Seattleite Book Club: December 2011

Dear Seattleite Readers,

Welcome to the “Seattleite” Book Club – the only virtual book club that spotlights the Pacific Northwest’s own authors and publishers!

Last month we featured the gripping thriller, “Final Breath” by Kevin O’Brien. The book is a great gift idea for the person in your life who loves reading, particularly the reader who devours those hair-raising, edge-of-your-seat page-turners. If you have any Seattleite Book Club comments, please e-mail us.

December Selection: “Can I Come With You?” by Amanda Koster

We’re all making travel plans to see family and friends for the holidays — but for those of us who travel for adventure, cultural revelation or a new experience abroad, inspiration can be found in “Can I Come With You?” The author is Amanda Koster, internationally acclaimed photographer and founder of Salaam Garage, an organization that pairs citizen journalists and NGOs to enact social change in the developing world.

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In 2008, Koster published this social documentary and photography book about her trips to Brazil, Kenya, Romania and Morocco. In her opinion, travel and photography are about connecting with the people and culture you’re shooting – either as a tourist or citizen journalist.

That’s what travel is really about – discovering different people and cultures around the world for yourself. “Can I Come With You?” brings the reader along with Amanda to a pre-natal health clinic in Brazil, an AIDS orphanage in Kenya, a personal search for her great-grandmother’s grave in Romania and a women’s music project in Morocco.

Koster says that she learned very much during her travels for “Can I Come With You?”

“[I] learned to listen,” she explains. “I think that American culture demands answers and is addicted to instant gratification. We like checking things off our list. I discovered my own impatience and control, at first doing ‘drive by shootings’ where I took the photos I wanted to take, asked the questions I wanted to know … But then I learned to shut up. Let people show me their lives … I learned to let a person unfold in front of me. The things I’ve witnessed after that were extraordinary.”

Throughout the book, Koster’s message is that “drive-by shooting” should be avoided by travelers. “Some travelers rush in with a checklist of expectations and assumptions to ‘get the story’” she says. “The more they are like that, the more it blows up. That’s just not the way we roll. Some do sit back and let it unfold but either way they learn, as I did.”

Through all kinds of angles, photos, journal entries, and reflective writing, Koster brings readers to the places she visits, and offers a fresh perspective on travel, photography, and international culture. She really connects with the people she photographs, and shares that connection with readers.

“There are millions of photos to take, but the ones I remember the most are the ones my camera never sees,” Koster writes. “Those are the images that I feel. They are my favorites.”

For the documentarians, social travelers, and adventurers traveling this winter, next year and, particularly, on a Salaam Garage trip, Amanda recommends the following travel tips:

  • “Learn your tools, but don’t rely on them. People show up on SalaamGarage trips with new cameras, very excited, thinking the camera will tell the story. No – that’s marketing. The camera is a tool that you must know how to use before expecting vulnerability from another. Other people’s lives are not our testing ground … The person in front of you will tell their story.”
  • If you’re a documentarian, “Know why you are a documentarian. It is essential that you know why on earth you picked up the camera in the first place.”
  • “Trust and let the story unfold. Don’t decide what the story is by a Google search, or from what others tell you about their experience and trust that the story will unfold exactly as it is meant to. Let life unfold before your very eyes, building relationships and witnessing the magnificence that does exist in this world.”

Once the craziness of the holidays recedes and you begin to plan your spring travels, remember to look for the people behind the photos you take as a tourist. Look for a connection that will build a stronger travel memory than a landscape or architectural marvel ever could.

About Salaam Garage: Citizen journalists with Salaam Garage participate in digital storytelling, partnering through the organization with International NGOs and local non-profits. By connecting with these NGOs, photographers, writers, videographers, etc. raise awareness and bring positive change to communities around the world through independent media projects. Salaam Garage has upcoming trips planned for Palestine in March 2012 and Ecuador in August 2012.

About Bennett & Hastings Publishing: An independent press located in Ballard, Bennett & Hastings prides themselves on their goal to give authors more control over the final look and feel of their publications. This approach creates many published works that are unique and special to the author. Bennett & Hastings provides design, production, distribution and promotion services.

“Can I Come With You?” Is available through Bennett & Hastings Publishing for $34.95.