Photographers images highlight a contrast in cultures


Brady Beam and his parents came into Dan Christopher's photo studio excited and nervous. At 17 days old, this would be little Brady's first photo shoot.

Formerly a news anchor at KATU-TV, Christopher retired from the news business in 2006 and followed his passion for photography, converting the bottom floor of his well-kept Raleigh Hills home into a portrait studio.

There, he has all of the props, backdrops and other photo equipment one could want for baby pictures or other portraits.

After a lot of posing and crying, Brady wore himself out, providing Christopher the opportunity to take a shot he'd been wanting to do since he found an ornate wooden chair in an antique store.

The photo, 'Regal Repose,' won 2008 Best Overall Portrait and Best Portrait of a Child at the Professional Photographers of Oregon conference, held in Portland in late-February. The photo fits the tiny, sleeping Brady into a type of folding chair originally designed to seat the Pope when he was away from his throne.

The tenderness of the image and the warmth of the wood all conveyed a sense of relaxed luxury and reminded the photographer to be grateful for the opportunities that young Brady will likely grow up with.

'We are so blessed in this country to have the riches that we have,' Christopher said.

Six months earlier, Christopher was on a long and treacherous journey to a village in central Tanzania on a Lutheran mission with African S.M.I.L.E. (Singida Medical Improvements and Learning Environments). He was there with his wife and others to help bring running water to a school of 1,200 students, pour a foundation for an octagonal chapel and help update the hospital's leaking roof. The villagers, Christopher said, were in desperate need.

'It was a pretty emotional experience over there,' he said, adding that he broke down at an open-air concert given by the children of the village. 'I just lost control at the beauty and the poverty.'

During one of the many stops on the 36-hour journey on unpaved roads to the village of Iambi, Christopher came across a Maasai baby tied on to his mother's back by a cloth. The photographer said he felt an instant connection with the baby who eyed him suspiciously. His mother was on the move, as the semi-nomadic Maasai have adapted to be in order to stay alive in the harsh climate.

The resulting shot, 'A Wary Eye,' won Christopher the 2008 Best Portrait of Two at the PPO convention and gave him a contrasting pair of award-winning baby photos.

Christopher said he wasn't looking for a set when he entered the contest. In fact, he said, he had entered his work expecting to hear criticism and advice on how to improve from the nationally recognized judges.

When they instead awarded him these top honors: 'It just blew me away,' he said. 'I was numb and humbled.'

But Christopher, with his 40 years of experience in news broadcasting, realized the story his two portraits could tell to help those like Brady remember to be grateful for what they have.

Thinking back to his mission, Christopher said the people he met were incredibly generous and always willing to share what little they had. Children there were ecstatic when given something as small as a smiley face sticker and adults insisted on treating him to a Coca-Cola as if it were a fine wine. At 50 cents, a can of Coke represented half a day's salary to his hosts, but Christopher's attempts to refuse the offer always failed.

When he came back home, he used his skills of photography and broadcast journalism to create an eight-minute video and several portraits to share with his friends and colleagues.

To him, this pair of award-winning photos is just another way to get the word out about this troubled part of the world.

'The more people we can make aware of the trauma and strife and lack of supplies, the more we can get support there,' he said.