Mackenzie Berg

Mackenzie Berg (Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group): MacKenzie received her undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology. She then traveled and worked in several developing countries before entering the graduate program at University of Denver. After her fellowship, Mackenzie wrote: "The various opportunities that I had to actually meet, talk to and interact with the waste pickers in their communities were the best for me—this was the most real, the most valuable in terms of information gathered [not just data, but the chance to make observations about sights, smells, emotions, etc, involved with their lives that helped me to understand their points of view and experience]."

Epilogue [sort of!]

15 Aug

I’ve still got another “normal” blog to put up after the expo. However, the purpose of this blog is neither critique, but rather an invitation into my personal developments here, for anyone’s who is interested..

In my last post, I mentioned that my passion for photography might be waning—yet it’s not necessarily directly because of the challenges involved with the internship. Certainly, a share of the reason is due to the fact that I was so often prevented from connecting with the people in my photographs on a personal level—they were a few memorable exceptions that I treasure, but most often my relationship with them was that of a painfully privileged authority where, without understanding Hindi, I could easily detect discomfort and even anger from the waste pickers who were gently badgered into being photographed. Thus, I quickly became jaded at the thought of ‘capturing’ lives, of being only in a position to take from them, and never to give anything back, even if it was just wanting to explain my reason for being there, and what I hoped to accomplish by using their image.

But aside from these frustrations in the field, I think that I was more affected by a personal desire to go beyond freezing time in a frame [even when it was given consent, was welcomed], to digging deeper into bits and pieces of people’s lives—something that I couldn’t do with my camera, no matter how striking the image.

I wrote about this to my friend Hillary who’s in Haiti, when we discovered we both had experienced losing interest in the journalistic questions, and being more curious about the other fascinating, tiny facets of human life…

For me, this has stemmed from the fact that I’ve found myself immersed in the weirdest dichotomy of wealth surrounded by poverty, greedy consumption surrounded by malnutrition and informal economies adopted for survival, by happiness and by utter despair. I’ve seen faces where there light has literally left a person’s eyes, where they are alive and breathing, but at the same time– not.

And yet surrounded by all this, there are times when I just find myself not wanting to dig deeper. Not because I dont want to see it, or don’t care, or because I think I begin to understand/ to know the depth of this suffering, or of the corruption and heavily ingrained social hierarchies, and on and on… but rather because there are so many other small pieces of life here and there that catch my attention like a crow is attracted to shiny objects. Little details of a personality, or of someone’s daily experience, that I find to be either beautiful, ugly and unbearable, striking, puzzling, or just inspiring. Pieces of life that you cannot capture, that are meaningful only to you as you exist in that moment, that are simply un-transferable to an audience.

And then there have been several incredible moments when I’ve had rare snatches of silence, of deep deep breaths and flashes of mental clarity in the form of a slate being swept clean, of meditative peace that I’ve always sought but struggled to find surrounded by my own culture– and it’s so bizzare to find this inner calm here, in a place of such chaos of stimulation. So strange in fact, that I don’t quite understand them yet.. I’m referring to minutes, hours spent sitting in silence at temples, on riverbanks, on grungy beds in guesthouses, to meals shared with strangers-turned-family, to entire 48-hour periods where I found myself in a trance-like state where, even while I interacted with people and saw sights, took photographs, played tourist, I remained mentally in a space of emptiness so new and refreshing that it startled me until I realized it was OK to let go and be this quiet inside my head.

Maybe this is an effect that India has on many foreigners who visit.. I couldn’t say without hearing the experiences of others.

Whatever it is, the more I soak in these precious drops of life-moments, the more I realize they are only so weighty and valuable to me in this ‘here-and-now’—the more I feel that trying to impart this to everyone else seems a bit trite.

Blame it on my own sense of inadequacy at expressing the depth of what I feel and see.. but sometimes I find that it’s just nice to take in my surroundings—the sight, the smell, taste, atmosphere, noises and voices—and let it meld into me, as yet another part of the experiences which make up the person I am like atoms composing an organism, without the need to validate it through someone else’s reading or viewing.

Posted By Mackenzie Berg

Posted Aug 15th, 2008

1 Comment

  • Paul Colombini

    August 17, 2008


    “I remained mentally in a space of emptiness so new and refreshing that it startled me until I realized it was OK to let go and be this quiet inside my head. Maybe this is an effect that India has on many foreigners who visit…”

    You hit the nail on the head 🙂 India, I think, is so noisy and crazy that it sucks the inner noise out of you and leaves you receptive to the silence that is so difficult to find in life but is at the center of it all.

    Your blogs have been awesome Mackenzie and it has been both a pleasure and an honor working with you and sharing these many experiences. Thanks for everything, good luck, and see you next time

    Your friend,

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