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Featured Photo: Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro

In order for this story to have its full impact, its important to start with the first time Sandy encountered Mount Kilimanjaro, which isn’t actually when this photo was taken. No, the first time Sandy saw it’s awe-inspiring form it was 1992 while on a rugged backpacking trip with his brother. They were in their early 20’s, finding their way and exploring the world. He recalls sitting in a mess hall of sorts, looking out the window, seeing Mount Kilimanjaro, and knowing that he was in this unique spot of the world without the financial means to make the climb. In order to make the climb you need to hire a guide and have all the proper equipment, especially for the snow. Sandy was always drawn to a good climb, before this segment of the trip they were in Uganda, and had just tackled Mount Elgon at 14,000 feet. This time he continued on his trip, parting ways with his brother here, and nearly forgot about this long lost moment and his desire for this mountain.

The Purpose

Fast forward 18 years, Sandy is making his living from photography. He met two women from Salve Regina University who were so taken by their work at an orphanage in East Africa, they decided to open their own in order to alleviate the pressures of the orphanages already operating there. They, along with another driven gentleman, opened what is called Flying Kites. They started it in Kenya, found a piece of land north of Nairobi but kept a base of sorts in Newport. They had the idea to offer adventure travel tours as a fundraiser for the orphanage. The tours consisted of visiting the orphanage and climbing Kilimanjaro. They would buy seats wholesale on a guided treks and sell them to their supporters.

Sandy would frequently run into them and became friendly with them, bonding over stories of Africa. When he heard about their mission with Flying Kites, he became intrigued. Immediately, he offered to take photos for them. In exchange for the rights to all of the photos, they happily paid Sandy’s airfare to get him to Kenya.

Again, Sandy was facing the mountain with a kind of financial pressure, although this time it was to climb it and take photos. Due to this he wasn’t really paying attention to the reality of the hike, more so he was trying to simultaneously work out shots for the luggage company he had contracted with, work for Flying Kites, and hopefully take some lifestyle photos without taking advantage of the situation.

The project started with shared visits to several orphanages of Nairobi, in the famous Kibera section. It was a slum of sorts, what he called, “a truly challenging place to see.” Here, he shot an entire backstory for the orphanage, basically to show what the new orphanage was trying to alleviate the pressure of. Sandy explained he hasn’t been able to leave a grain of rice on his plate after leaving that experience. Not because that one grain might actually impact the orphans, but because he says, “something in your integrity just switches after that.” He described it as life changing, and spoke of the children having unmatched courage and resiliency. With these emotions and revelations still swirling they were whisked off to the mountain.

The Climb

Climbing Kilimanjaro takes about seven days if done correctly, and it requires a few training hikes to get climbers up to speed and weed out those who aren’t cut out for it. It requires “yo-yo”ing up and down the mountain while making the climb to best speed the all important acclimatization to the altitude, the only real way to avoid altitude sickness and fatigue.

After being in the orphanages, Sandy was aware of the impact it had and that is brought him down to Earth, thinking, let’s keep this real. Let’s turn this into something impactful. The photos were initially difficult to take. He was searching for something epic, emotional, or with drama, but instead was left with a one dimensional story. The story being, white people hiking. But there was this massive emotional tidal wave going on in the background from the experiences prior.

As they approached the summit, there’s a significant portion that must be hiked by night. It’s covered in a sort of volcanic ash, which is too sandy to walk up during the day and therefore must be scaled while frozen. At midnight, after a quick couple hours of sleep at the 16,000 ft camp, Sandy, his guide, and hundreds of other climbers set off up the frozen scree portion. During this, he suddenly realized that the illumination of his head lamp seemed brighter than usual, to which he looked up and realized there was a brilliant full moon!

It couldn’t have panned out better, however it was becoming increasingly difficult for Sandy to realize this as he was stricken by the symptoms of altitude sickness. He described it as almost a sickly drunken stupor, leaving him lethargic and disinterested, not to mention dizzy. A small little voice in the back of his head urged him to try, and the ‘alert’ that has gone off each time he took one of his best photos started to blare.

The moon was too bright and too familiar to take the a shot straight on, but the shapes created by the steep side of the mountain along with the layer of clouds thousands of feet beneath them set up the composition perfectly. Sandy stumbled around, disoriented, trying to set up a small tripod to capture the shot. He would find a sturdy rock, get the camera set, and then the moon would be out of place, or the shapes would be off. Again, he would move ahead, trying to beat both the altitude sickness and the seemingly quick moon. His instincts carried him through, he pushed the limits of technology at the time, and he was left with an intense shot.

It was then too, that he had a full circle revelation, realizing that he finally did what he so longed to 18 years prior as he stared out the window at the mountain. However, this time he was standing on top of it, with meaning and purpose, and a killer photo with all the majesty it deserved.

The Revelation

Here he was, 18 years after his initial view of Mount Kilimanjaro, with a serendipitous yet strange alignment of events that brought him back. As Sandy puts it, “While I wasn’t setting out to have a life changing experience, I was having one.” Sandy wasn’t there to tick an item off his bucket list, in fact, to him he sees the idea of a bucket list as a luxury, a difficult term to grasp while contemplating the orphaned kids and their focus on survival.

People tend put high value on “experiences,” particularly in the travel realm, and while this might seem like something a travel photographer might be into, he finds it to be self-indulgent. None of those children will have the opportunity to one day be photojournalists, or likely even have a camera, a reality that quickly grounds you.

It wasn’t a goal to satisfy his needs, rather he was looking at it as a job. Instead of living for experiences, he lives for creative production or ingenious problem solving. This photo isn’t just of Mount Kilimanjaro, it’s an awe inspiring arc of life.

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Featured Artist: John Repoza

Fine Art, Photography, Newport Art, Local Artist, Unique Home Goods, Locally-made, Newport Gifts, Travel Art, Handmad

“If you have your eyes open, you can find something beautiful.” This is the message photographer John Repoza conveys through his remarkable work and philosophical outlook. Real estate agent by day and seeker of beauty at all times, he not only produces the kind of photography worthy of hanging in the multi-million dollar homes he sells, but that resonates with people in all walks of life. Why? Because he’s been through them all. Previous hardships of financial struggle and health related issues have provided him with a powerful sense of perspective and a positive outlook.  To Repoza, everyone is an artist. The only distinction is that most people either suppress it or don’t have to opportunity to pursue it. He’s in a place in life he hasn’t always had the luxury of enjoying. Now, he is careful to take full advantage of the world around him, relishing its splendor with deep, emotional gaze. The photos he exhibits are full of heart and the perspective of someone who is truly enchanted with what’s in front of him.

Fine Art, Photography, Newport Art, Local Artist, Unique Home Goods, Locally-made, Newport Gifts, Travel Art, Handmade

Where it all began

One day, he heard a quote from the Dalai Lama, “The purpose of all the major religious traditions is not to construct big temples on the outside, but to create temples of goodness and compassion inside, in our hearts.” This resonated with him, and he began working on his, “inside”. Repoza was inspired to go to school at Union College to acquire his Visual Arts degree, an opportunity that revealed an artistic self previously dormant. As time went on and he began receiving feedback, he realized he had a knack for finding beautiful moments. His cumulative experiences, including stage 4 lung cancer, have provided him with struggle, but in turn, they put the world in a new light. He finds it hard to explain how to see the world differently, but as you can imagine, going from potentially losing your life to being able to live it to its full extent, makes you slow down and take in your surroundings on an entirely new level.

Fine Art, Photography, Newport Art, Local Artist, Unique Home Goods, Locally-made, Newport Gifts, Travel Art, Handmad

The creative process

His artistic process begins when he wakes up in the morning. He explains, “preparedness and opportunity are where success in life lies,” and as such, he always has a camera with him. Every day he takes from 100 to 1,000 photos, capturing anything and everything that strikes him as a potential moment. Repoza calls it an intuitive, educational process and says he doesn’t go out with any plans or expectations. There is no “creation” of a shot, or means of production behind the lens. Instead he seeks a balance of lighting and nature and shoots whatever speaks to him. His open attitude about shooting results in an ability to notice and photograph moments of sublime and startling natural phenomenon. “Creativity in its true sense is not an intellectual pursuit. In fact, it’s proven to be an entirely different part of the brain altogether,” he says. His refined presence of mind is contagious, especially when viewing his work.

Fine Art, Photography, Newport Art, Local Artist, Unique Home Goods, Locally-made, Newport Gifts, Travel Art, Handmade

For a cause

When asked if he had a favorite piece, he laughed saying, “That’s like asking to pick your favorite child!” While John himself may not be able to decide between his works, there are plenty of people who have chosen their own favorites. At the Newport Photo Guild Annual Member Show, he placed second. He previously won the novice division at the Newport Flower Show, and he’s been featured in galleries all along the east coast. However, in alignment with his priorities, he partakes in competitions merely so that others can enjoy his photos and he donates the majority of profits he receives from them. He makes it clear that at this stage, he’s not looking for money when it comes to his art. He has found his peace, and his balance, and instead of taking more than he needs he chooses to give back.

 Fine Art, Photography, Newport Art, Local Artist, Unique Home Goods, Locally-made, Newport Gifts, Travel Art, Handmad

John Repoza at Blink Gallery

On November 3rd, from 6-9pm, Blink Gallery, located at 478 Thames Street, Newport, RI, presents the John Repoza exhibition, Serendipity, which will feature a variety of his photos. John’s outlook is enlightening, and in accordance with the rest of his message and artistic priorities, all of Mr. Repoza’s profits made from the sales of his art will be donated to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Newport, RI. For more information about the John Repoza Opening, please call (401)619-3717

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Blink Gallery shows a collection of photography with authentic, extraordinary, yet relatable moments – story telling with a little edge and a local touch. Owned and operated by Newport native and professional photographer Alexander “Sandy” Nesbitt, the gallery displays his work year round, a two-part collection of adventure travel images from around the world and the rest being the “real” Newport. In addition to Sandy’s photography, various local artists also show their work, making it a one stop shop for edgy fine art photography, alternative gifts, and unique items for the home.