It's Archel by Morgana Wingard

Recently, I got to partner with the talented Archel Bernard, a Liberian fashion designer, to do a photo shoot of some of her unique designs.  Here's some of my favorite shots from the shoot. To view the rest of her collection and order her amazing designs online, visit itsarchel.bigcartel.com.

A little about the talented Archel:

Archel was born in the States. Her family left Liberia because of the war when she was 1 in December ’89. She attended university at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA and returned to Liberia as a part of her last course for graduation. She arrived with the dream of being the African Oprah Winfrey. She wanted to be the journalist that showed the diverse lifestyle Africans could have, and part of that was wearing African clothes for every video segment. She started using a popular tailor in Monrovia to make her clothes, and although she was good, she would take forever to make her dresses, and then would sell her styles to other clients. The last time she went to her for a dress, she saw her in a copy, a customer in a copy, and another one being made on the table. Archel decided to stop helping the tailor make money from her designs and go into business for herself by making dresses and selling them in the States. After a while, friends in Liberia saw the styles and wanted her to do a few for them, so it grew from there. She wasn't employed so it was great to be able to invest in work for herself.

She decided to return to Liberia because her grandfather passed away a month before and she was set to graduate. He refused to leave Liberia for a bulk of the war, so he was her main connection to her home country. He was a serious businessman, and the move back was a way for me to connect with him and realize his vision for his family.

Fashion in Liberia is exciting because of how creative Liberians are, and how excited women are to work and own their own businesses. Every time she turns around there is a new business led by a new female designer whose perspective is different from the last. No one is making the same outfits from 50 years ago. No one is waiting to be told what to wear by the Europeans or other Africans. Liberian women are excited to wear fun, comfortable, sexy clothes and turn heads no matter where they go. Women are leading this new interest in fashion and she’s excited to have a part of rebuilding Liberia through her shop.

Ethiopia: Farm to Cup by Morgana Wingard

As a native Seattlite, the birth place of Starbucks, I love my coffee. Recently, I had the opportunity to see first hand the origins of world renowned Ethiopian coffee and how strategic agriculture initiatives in Ethiopia are improving food security in the region.  I was photographing for CARE on a trip with policy makers and a production team from The Kojo Nnamdi show to learn a little about food aid reform and the giant efforts of the U.S. government in collaboration with the Ethiopian government. As a photographer, I typically see the story -- looking for light and scenes that can tell the tale in a single image. This time I was in for a treat. Watching and talking to Kayla and Michael of the Kojo show, I learned to open my ears and hear the story. Now, I'll never be as good as they are at discovering and capturing the intricate sounds of coffee sipping and trading floor bells, but it sure is fun to have amazing audio to compliment my photos. I can't tell you how many times I wish I had a recorder to capture something a speaker said that I knew I'd forget before I could write it down.  Listen to the links below to hear about the photos above and how U.S. investments and the Ethiopian government are increasing food security in the region through business and trade.

First Shots in a War on Corruption by Morgana Wingard

Photos from my latest project with Clair MacDougal for Forbes Africa. 

Peaceful Mayhem: Celebrating Epiphany in Ethiopia by Morgana Wingard

Thanks to news media we've become accustomed to images of raging, violent mobs in foreign countries. Just today watching Al Jazeera in my hotel room in Addis, they broadcasted a pack of enraged Muslims in Central African Republic pursuing a Christian man hiding for his life inside a shanty. The final scene ended with your worst nightmare. 

Sadly, the news media rarely depicts the beauty and positive across the world. I'm thankful for friends and family who worry for my safety when I travel, yet I'm oddly trusting (especially for a tiny girl who looks like she's 12). Perhaps I'm naive, but after traveling through nearly 30 countries, I have to admit I run into more people who look out to help me than who look out to get me.  

Yesterday, I lost myself in a sea of religious enthusiasts parading through the streets of Addis. Every year on January 19th, Orthodox Ethiopians celebrate Epiphany -- the day Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. Thousands of participants dress in traditional white frocks and ornate, priestly robes before they walk, dance, and sing in a swarming parade through the streets.

From the outside, this moving mass resembles the all too common crowds that flash across major news networks. On the inside, it was quite the opposite. Ethiopians, usually dubious of cameras, welcome the lens on this day. Instead of being caste out to the banks of the river of bodies, they pulled me into their celebratory circles. It was one of my favorite days of photographing ever -- even after I lost the rest of our crew. Despite the chaos, I felt safe. My gut was right. With much help along the way, my cameras and I made it safely back to the hotel despite getting lost in the crowd. 

Need Aerial Photography in Liberia?? by Morgana Wingard

Do you need awe-inspiring images of your project to impress that potential curmudgeon, waffling investor? Or scenic scapes documenting the progress of your work for your annual report? Or images to impress for your website or promo brochure to drive clients by the droves to your new resort? Nothing can capture your mining, construction, or real estate, project like the unique view from the air. From poster shots of completed projects to monthly progress reports, we provide unique top-quality photography to meet your marketing and fundraising needs in-country so you don’t have to pay to fly in a film crew from oversees.    

If you're interested in aerial photography in Liberia, contact Morgana at studio@morganawingard.com or 0888102601 for more information.

The Diffusion of Justice by Morgana Wingard

Everett Rogers defined the first theory of change in his 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations. His acclaimed communication book describes the process by which a society adopts new, transformative behaviors. It divides the process into four main elements that spread the new idea: the innovation, communication channels, time, and a social system. One of his key findings reported in the book is that the primary communication channel for the diffusion of innovations is interpersonal relationships. Ultimately, communication between individuals -- conversations over coffee, barbershop talk, a beer at the bar where thoughts and experiences are shared -- multiplies into a critical mass of people adopting a new behavior that revolutionizes an innovation from rare to common. When the innovation is widely adopted, then it becomes self-sustainable. 

Liberia at the end of 2013 is considered to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world according to Transparency International. This begs the question, "How do you develop a culture of justice that passes out bribes like New Yorkers drink coffee?" According to Everett -- one person at a time. It starts with innovators (typically 2.5% of the population) who lead the early adopters (13.5%) who multiply to the early majority (34%), then the late majority (34%) and finally the laggards (16%).  

Thomas Tweh is one of those innovators. 

For many Liberians living in the low-income, high-density neighborhoods of Monrovia, life is a daily struggle. Land disputes, drug problems, domestic abuse, and a lack of basic services, among other issues, are pervasive.

When citizens face legal challenges, the lack of legitimacy, affordability, accessibility and timeliness of the formal justice system often prevents any feasible recourse. Extensive bureaucratic red tape coupled with transportation and legal costs, lawyer fees, and opportunity costs of foregone work make the justice system not only physically but also financially unavailable to many.

The judiciary and police were recently ranked as the most corrupt set of institutions in the country by the government itself – which not only undermines any sense that wrong-doing will be punished but has hollowed out trust in public processes more broadly. As one citizen pointed out to us recently: “There is simply no justice for the poor.”

Thomas Tweh, a community leader in the West Point neighborhood, had an innovative idea to resolve these justice issues at the local level. His plan was not to avoid or override the formal justice system, but to collaborate with the police and commissioner’s office to refer cases downwards from the courts to a community dispute resolution mechanism run by volunteer mediators.

“The key to this is that the disputes are resolved in accountable and sustainable ways,” Thomas told us. The outcome was to be a process that merged formal and informal tools for accountability and justice in a way that was seen to be fair and equitable by the community, and which saved time, money and effort.

With the Accountability Lab’s backing – in the form of accountability and rule of law training, management support, minimal seed funding and networking opportunities – Thomas and his project co-leader John Kamma developed a Community Justice Team of 8 volunteer mediators. The team has now worked with hundreds of citizens and sustainably resolved over 60 cases, ranging from domestic violence to land disputes – each with carefully written records taken by a trained notary and with the full cooperation of local authorities. Beyond the thousands of dollars and weeks of time saved, the Community Justice Team has started to build a sense of accountability, cooperation, and trust in the community. We are now talking to both the Ministry of the Interior and the Justice Ministry in Liberia about next steps.

[EXCERPT FROM ACCOUNTABILITY LAB'S WEBSITE] 

 

 

Monrovia Fashion Week: Myric by Morgana Wingard

Note to self: When you don't have lights use headlights from motorcycles and cars. No photography lights. All natural or automobile sources for these ones!

  • Designer: Myric
  • Model: Anais Markquette & Frances Adorowa
  • Hair: Palmera Design
  • Make-Up: Ayo Brown
  • Photography: Morgana Wingard

 

Monrovia Fashion Week: Le Mirage by Morgana Wingard

I've secretly always wanted to do fashion. Today my dreams came true. And not just fashion, but African fashion. I played with a few friends organizing Monrovia Fashion Week 2013. Reminds of my senior year in college at TPM when we'd procrastinate studying for finals by doing elaborate photo shoots. There's nothing more thrilling and exciting than the collaboration of talented artists. Enjoy... and look out for more information about Monrovia Fashion Week in December. 

  • Designer: Le Mirage
  • Models: Akouavi Tehoungue & Yacine Jamal
  • Hair: Palmera Design
  • Make-Up: Ayo Brown
  • Photography: Morgana Wingard

 

Why I hate being a photographer by Morgana Wingard

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My friends frequently catch me lying to strangers. Observing a camera larger than my head clasped in my hand, new comers ask the obvious. "Are you a photographer?" 

"Mmmm....uhh...sort of...." I mumble awkwardly and attempt, usually unsuccessfully, to change the subject. When my friends are around, they usually laugh and then jump in to answer for me as I try to dodge the subject and creep away. I hate to admit I'm a photographer. I almost succeeded in denying it the other day in a familiar scenario. The inquisitor, a cameraman himself, quickly started adding up the dollars, "Are you just really rich and buy expensive toys?"  If only that were true. As a friend reminded me tonight, we invest in what we love. I love photography. It's my paintbrush. It's my tool to communicate what I see.   

But everyone's a photographer these days. It either comes with weighty National Geographic quality bricks of expectation or skepticism that a "professional" photographer is really any different than the next person on the street with an iPhone. Maybe that's just me. Maybe I just don't like titles. But that's not why I hate being a photographer. 

As with most talents, photography is a blessing and a curse. Photography has opened the door to experience things, places, people, and stories I would never have had the opportunity to see. Photography is my ticket to the school of life and for some reason they let me record it. It feeds my insatiable curiosity. It never gets old because it's always bringing me to new places and new people and new stories. To the rest of the world, that's all I am -- a photographer. 

As the photographer, my job is to be like the fly in the room. Everyone can hear it, but no one sees it. And if they do, they want to swap it. The photographer is supposed to be invisible. We wear black and blend into the scenery. If I talk to guests, then I'm not doing my job. I can't engage. My job is to be on the periphery. To observe, watch, and be ready for the moment. I'm put in a box as if that's all I can do -- take a decent photograph. There's the esteemed famous photographers who are drizzled with admiration and then there's the rest of us who serve our clients like drivers. Go here. Go there. Take that picture. Now that one. Stop. We go where the client wants us to go as if we have no brain to know where to drive ourselves. And no one asks the photographer what they think of what's going on. They ask the politician and the model and the musician. The photographer is just there to capture the story for them as if they don't have the intelligence to know anything about the story they are capturing.

Recently, I did a favor for a friend and photographed a Forbes philanthropy event. The summit touched on one of my passions -- social business. Their words truely inspired me -- especially one speaker. Normally embarrassingly shy, I decided to go tell her I really liked what she had to say. She barely acknowledged my existence. Her eyes seemed to see through me and then she turned to the man standing next to me confirming all my insecurities. Obviously I wasn't important enough for her to talk to. I wasn't worth her time. It's funny how the second I take the "photographer" hat off and put on another one, people want to talk to me and the second I swap them again they don't. That's why I hate being a photographer. The photographer hat puts me in a box. I am not just a photographer. Don't put me in a box. 

Monrovia's Got Talent: Take 1 by Morgana Wingard

UN security monitors, container shippers, and civil servant mentors by day, Monrovia's expats breakout their musical genius by night. Vince, a member of the US Army embedded with the UN Mission in Liberia, and Dara, a program manager at IREX started jam sessions for the musically inclined residents of Monrovia. It has become a weekly addiction which lately adopted a new twist. After a shoot a few weeks ago, I swung by Fuzion -- one of our favorite local bars -- for one such jam session and plopped by oversized camera on the table. Vince immediately spotted the opportunity. The next week we married his mic to my camera and started recording the diverse musical talents of our community. It's become a weekly inspirational soup of creativity. Enjoy.  

  • Writer: Vincent Yznaga
  • Song: "Our Song"
  • Lead Singer: Vincent Yznaga
  • Guitar: Lisa Fouladesh
  • Eggs & Harmony: David Levy

 

The Daily Talk by Morgana Wingard

 In 2000 Alfred Sirleaf unfolded his chalkboard newspaper flanking Tubman Boulevard in Monrovia, Liberia for the first time. Since then, Alfred has posted important, relevant news stories in colloquial language and images for thousands of locals and expats to read daily. By informing citizens of their rights and responsibilities without the negligent gossip cluttering local papers, the Daily Talk empowers citizens to serve as a check against corruption.

Between calls from various news sources on his black Nokia cell phone, Alfred energetically demonstrates how he folds and rotates the chalkboard inside a plywood hut and methodically writes the latest news with strategic shades of Giotto Robercolor chalk. He is a walking encyclopedia on the history of Liberia. As he crouches inside the hut, he explains the photograph of the week -- an image of a man with his hands tied behind his back. "During the time of civil unrest in Liberia, the rebels introduced Tie-bay. It's a french word, but we have to spell it in Liberian way."  He carefully washes a corner of the board with a wet clothe and opens his tool box of Giotto Robercolor chalk to update the corner with the latest story. 

Alfred's chalkboard newspaper is still open thanks in part to Accountability Lab -- an organization in Liberia with a mission to cultivate citizen participation and develop innovative tools to fight corruption and demand accountability. Their Accountapreneurship Funds support projects like the Accountability Film School and a text message system enabling students at the University of Liberia to anonymously report problems at the school.  Accountability Lab is currently helping Alfred empower thousands of more Liberians by building a second chalkboard in Red Light -- a swarming market neighborhood in Monrovia.  

Feeling Gaudi by Morgana Wingard

The toughest stories to photograph are the closest ones. Typically, I overlook them or avoid them like a telemarketer. [...] As I stood in the sanctuary of Gaudi's most visited construction site, I realized today's story is the man in front of me. My dad, a talented architect himself, was finally standing inside the creation of one his favorite architects and he couldn't see it.

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Doing Good is Good Business by Morgana Wingard

I believe that business has the power to transform our world and save lives—more so than charities or governments. I believe that business can provide solutions for today’s biggest challenges. In fact, they must. Business has a unique role to play in the lives of people around the world. By meeting the needs
 of people through market-based solutions, it will not only strengthen the long-term success of a business, but also improve millions of lives. [...]

My experience [...] made me consider the power and potential of business to pioneer positive change. I made 
three primary observations. One, charities have a ceiling on their ability to increase people’s standard of living. Once people have a roof over their heads, basic health care, food, and primary education, they need opportunity and jobs. Charities are essential, like milk is to a baby. But once the child grows up, their needs change. Two, charities are dependent
on donors. Donor politics aside, charities by their very nature are unsustainable, which is ever more apparent in a shaky economy. Donations to charity suffer as people and governments trim their budgets. Third, business has an opportunity to fill the gap and help in a way that charities and governments cannot.

I spent half of last year researching the feasibility of businesses doing good business by doing good in the world. I talked to marketing company CEOs on every continent about their markets and their clients, read research reports by Edellman and Deloitte, CSR propaganda from Fortune 500 companies, Harvard Business Review articles, and inspirational books like Let My People Go Surfing. The result: a nearly 100 page report that I then forged into an iPad app.