Alan. There’s something undeniably magical about walking down a wooded trail and having your hiking partner pull up short, brush aside some dried leaves and uncover these sprigs of food, in sweet scents and vibrant earth tones (that’s right: vibrant earth tones!). There’s a vast well of knowledge and experience needed to forage wild food the way Alan does, but after just a short hike with Alan I understand the allure.

Not only did we forage, we cooked. Well, Alan cooked. He cooked big pans of foraged chanterelles, red potatoes with wild bergamot butter, duck leg in a black raspberry and wild szechuan peppercorn reduction. It was glorious, all the more because so many of the ingredients had been gathered within a few hundred yards of our campsite.

Cooking and eating in this way connects you to a place in an active way that not even a CSA can touch. If you live in the Midwest and want to expand your flavor palette with things growing in the nearest patch of woods, check out Alan’s work over at Forager Chef.

A New Notebook

If you’ve visited my blog in the past, you may notice that things look a little different around here. And if this is your first time, you may notice a few very recent things here, then a jump to old stuff. Thus, a very brief note to get us all on the same page.

Old blog: technical challenges, versions, plugins, hackability, blah blah.

New blog: (mostly) blank slate, purported simplicity.

So there you go. A jump has been made, and I’m glad you found me! Please like, follow, do what you gotta do to stick around.

A couple weeks back I headed over to Wisconsin to visit my friend Wade Barry at Piney Hill Farm, a new CSA that Wade runs with Heidi Coe and Karl Sloth.

It’s a beautiful place with a stunning red barn, and a high tunnel almost impassable at this point in the season with hopped up peppers and tomatoes.

August on the farm feels to me a lot like stepping into a mosh pit. All the work of planning, planting, cultivating has been done,  now it’s time to move fast or risk being crushed by the biomass. Everyone has their adrenaline rush, and August, with its cucumbers, beans and tomatoes are for farmers.

But August doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and there are always processes to be improved, new plots to prepare, new crops to ponder. So it is at Piney Hill, being in their first season as they are. It’s an exciting, creative energy that Wade, Heidi and Karl occupy, and I’ll admit I’m more than a little jealous.

Thanks, Piney Hill, for letting me wander around you for an afternoon.