Turn on the Lights: Electrify Africa

Empire State

I have spent my life in and around places where seemingly limitless electricity and bright lights are the norm. 

I have spent a good bit of my photographic life looking for places where the sun's light shines down just so, striking people, places, and things in the way that makes them more beautiful than they may already be--to my eye, anyway. Everything is subjective. I didn't connect with studio lighting instruction in photo classes. I admire people who can do great indoor work with no natural light, but I wasn't up for the challenge of metering, calibrating, shooting, and then changing it all again for the next shot, over and over again. The results of this work are often stunning. It just doesn't work for me. I love telling stories and framing scenes. The technical details are often lost on me. 

Oak island two

It has never been difficult for me to find light when I want it, though--inside or out. I am so absolutely dependent upon electricity flowing freely through my house and all of the places I go outside of it that just how dependent doesn't even occur to me to until it is gone. When my town loses power, it's a newsworthy event. When the power source falters in my house I keep using up electricity on my phone so I can share the tragedy that is me having no electricity with my social networks. Insanity. I run around looking for candles and flashlights. I wonder how I'm going to occupy myself with real things like books and conversations with actual humans until I can plug back in. I deal with practical matters of food storage and perhaps the loss of a heat or cooling source. Overall it's an entirely manageable situation.

But mostly I wonder how long it's going to take until it comes back on. How long is it going to take these people whose job it is at the power company to keep the lights on to make this happen, already? 

Taking electricity so deeply for granted is why my gratitude lists lately include things like "I turn on a faucet and water comes out. Awesome." "I flip a switch and a light comes on." Because the truth is that 19 percent of the world's population -- or 1.3 billion people -- has no access to electricity at all. One.org informs me about so many critical needs around the world, and one of those is the need for safe, affordable electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. I didn't even know what "energy poverty" meant before I read One's significant material. Now I know that it's a frightening situation that affects millions of African people.

Health care is hugely affected. More than 30 percent of clinics in sub-Saharan Africa--serving approximately 235 million people--are without electricity. I try to imagine life in my city if doctors could only provide services before sundown; if surgeries weren't guaranteed a consistent light source, or if communications between health care providers weren't guaranteed. This is the norm in Africa, and it affects the health--and let's get real, the survival--of millions of people. 

Because power is in limited supply, people must cook inside over open fires or from kerosene sources. This is dangerous and unhealthy

Energy poverty is a critical issue for women

This is the problem. I like to think quickly about solutions.  So I'm thrilled to be a part of One's Light for Light Campaign this month.  Throughout July some of your favorite photobloggers will share their favorite light-filled photographs. In exchange, we'll be asking you to sign the petition  to encourage lawmakers to pass the Electrify Africa bill. My friend Karen kicked us off yesterday with gorgeous shots of her trip to Malawi

Last year, the House and the Senate both introduced bills that would help bring electricity to 50 million people in Africa for the very first time. Unfortunately, they didn’t pass, but there is another chance this year. The House just introduced The Electrify Africa Act. It's important to tell Congress just how important this bill is, how important it is to #ElectrifyAfrica. So please sign the petition to support the Electrify Africa Act

I shot my very favorite light-filled pictures on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, just outside of San Diego. They are a matched set taken minutes apart during the very same sunset. The top image hangs where I can see it first thing every morning, because it makes me think especially of powerful forces and beautiful things. 

Sunset Cliffs Two

Sunset Cliffs One

Speaking up for people who --literally-- do not have the power to advocate for themselves is a powerful force, and a beautiful thing. And for those of us who have a continent's worth of electrical and media outlets at our disposal, it's really, really easy.  So I encourage you to sign the #ElectrifyAfrica petition. Follow the #ElectrifyAfrica hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Use it yourself. Share this post, and share your own favorite light-filled image on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, and tag it #ElectrifyAfrica and #LightforLight. Visit Heather Barmore's site tomorrow for her images and thoughts about this crucial initiative. 

It's the most light-filled time of the year in North America. I'm looking forward to seeing yours.