Human Remains in Ntarama Church – Rwanda


Did you see Hotel Rwanda ( If so, you are most likely aware of the Rwandan Genocide that took place back in the mid 90’s. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to check out this – for some background……

In short, misguided civil and moral upheaval resulted in systematic killing of over 800,000 people by their family and neighbors, along with the assassination of Rwanda’s President. Most of these murders were undertaken with machete’s (they didn’t want to waste money on ammunition), and dead bodies that didn’t rot in the sun were dumped into mass graves.

Over twenty years later, and Rwanda is still dealing with the aftermath of this (

There is plenty to read about what the United Nations did or didn’t do during this time to stop what was going on. There are also a lot of parallels to what has been going on in Sudan. I’m not going to get into the politics of either situation here. What I would like to do, is tell you about the photograph above, which was taken in Rwanda in late 2006 while I was on a trip there……

Over a few weeks in Rwanda I was able to visit three different Genocide Memorials in and around the capital city of Kigali. One was the “official” memorial, complete with an audio tour and signs in english. The other two, however, were more simple….and in my eyes……much more powerful.

Ntarama Church was one of the churches where people fled because they erroneously felt that they would be protected. In the end, most of these people perished.

We arranged for a driver to give us a ride to the memorial, which is a story all unto itself….

When we arrived at the church/memorial the gate was locked, but a local woman/caretaker came and let us in. There was nobody else at the memorial, and we walked around in an eerie silence. There were no signs and no stories. There were no windows or lights, just sunshine filtering through elaborate bricks arranged to allow for air flow. Large holes in the concrete wall of the church shows where grenades exploded. The floor of the church was littered with personal belongings of victims that have remained since the massacre. In the rear of the church, wooden shelves held hundreds of human skulls.

Skeletons and bones were still being unearthed, and this bag had recently been dug up. They were to be cleaned up and added to the shelves with the others.

At the time, I was shooting a Nikon F3, with T-Max 3200, and printed this image using the “lith” process.

Another blog with more details:

As you can see from their images, some changes have been made at the church…..


Denim Factory in Guatemala


In the early 2000’s, I was a Senior Photographer for Gap Inc., in San Francisco. One of the great things about working for such a large corporation is the opportunity to experience things that you might not otherwise be able to.

Gap was heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity and sponsored a few trips each year for employees. Individuals that had volunteered for local non-profits would be invited along to work on building houses for a week at a time. I was lucky enough to be invited on one of their trips to Guatemala.

As part of the trip, a tour of one of the denim factories that Gap worked with was arranged. I was extremely excited to be able to see one of these factories up close…..but pessimistic about my chances of photographing (based on the horrific stories we have all heard about manufacturing in 3rd world countries). To my surprise, the owner of the factory actually encouraged me to take photos as we were shown around (In the end, I figured out that we, as Gap Employees, probably weren’t going to be shown anything that would remotely look bad).

The factory itself was huge, occupying an entire city block and employing over 10,000 people. As we toured, interesting facts surfaced. Things like – Factories around the world all pay the same – so this Guatemalan factory competed with factories in China, India and other places where wages were rock bottom. This meant that the place that they were really able to make money was on minimizing wasted cloth. The only computers in the entire place were used for laying out patterns on the rolls of fabric, in order to cram as many pairs of jeans as possible onto the denim.

We also asked lots of questions about minimum age requirements for the factory. It was explained to us that they were forbidden to use underage employees, but sometimes it was next to impossible to establish the age of applicants for the jobs. Most people in Guatemala didn’t have birth certificates, so Gap actually had a person at the factory that would travel out to the villages that people were from and question family members and neighbors if there were any questions about the age of an applicant.

As we were touring the facility, I was using two film cameras. One for color, and one for black and white. As I finished a roll in the camera with color film in it, I pushed in the rewind button and attempted to crank the film back into the cassette. To my astonishment, the film wouldn’t budge!!! Something had malfunctioned and the film wasn’t able to be rewound into the cassette, which meant that I couldn’t put a new roll of film into the camera. I was in a slight panic, and couldn’t stop and figure out what might have happened as we were continue walking through the factory and I needed to keep shooting with my other camera (in the end, I ended up losing the entire roll of film).

I kept shooting with my black and white camera, which had T-Max 3200 film in it. Closer examination will reveals huge grain in the image, but back then it was the only way to shoot in the low light conditions of the factory.

The image above shows a pair of jeans being sanded by hand. They are attached to a rubber bladder that is inflated into each leg. I had always assumed that the finishes on a pair of jeans were all done by machine….but they aren’t. Stone washing is exactly what is says – large industrial washers with stones in them are filled with jeans and ran through a cycle. Jeans that look “pre-worn” are actually hand sanded like in the image. “Whiskers” are added the same way. Sandblasted jeans are actually sandblasted. It’s all very labor intensive. And fascinating to photograph.

Thanx for listening.




Silent Beauty – by Todd Young


Silent Beauty

Culver City, CA – November 2008


This image is one that I get an enormous amount of comments on.  Everything from, its “staged” to I can’t stop looking at it, to I like it but I could never own it or hang it on my wall.

I’ve been in the commercial photography world for over 25 years and consider myself lucky to have grown along with the technology.  From before the term “digital” had anything to do with photography, or much of anything for that matter, shooting large format film through to today where DSLR cameras have as much or more resolution and tonal range than film ever did.

This image was captured in a side alley behind the Academy of Beauty in Culver City.  This beauty school has been in Culver City for decades and has survived the gentrification of the downtown area.  This side alley separates the school and my favorite Mexican restaurant and cantina.  It was completely by happenstance that I walked down the alley after leaving the restaurant.  I almost always have some form of camera with me, and thankfully I at least had my Canon G10.  I thought about racing home and grabbing a different camera but knew there wasn’t enough time.  The light was already very soft in the narrow alley this late in the afternoon.  And, coming back the following day would not guarantee the “subject” would still be there.  I knew I had a unique image, the beauty school practice heads stacked up in the window like that.  The haunting eyes and the tape, the reflection in the glass of the building across the alley.  Just out of frame are mops leaning against the building drying and the schools trash cans.

I enjoyed the image and was quite happy with my luck coming across it, and with the technical aspects of the capture.  It wasn’t until a close friend saw it and commented to me about the meaning it had for her that I fully understood the power of the image.  Our friend has a severely autistic daughter, she is 14 years old and has never spoken.  It was our friend that titled the image, Silent Beauty.

Canon G10

1/125 second


ISO 200

28mm (equivalent)

Adobe Bridge / Camera RAW, Adobe Photoshop, Nik Silver Efex Pro 2


Todd Young

Portrait of Woman at LifeCycle Ride.


I have been an avid cyclist since the early 90’s. A couple of my most memorable rides have been during the Aidsride/Lifecycle rides – week long fundraising rides that started in San Francisco and ended in Los Angeles.

In 2002, the ride was transitioning from “California AidsRide” to the new “LifeCycle Ride” (the change was due to disagreements between the principle organizer – a for-profit company – and the recipient organizations, and is a story in itself).

I volunteered to photograph the event. I had done the ride twice in the past and felt that I could really bring out the stories of both the ride and the inspirational people that participated.

On third or fourth morning of the ride, I wanted to set up and do a number of portraits before the riders left for the day, and again when they finished.

I awoke to find low overcast clouds, and a slight mist in the air. The low angle, early morning light that I was hoping for was nowhere to be found. Deciding to make the best of the situation I took my photo gear over to where the bicycles were parked each night and waited for riders to come over and start saddling up for the day.

I had brought a Norman 400B battery operated strobe with me, along with a small/medium soft box. I set that up camera left, and adjusted it until my meter (this was back in Analog Times) told me that I had a 1:2 ratio.

The strobe was set fairly low, as I just wanted enough to give me a bit of ratio on the people, but I wanted to use a small (numerically) aperture thereby allowing the background to go out of focus.

I photographed a few people as they were getting to their bikes to start the day’s ride. As I was in the middle of one of these, I saw a woman in the background that I knew I had to photograph. I quickly finished up with the person that I was with, and jogged down to where this woman was rolling her bicycle out towards the finish line. After quickly explaining who and I was and what I was doing, I asked her if I could photograph her.

In the crustiest of voices, she replied “As long as it doesn’t take very long”.

I thanked her profusely, and led her over to where my camera and light were set up. I immediately knew that I wanted to use black and white to really bring the focus in on her face. A color image would have been too distracting, and brought the viewers eye’s to various splotches of color rather than where I wanted it. I switched out cameras (I had been shooting color for the earlier portraits), and had her stand in front of my camera.

“What do you want me to do?” she asked.

“No smile, look straight at the camera, and tilt your head just a touch this way” I replied.

I took one exposure, and without saying a word she turned and walked away.


Thanx for listening.


Racetrack in Death Valley National Park

What better way to launch this rocket than to go back to the beginning? In my case, this is the first image that I made that had any real meaning to me….


It was 1990, and I was fresh out of Brooks Institute of Photography. I had landed a job with an inhouse studio for Robinsons Department Stores in Los Angeles. I had sold my big studio 4×5 camera, lens and tripod that I had used through school, and had used the money to purchase a Calumet Wood Field Camera and a smallish tripod.

After “borrowing” a lens from the studio for the weekend, I tagged along with Senior Photographer Ken Reece as he drove up to Death Valley National Park (it was most likely still a National Monument at that time). He told me that he wanted to show me this really wild place called “Race Track”. It was my first time to this part of California, and I was really stoked to be exploring.

Race Track is a couple hour drive on a rough four wheel drive road from the campgrounds where we were staying. It was hot and dusty, and my initial excitement had began fading long before we even got close.

When we finally arrived, I was blown away. I had never seen something so strange…..a perfectly flat dry lake with concrete hard mud for a mile in any direction. After walking around for a while, I found the rock in the foreground, and decided that I would use it as an anchor to balance out the mountains in the background.

This was back in the film days, and describing the act of actually taking a photo with a 4×5 camera could fill up a few pages of this blog. Suffice to say, after 10-15 minutes of preparation, I was able to expose two sheets of film. Once I was back in the lab, normal processing produced two identical negs that printed easily. Our vehicle was visible as an extremely small bright spot at the base of the mountain in the background, but a quick spotting job took care of it.

I’ve printed this image as large as 20×24, and it holds up beautifully. It has always had an emotional place in my heart, and I still use it in my Landscape Portfolio to this day…..

Thanx for listening.