Alexander “Sandy” Nesbitt, an award-winning adventure-travel photographer, took his well-worn camera gear back to Africa this past June. Looking to shoot a complex story and a chance to contribute something meaningful, beyond hard news, Nesbitt took on a pro-bono project for an orphanage project in Kenya. Nesbitt documented complicated subject matter in the Kibera slums of Nairobi all the way to the soaring heights of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
This November, Nesbitt’s custom-printed photographs were innovatively unrolled in film-strip panels at Blink Gallery, his storefront studio and exhibition space in Newport, Rhode Island. The show, running to December 2010, is divided into three parts — Nairobi, Flying Kites in Njabini, and Mt. Kilimanjaro and explores the challenges of balancing truth and beauty through a lens. Nesbitt witnessed orphans, teachers and students in difficult circumstances and his images show us how his subjects encounter their daily tasks. This kind of photojournalism also cleared the path for Nesbitt to fulfill a life-long dream.
Nesbitt, an avid climber and hiker, has completed adventure photography assignments for such prestigious publications as National Geographic Traveler, Outside, Men’s Journal and others. When Flying Kites Global asked him to join a group that was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, he felt it was a perfect fit. Flying Kites Global is a non-profit organization founded by Salve Regina University students in Newport, RI. Nesbitt, a graduate of Pratt Institute and a Newporter, is well known for his great ability to hold the marketing and editorial message in mind while shooting the real-life situation around him. He produces images that are both targeted and realistic at their core, and with these skills in mind, Flying Kites also invited him to go to Kenya to visit their children’s home in Njabini as well as orphanages they are affiliated with in Nairobi.
There is little government funding in Kenya for education and medical projects, so organizations such as Flying Kites assist children’s homes with their expertise and resources to alter the cycle of poverty through education, nutrition and healthcare. Nesbitt’s goal was to record the true situation and help each facility with photos for use within the Flying Kites “Oasis” program web site. The system will provide an avenue of publicity, fund raising and volunteer outreach into these homes and schools.
In the infamous Kibera slums of Nairobi, Nesbitt joined volunteers from Flying Kites and spent three days at diverse orphanages, medical clinics and classrooms. He expected to find hopelessness and insurmountable obstacles but found instead a resilient generation of children, orphaned by AIDS, and growing up in basic, community-built orphanages. Though it was at times unsafe to reveal expensive camera equipment Nesbitt’s images thoroughly explore the challenging conditions of the container-school buildings, the overwhelming paperwork teachers face and the extraordinary and yet hopeful nature with which students and teachers approach their tasks.
Nesbitt shifted gears for Njabini where Flying Kites operates a children's home in the central highlands of Kenya. There he captured the joys, the challenges and the nature of raising children in this unique environment with cows, generators and a new school building. Flying Kites uses his imagery to promote a variety of fundraising initiatives, including the Adventure Challenges and Oasis programs that Nesbitt participated in and can be viewed at http://www.flyingkitesglobal.org/get_involved.shtml.
In addition to documenting stories of fantastic human ability in the various homes and clinics, Nesbitt joined participants in the Adventure Challenges seven-day climb up Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro. Together with 16 other climbers, he followed the Machame route with 51 porters, two cooks and six guides to the sunrise summit at 19,341 feet.
While climbing to these high altitudes was the realization of Nesbitt’s own forgotten dream of reaching the roof of Africa it posed substantial obstacles. There were weight limitations, no opportunity to recharge batteries, and he had to reckon with less-than-ideal ascent times to capture some spectacular moments of light. Fortunately, his training in location and lighting made some of the night shots possible. Having photographed in over 45 countries, especially in the developing world, Nesbitt called on many of his contingency strategies during this adventure.
“Kibera to Kilimanjaro” confirms what Nesbitt experienced in Kibera, in Njabini and on the climb up Kilimanjaro: that all around him energized and resilient people, all with their own dreams, were working unbelievably hard to make them real.
The “Kibera to Kilimanjaro” exhibit is running through December 2010 at Blink Gallery. Nesbitt will also give a talk and slide presentation with the Kibera to Kilimanjaro collection at Mystic Seaport Museum as part of their Adventure Series December 16. For more information view Mystic Seaport Events here.
Blink Gallery is located at 89 Thames St., Newport, RI and phone number is (401) 847-4255.
Even while on assignment, Nesbitt and his staff operate two galleries and a custom printing business in Newport, RI. If he’s hiking around New England or on another continent you can see more of Nesbitt’s technically challenging documentary, fine art and remote-location work at his site, www.nesbittphoto.com. For more information on Flying Kites, visit www.flyingkitesglobal.org.