Memories of events and misadventures are happening more frequently as I pour over thousands of slides from my analog era. I recently came across several plastic boxes of transparencies marked “Greece, Island of Patmos.” I had been hired to shoot a documentary on the Apostle John which took me on a large plane from L.A. to Athens, then a smaller plane to the city of Thessaloniki and finally a ten-hour hydrofoil to the tiny island of Patmos.

The backstory on the Apostle John is that he was one of the twelve disciples who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. In 95 A.D. John was banished by the Roman authorities to the island of Patmos, but not before being thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil where he miraculously survived. The story goes that after witnessing this mind-boggling event the entire Coliseum converted to Christianity immediately. Deep in a cavern on Patmos, John had a profound and disturbing vision. It was the vision of the world to come and wrote the 27th and final chapter of the Holy Bible known as the Book of Revelation.

The first time I realized the connections between the island of Patmos, the Apostle John and the Book of Revelations was in a Baptist church in Dothan, Alabama. How did I end up as the only white guy in an all black church on a Saturday night? I was invited as a result of a near collision with three well-dressed black men. Half naked and soaking wet, I darted from the motel pool to my room when the four of us meet head-on as I rounded a corner. Skidding to a stop, I quickly made an apology and wrapped the towel around my waist. Each of the gentlemen held tattered bibles with gold print on the leather covers. They were preachers in Dothan for a revival at a local Baptist church. I surprised myself by asking if I could attend the revival and to my good fortune they said yes.

For those who don’t know, “whooping” (pronounced hooping) is a celebratory style of preaching that pastors typically use to make sure the congregation can feel his sermon. In many ways, it is nothing short of a biblical opera performed by the man at the pulpit. His overture usually starts with a calm, reflective introduction to a topic such as temptation or adultery and magically transforms the characters from the bible into another misguided member of his personal flock. The tempo begins its steady rise as the pastor plays out the roles on stage. There is constant pacing back and forth from the podium as his voice slips into a falsetto that bellows out over the church’s speaker system. The pastor is accompanied with interludes from the organist and shouts of holy affirmations from those in the pews. Wiping his brow with his white handkerchief, then waving it high into the air as if surrendering to the Lord, he then bellows out his crescendo.“ We all can make our own Patmos!” he shouts, “just as the Apostle John was sentence to the island of Patmos by the Romans”. The minister pauses for a good 30 seconds as the assembled worshippers sit silently in their seats.Then, in the finale the pastor whispers “We too can sentence ourselves to our own island of Patmos.”

While the Apostle John was destined to write about the apocalypse over 2,000 years ago, Nicholas Negroponte currently writes about a brighter and a more enlighten world through technology. Mr. Negroponte is one of the early disciples of computer technology and Chairman Emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. He is also the progressive founder of the One Laptop per Child Foundation which aims to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop. He believes that with access to the computer, children are more engaged in their own education.

For over 25 years, Mr. Negroponte and his wife have had a home on Patmos and have selflessly provided the island’s 3,000 plus residents with free wireless broadband web access. In spite of being isolated on the eastern borderline of the Aegean Sea and being the northernmost island of the Dodecanese island group, the world is only a key-stroke away for the citizens of this remote and rocky island. Unfortunately, the Negroponte’s were not home when I was there, but I did manage to invite myself to a Greek Orthodox wedding.

Greek Orthodox weddings are always on Sunday. They aren’t performed after Easter and Christmas, nor during periods of fasting or the day preceding a Holy Day. Vows aren’t exchanged since marriage is considered a union between two people in love, not a contractual agreement. Wedding bands are traditionally worn on the right hand, not the left. The bride may throw a pomegranate instead of the bouquet (duck if you’ve had too many uzos). The many seeds of the pomegranate symbolize the fertile possibilities between the two young lovers. At the reception, plates are broken on the dance floor (or some other hard surface) for good luck. A member of the immediate family begins and others quickly join in with much yelling and laughing as the plates shatter.

Patmos covers only 34 square kilometers (13.1 sq. miles) with its greatest length of about 25 kilometers (9.6 miles). For such an isolated little island, the poet Peter Porter said it best in his poem “Saint John on Patmos”: “For the right visions you need a desert or an island.”


Lawrence of Arabia

Mr. Dryden: Lawrence, only two kinds of creature get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you’re neither. Take it from me, for ordinary men, it’s a burning, fiery furnace.
T.E. Lawrence: No, Dryden, it’s going to be fun.
Mr. Dryden: It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.

There is a great stillness in the sand and her sights and sounds are tastefully presented in a easy tempo to our senses. Long endless miles of sand dunes and scorching heat, this is the image one has in mind when one thinks of the Sahara.With the reputation for the hottest place on earth, temperatures can reaching up to 57.7 degree Celsius (135.8 degree F). Which makes working conditions uncomfortable and first degree buns common. I relished in shooting midday, capturing waves of heat rising from the scorching sand and apparitions of lakes beyond our reach. My camera would get so hot to the touch I’d soak my kefflyeh with water and wrap it around the camera to keep it cool. I learn to do this when I first came to the Sahara and rested my cheek on the side of the camera while looking through the viewfinder. My face burned with such intensity  that  for a couple of days I had one  large red rosy cheek. From that first experience I learned to have long sleeve shirts, long pants, a hat and a kefflye in my kit.

Our bodies are about two thirds water and when we get dehydrated, it means that amount of water in our body has dropped below the level needed for normal body function. What is uncanny, is that it’s so hot sweat will evaporates before leaving a wet stain on clothing so drinking water at interval (even if you don’t feel thirty) is essential. Drinking to much water will washes away the electrolytes which is why I carry powder electrolyte supplements in my pack. In spite of all the discomfort the Sahara desert is my favorite place to work. The Sahara’s is one place on earth where all men become brothers to survive her embrace.

A silence so great that I can hear the earth breathing, I have found my Atlantis.

Lawrence of Arabia

Reporter Jackson Bentley:  What attracts you personally to the desert?

T.E. Lawrence: Its clean

Image

The Great Sphinx of the Giza Plateau on the west bank of the Nile in Egypt.The popular legend is that the nose of the Sphinx of Giza was broken off by a cannonball fired by Napoleon’s soldiers. However, sketches of the Sphinx by the Dane Frederic Louis Norden, made in 1737 and published in 1755, illustrate the Sphinx already without a nose.The Sphinx actually lost a considerable amount of its features in 1378 AD when a local Sufi Sheik thought the Sphinx to be idolatrous and attempted to blow it up with explosives. His name was Sayim al-Dahr. They did much the same thing in Afghanistan with some Buddhist images they did not like.

Journal Excerpt: Marathon des Sable / Morocco / Sahara Desert.

“This is our fourth day of covering the Marathon des Sable; so far we’ve managed to lose our way, we’ve been blasted by a sand storm, we’ve run out of toilet paper and are now surviving on granola bars, turkey jerky and hot bottles of Coca-Cola. I have no idea how many miles we have traveled or how many times we’ve managed to get stuck in the sand. My driver, Nouh, speaks no English and smokes three packets of Marlboro Lights a day.  He’s also fond of breaking wind each time he exits the Land Cruiser.

What I can tell you, should you not already know, is that the Marathon des Sable is a stage race that lasts 7 days and covers 243km/151 miles. To make things even more difficult, each competitor has to carry everything they may need for the duration of the race (apart from their tent) on their backs in a rucksack – their food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag, etc. In addition, runners’ water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint.

The backdrop to this event is the Sahara Desert. Not only is the Sahara the largest desert on earth, covering an area of 3.5 million square miles, (which amounts to 8% of our planet’s surface area), it stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the west across half of Northern Africa, to the Red Sea.  It then extends down to the highlands of Ethiopia with temperatures recorded as high 40° +Celsius / 120° + Fahrenheit. The Sahara is a great leveller, making all men equal regardless of their station in life. So, when you come across another soul within this vast arena of sand, you stop, share, and remind yourself that here, we are all brothers.


Depending on whom you ask, the estimated population of the Sahara Desert varies from 2.5 million to 4 million people – so you would think finding a singing rabbit would be easy. Oh contraire.

The singing rabbit is competitor Derek McCarrick of the UK. Mr. McCarrick has been running marathons for Leukemia and Breast Cancer Research for the past 20 years and is still going strong at the age of 73.  Mr. McCarrick has personally raised a staggering £200,000 ($ 319,920.00) for charity, an achievement which is all the more impressive as he has completed each race dressed as the cartoon character, Roger Rabbit!

Eureka! On the horizon we spot a lone figure of a man with the head of Roger Rabbit tied to his backpack.



‘I’m the only rabbit in the world that’s run across the Sahara,’ Mr. McCarrick once told me. He also added, ‘People think I’m bonkers!’ In 2008, this former coal miner was awarded the MBE (Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. For those who are not British, an MBE award is one of the highest distinctions that can be gained by a British citizen.  Not bad for a chap from Minster on the Isle of Sheppey.”


Leather to the pavement and more back alleys: Art is in the eye of the beholder and what is art to some is only an eye sore to others. Our history of graffiti goes back to the time we lived in caves and during Roman times (two thousand year ago) graffiti was used to indicate boundaries and expression of political dissent. Today we twitter.