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Nicole Gibson bio picture

Nicole Gibson

Welcome to the Nicole Gibson Photography blog! Years ago, Nicole became captivated by the power of visual expression and storytelling, and today what she loves most is to create images about the world, about humanity, and about the human condition.

Nicole Gibson is an award-winning photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. She was awarded First Place in the 2010 International Photography Awards, in addition to 8 Honorable Mentions. She is also the winner of the 2008 Vincent Versace Award for Photographic Excellence. Nicole’s work has been published in Photoshop User Magazine and B&W. Her work has also been sold to Bethany House Publishers, used by various non-profit organizations, and represented by India Picture stock agency. She is also a member of the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

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One of the most-visited tourist destinations in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Angkor Wat is a vast ancient temple complex in Cambodia that is also the largest religious monument in the world. Originally built as a Hindu temple between the 9th and 15th centuries, it has been turned into a Buddhist site over time and functions as such today. The complex covers over 150 square miles and is made up of over 100 temples and shrines. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge, when all religious worship was banned (see my previous post), many of the temples in Cambodia were destroyed, including those in the Angkor complex, but magnificent ruins still remain. Here are some photos from my day of exploring.

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Cambodia’s Killing Fields

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I remember a day, when I was in grade school, that a new girl joined my class. She had darker skin than me and a pastel floral dress that looked very un-American. The teacher told us she had come from Cambodia, as a refugee. We grew up together in the same schools, but I never knew anything about her country or the events that brought her to my classroom. Many Americans don’t.

Only 30-ish years ago, the guerrilla communist group known as the Khmer Rouge (rouge being the color of communism and Khmer being the ethnicity of Cambodia), began fighting against the democratic government for power and eventually won. Pol Pot was the leader of this new regime, and from 1975-1979 they tortured and killed roughly two million people – about a quarter to a third of the entire country.

The regime’s goal was to take the country back to “year zero,” exterminating essentially everyone who was not a peasant farmer. The educated, the religious, foreigners, those who wore glasses… The regime drove everyone out of the cities and eventually to labor camps where they were slowly starved and worked to death, to prisons, or to the “killing fields.”

Across Cambodia there are hundreds of killing fields, where the Khmer Rouge took people to die horrific deaths and to be buried in open mass graves. Many of these fields are still surrounded by landmines and are not accessible, but there is one just on the outskirts of Phnom Penh that has been opened for the public.

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A place you would expect to be far from civilization, the site is surprisingly near to everyday life and is a place many people pass on a daily basis.

As you enter the space, you first come to several signs marking significant locations.

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You pass by mass graves that have been marked off…

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…and you pass by mass graves left open, gaping, one after another in the earth.

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Excavation has been done, and yet, especially when it rains, bones continue to surface, and the clothes of the dead lay openly in the path, reminding you of the very real and recent deaths of the humans underneath your feet.

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Visitors walk around this place of death inside fences that are wound with barbed wire, and yet in a vision of striking contrast, just on the other side of the fences are scenes of everyday life, now returned in measure to the remaining people of this nation.

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Though the worst of the Khmer Rouge holocaust happened in the late ’70s, civil war persisted in Cambodia until the end of the 1990s. The country continues to be rebuilt and to get on its feet once more, but the work is hardly finished. The Khmer Rouge regime is now, mercifully, in the past, but the genocide continues to color the stories and lives of Cambodians – and, I hope, to catalyze a better future to come.

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Love Your Neighbor (Whatever His Religion)

The world seems to be going mad. If you go by what the news reports, the situation is pretty bleak. Particularly when it comes to relations between Christians and Muslims.

But what we hear on the news is not the whole story.

The truth is, there are peace-loving people on both sides who don’t make the news, mainly because peace doesn’t really sell that well in the world of news and media. So I’d like to chip away at that and share with you about a gathering that took place today, an event that is only one of many happening all the time and all over the place.

About 40 Christians and Muslims from my city got together at the mosque to simply meet and spend time with each other as fellow humans. As we shared lunch, the pastor and imam took turns answering honest (and often hard) questions from members of the other faith. The kinds of questions that remind us that real relationship between us is getting more important by the day.

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We then left the mosque and went out together to pick up trash and clean up the city we all share.
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As members of these two faiths, we have substantial differences, it’s true. But we also have a surprising amount in common. And when it comes down to it, we’re all humans, and these are my neighbors. My faith teaches me to love my neighbors, and I’m so thankful to have ones of both faiths who are willing to do things like this. Share this story, and let’s make this kind of thing happen more often.

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Canang Sari: Balinese Offerings

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Bali has reputation for being, basically, an exotic vacation destination. But it’s also an intensely spiritual place. I felt it as soon as I got off the plane, and I saw it everywhere I looked.

I’ve just returned from a month-long trip to Indonesia, and after spending most of my time on the Muslim-majority island of Java, the Hindu worship of Bali was a stark contrast. Most noticeably, the daily Balinese offering baskets, called canang sari, are literally everywhere you turn. On the sidewalk in front of businesses, hanging from baskets in front of homes, on the steps of temples. Everywhere.

Canang refers to the baskets themselves, which are woven from coconut leaves, and sari refers to the “essence” of the offerings to the gods, which is typically money or food placed on top. The offerings are made in the morning every day and are, as far as I can tell, specific to the island of Bali.

Canang sari so marked my experience of the place that I put together this collection of images, all from my first day in Bali.

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Duke Summer Reconciliation Institute

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It can come as no surprise that reconciliation is something our world is in dire need of. That’s why every summer Duke Divinity School puts on what they call the Summer Reconciliation Institute. It’s a week-long immersion in reconciliation training for people of all fields and backgrounds.

This year I had the enormous privilege of attending with several colleagues of mine, and we will be processing the week for a long time to come, I can promise you. In the meantime, here are some highlights from the week.

 

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Every day we gathered together to hear teaching from someone in a different area of reconciliation. I think I can probably say that many paradigms and perspectives were shifted in this room because of what was said.

 

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One of the most amazing people we had the honor of hearing from, this is Dr. John Perkins. Dr. Perkins was born in Mississippi in 1930 and was influential in the American civil rights movement. He is now the president of the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development, the author of nine books, and a renowned speaker and teacher on issues of racial reconciliation. Basically, he’s a living legend.

 

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My colleagues and I spent the week studying Islam and Christianity in a course co-taught by Duke’s own Dr. Ellen Davis and Muslim Chaplain Abdullah Antepli.

We also visited a local mosque to learn about a community with whom we desperately need to work toward reconciliation.

 

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We were given a tour of the mosque and invited to observe Friday prayers. We then gathered in the mosque gymnasium for a time of Q&A with members of the mosque. This was a stirring, inspiring, and challenging week, and I fully believe that extraordinary acts of reconciliation are soon to come from those who attended. This week was a great personal privilege and an experience for which I’m so very thankful!

 

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On an unrelated note, I also attended my first real baseball game while in Durham, where I learned a bit of sports history: Durham, North Carolina is the birthplace of the Bull Durham Tobacco Company, which was often advertised at American baseball games at the turn of the century. It’s said that because large Bull Durham tobacco ads were often placed near the pen where players warmed up, the area began to be called “the bullpen.” Who knew? I now feel like my first baseball game was historic for more reasons than one.

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Hayden Flour Mills

 

This is my friend Emma. We’ve been through some crazy adventures together, and I recently got to spend some time with her in her latest adventure: a family flour mill. She and her dad run the business, Hayden Flour Mills, using a fantastic Austrian mill to create unique, clean, local flours. I’m very much a supporter of local food, but I had never heard of anything like this before, and I must say I fell in LOVE with what they’re doing. And it’s obvious that they love it too.

They run the business from the back of this local (and amazing!) restaurant, Pane Bianco, where the fresh ingredients, creativity, and passion all add up to crazy good food.

 

 

And this is Marco Bianco, aka, Director of Dough Management for all of the Bianco restaurants (there are three of them). I have to say, he was a blast to hang out with, and his love for what he does is contagious. I had a new appreciation for dough, flour, and all things grain by the time I left!

 

 

The Austrian mill. As you can see, it’s made of wood, and the labels are in German. Somehow that makes the whole thing that much cooler…

 

 

This arrow indicates how closely the stones are set together, which helps determine how fine or coarse the final product will be.

 

 

The name of the business is Hayden Flour Mills, named after the historic Hayden Flour Mills founded in the city in the early 1870s. The original Hayden Flour Mills took locally-grown Arizona grain and made it into flour with a mill powered by the Salt River. Since then, flour milling has changed dramatically, and not in a good way. That’s why, in the spirit of the old mill, Emma and her dad have made it their work to once again mill local, heritage grains and make flour without bleaching, additives, and all the other things that have made their way into modern milling. I love it, I tell you.

 

This grain is a heritage, pre-industrial wheat called White Sonora, which Emma tells me was actually the first wheat in North America. Before milling, the grain is prepped by adding water and mixing it by hand (and by that I mean WITH hands) to increase the flour yield.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And lest you think milling is a simple, one-size-fits-all process, I can tell from just my short time that it is not. This is Emma and the miller confirming specifications for the different batches of various grains to be milled that day.

The finished flour is now used by about 20 local restaurants and a few stores, so I went with Emma for a couple deliveries.

 

 

This is another Bianco restaurant, called Italian Restaurant, which just recently opened. Much of the artwork, if not all of it, is by a member of the Bianco family.

 

 

And lastly, some of the final product, tantalizing passersby from the window at Italian Restaurant.

Thanks to Emma, Hayden Flour Mills, and Marco Bianco for an inspiring day! Let’s do it again soon!

 

IRC Plants New Roots in Phoenix

Now this is a FANTASTIC idea.

I have become a huge proponent of eating organic food and, even better, LOCAL organic food. I love exploring farmers markets in my area and buying as much as possible from local growers. I also, as you know, work with different refugee communities and have come to count them as friends.

So what an exciting day it was when I found out that the International Rescue Committee (IRC), who works with refugees worldwide, is establishing community gardens all across the country where refugees can use their gardening skills, grow healthy food for themselves and their communities, and sell their produce at local farmers markets! I LOVE it!

And this weekend I had the opportunity to participate. On Saturday morning, groups of volunteers from all over the city gathered to help prepare a new garden site in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Working all morning, volunteers cleared the site of rocks, fertilized the soil, and dug a trench to bring irrigation water to the crops. The new garden officially opens today and, I have no doubt, will do wonderful things for Phoenix refugees and their neighbors.

Before the work began, volunteers listened to an employee of the IRC give instructions

Volunteers dug the irrigation trench while others prepared the garden plot

 

 

 

 

 

We had so many people stop to ask us what we were doing, and from the excited responses, I’m thinking this garden is going to be a big hit

 

 

 

Josh Prather organized volunteers from a local church to participate in the day’s work

 

Georgetown

I was there for four days, but it was not enough. I had never seen Georgetown before, and I have to say I wish I had more time there. Exploring the city on red brick sidewalks, taking in elegant row houses, and people-watching at the coffee shops, waterfront restaurants, and hallowed university campus. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and hope to see it again.

The real reason I was there, though, was to photograph a conference at Georgetown University. 100 people gathered in the nation’s capitol to discuss peace, war, and how to work toward the former. Participants were challenged, given food for thought, and even moved to tears and laughter, and I was honored to be there to photograph it. Most of the photos wouldn’t be of interest to anyone not at the event, but I thought I’d share a few. Here’s to Georgetown!

 

 

 

 

 

2012 International Photography Awards

The results are in, and I’ve been awarded 5 Honorable Mentions in the 2012 International Photography Awards. And the winning images are…

 

Ambrotos, winner in three separate portrait categories

Peace Be Upon You, winner in the Deeper Perspective category

and a series from last September’s Peace Walk

This competition is most prestigious, so it is a tremendous honor to be named among the winners. A huge thank you to all of the judges for counting my work among the best in the world this year! Next year I’m going for an even bigger win! 🙂

 

By the way, I won a First Place award in this competition two years ago. Here is the winning portfolio, if you missed it.

 

 

Languages of Phoenix

 

As surely most of you know, Arizona has a bad rap these days for immigration issues, intolerance, etc. etc. But if you don’t live here, you probably don’t realize how incredibly diverse it is or that the city of Phoenix actually takes in more refugees than most other cities in the country. This place is rich with cultures, customs, and people from all kinds of backgrounds and, to me, that is one of the things that makes it so amazing.

The languages to be found here help to tell the story of this city’s inhabitants. There are many more than I could probably ever find, but here is a start. I’m proud to live in a city with such incredible diversity, and if I were to ever leave, this is something I would most assuredly miss.

 

Former Carniceria, now East African Food

Chinese

Japanese

I have no idea what this even is

Some form of Chinese/Asian language

This one’s a mystery too

Arabic

Somali

Amharic, the language of Ethiopia. This is the alphabet!

Korean

Chinese