Aperture in Rwanda

by Steve Simon

KIGALI, RWANDA--From what I've seen of this country, like so many places in Africa, it's beautiful with lush vegetation, rolling hills framed by mountains and active volcanoes. But there is also poverty and the burden of HIV/AIDS and the legacy of the Genocide.

Landscape-Rwanda 206-2.jpg
The Rwandan Landscape

Though much time has passed since the Genocide in 1994--that horrific time resonates throughout this country, as we make our way to the places that Dr. James Orbinski, the former head of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of MSF in 1999, had been. We meet with survivors and talk about his and their experiences.

Dr. James Orbinski visits a Genocide Memorial where the mummified remains of many who were systematically killed in the area, are kept in rooms as a ghostly reminder for the world to see.

Photographically, Rwanda is not an easy place to be in many respects. Given the history, the people are understandably edgy and suspicious when it comes to cameras, and often savvy enough to ask for money. The government also keeps a tight reign on foreign media.

I have brought with me my 2ghz MacBook Pro, with two GBs of Ram and 100GB drive. I had brought two 120GB pocket drives, one Smart Disk Firewire, the other a Western Digital USB-2 that I picked up for the bargain price of $105. I have also have a bunch of blank DVD's and a few blank CD's.

The above storage would have been enough for my three-week journey, until my Firewire drive went "missing" on day 1, (I may have left it in the airplane seat pocket- DUMB); but stuff happens.

So I had to re-adjust my strategies. I decided to shoot just raw, not raw and JPEG, which I have done in the past. With Aperture on this shoot, there was no need, especially with drive space being so tight thanks to my carelessness.

I started out ingesting my 12.2 Mega-pixel D2X raw files into a managed-Aperture library on the laptop. But it was clear after a few days, that space was quickly becoming a problem, as was finding time to edit and deal with a storage capacity quickly filling to the brim.

At first I decided to export my projects to the external drive, and delete the project on the laptop to make space. I kept each project to about 4.5gigs max, so I could back up to DVD, which worked--but if I wanted to see the stuff in Aperture, I would have to import the project back inside the library--which was time consuming and didn't make sense.

So I brought all the projects back into an Aperture Managed library on the USB2 external drive, which took time, but was a one-time deal that gave me instant access to the whole shoot.

I have to say; I was pleasantly surprised with Aperture's performance on USB-2 bus- powered drive. With all the talk about using Firewire drives for maximizing speed, I didn't expect this drive to perform as well as it did.

I then finished editing. For this shoot, I had a three-pronged editing system. Losing a hard drive meant space was at a premium. So the first thing I did, which is normal in my workflow, was to identify the rejects and delete them. I was more ruthless than normal because of the circumstances, deleting a few more than I may have in a perfect situation at home.


Snapshots of victims are on display at the Museum in Kigali

I then rated the rest. One star was for the personal shots of the crew and people we met along the way. Two-stars were for shots of the crew and set-up, these production stills are an important part of this assignment. Three-star images were reserved for images of Dr. Orbiniski, which would be used for publicity, the DVD cover etc., as well as the photographs I would use for my own purposes.

I then created smart albums for each of the three different ratings, and the images in these albums were the ones I backed up to DVD, and backed-up again into a much smaller managed-Aperture library of selects on my laptop.

I created a new project called Africa 2007 3-Star Selects, went to the three star smart album, selected all 1258 selects and dragged them into the new project. I then exported the new project onto the desktop (about 20 minutes) and imported the project into the other managed Aperture library on the laptop's hard-drive. I created new projects for the 1-Star and 2-Star Smart Albums and did the same to back them up onto the laptop's managed Aperture library.

If space becomes an issue before the shoot ends, I will go back to my unrated images and delete more.

As far as workflow, my whole goal in the field was to edit as best I could, ingest with as much metadata and key-wording as time permitted; but most importantly--back stuff up. There will be time back home to finesse and add and correct metadata, but getting the stuff back safely is foremost on my mind. The trip is near the halfway point and my managed library is 61.62GB large.

In the old days, there was much anxiety traveling with bricks of film and bringing back the exposed film, worrying about security, X-Rays, loss or damage. In the digital age, there's still some anxiety, but with prudent back up and care--there's less worry.

I am really enjoying using Aperture on the road. The laptop, although not the latest, greatest, fastest --is working fast enough, particularly with a USB-2 Managed library! This was not the way I planned to work, but as Tony Soprano says, "you do what you have to do". More on my African adventure next post.

* I haven't had time or a good connection to answer comments from last post, will do when I can!


2007-02-08 07:34:36
Excellent post. Thanks for sharing.
2007-02-09 01:40:21
What a terrific post, Steve. The pictures are very strong. Thanks so much for doing this while on assignment. Nice work!
2007-02-09 08:46:29
Thanks for posting this. I'm preparing for a trip to Sudan in March and am currently trying to figure out my workflow while there - hardest part is lack of electricity where we'll be. Anyway, thanks again - looking forward to the next post.
2007-02-09 22:52:29
I've left too much stuff in airplane pockets. I've now used a label maker to make tags with my name, cell phone, and email address, and put it on everything I might leave behind when traveling - drives, batteries, chargers, power supplies, laptop, laptop battery, everything.
Steve Simon
2007-02-14 04:56:01
Roger you are a smarter man then I. Great idea!