Thursday, May 22, 2014

Kwei Quartey — Captured Moments

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I'm delighted to introduce novelist Kwei Quartey, author of the thrilling MURDER AT CAPE THREE POINTS. Here's a bit more on Kwei: 

Kwei Quartey is a crime fiction writer and physician living in Pasadena, California. Having practiced medicine for more than 20 years while simultaneously working as a writer, he has attained noteworthy achievements in both fields. Dr. Quartey balances the two professions by dedicating the early morning hours to writing before beginning a day in his clinic.

Kwei Quartey attended medical school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1990, he began practicing medicine in California with HealthCare Partners. Dr. Quartey later founded the facility’s wound care center while working as an urgent care physician.
As a crime fiction writer, Kwei Quartey made the Los Angeles Times Bestseller List in 2009. The following year, the G.O.G. National Book Club awarded him the title of Best Male Author. Having published Wife of the Gods and Children of the StreetMurder at Cape Three Points was released in March 2014. Death at the Voyager Hotel, a mystery e-novella not belonging to the series, was published July 2013. Dr. Quartey is also a member of the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime, a fiction writers’ organization.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: And not only that, but he's an amazing photographer. Welcome, Kwei — and thank you so much for sharing your "frozen moments." They are powerful.

KWEI QUARTEY: I’m no professional photographer, but I’m always on the lookout for a beautiful, funny or otherwise memorable moment that may never repeat itself: once it’s gone, it’s gone. For me, a “frozen” moment is more evocative than a video. Not all photos are equal. Only some have an indefinable quality that triggers an intense reproduction of the feeling I had at the place at the time: awe, tenderness, sadness, joy, disgust---and it may even include the smells and sounds I experienced. Keeping one’s feelings well exercised and in good shape is important to writing, because it helps infuse the author's work--each word, each sentence--with emotion, thus making for a better connection with the reader.

Lovely sunrises induce in me a feeling of eagerness and hope for what the new day will bring, as well as sometimes restless “existential” questions such as why, and how, are we here on this planet in this universe. I seldom take pictures of sunsets, and I don't like arriving in a new city at dusk when I go out of town. Small wonder I always write early in the morning and love to see the dawn come. Below, this glorious burst of sunrise in Pasadena as I was returning from the gym one morning seemed to develop over only a matter of minutes.
PASADENA SUNRISE (Photo:Kwei Quartey)

Flying out of Detroit one early morning, I snapped this photo of a grayish, late winter dawn. The Mackinah Bridge can be seen faintly in the background. Not the brash explosion of color as the image above, but a lovely combination of subtle colors.
MICHIGAN SUNRISE (Photo:Kwei Quartey)
I like to gaze at stretches of unspoiled land and ocean. Similar to what I feel with sunrises, unspoiled earth and water can make me wonder about the enormity of life, its nature, and its purpose.


Besides the beauty of Cape Three Points, this would be a spectacular location in which to set a murder. Just think of all those jagged rocks. Just a little push . . .


In a completely different locale and climate, I recently traveled to Sweden, and on a trip from Stockholm to Uppsala by train I admired the beautiful countryside. I love trains, and as I gaze outside, I get in a contemplative mood. Most houses in Sweden are constructed with wood painted with the centuries-old Falun deep red.

RURAL SWEDEN (Photo:Kwei Quartey)

I often equate the two because they cannot speak for themselves and are so often the victims of cruelty. Hence, I feel tender toward kids and animals of all kinds, including snakes, believe it or not. At Esther's Hotel in Accra, Ghana, lovely peacocks freely roam the premises.


Since childhood, I've had a love and admiration for horses, and even though I no longer have significant contact with equines, I daresay I still have the touch.


It might seem odd, but I thought this little toad on a cocoa farm in Ghana was cute, and he didn't seem to mind me petting him either.

TOAD-WHISPERER? (Photo:Kwei Quartey)

In my travels in Ghana, I always come across children who love their photos taken, greeting the instant images with howls of delighted laughter. I met this playful young rascal below, Isaac, when I visited Fort Metal Cross in Dixcove, Ghana.


At an urban school in Accra, these ebullient siblings from the neighborhood were always around. The boy was never without a pair of bright red rubber boots.


My prize photo below, these children in the Ashanti town of Dunkwa, Ghana, flocked for their photo with smiles at the ready.


Although I love unspoiled nature, some architecture and building is difficult not to admire, particularly in Europe and Scandinavia. Sweden has easily recognizable architecture. In Uppsala, a Swedish university town, I snapped the castle as it caught the sunlight and seemed glow in contrast
to the gray stone steps.



In a way, Stockholm is my third home after the US and Ghana, as I have family there and visit frequently.

Not everything can be sweetness and light. Much of what I photograph is also painful. In the Accra slum of Agbogbloshie, young men and teenagers or younger scrounge around electronic waste--much of it dumped from western countries in the guise of "donations"--looking for precious metals on circuit boards and burning toxic plastic off copper wires, which they will later sell.



In the Ashanti Region, north of Accra, small-scale alluvial miners called galamsey dig for gold
in the uprooted landscape left behind by a recent influx of Chinese illegal gold miners to Ghana, most of them now unceremoniously expelled from the country.


What was once forest and farmland has been slashed and scarred with the merciless use of excavators, leaving behind devastated landscapes.


Pollution of waterways with deadly heavy metals like mercury is widespread.


Back down to the coast, this stirring scene is tinged with sadness as Elmina Castle, built by the Portuguese in 1482, recalls the slave trade of centuries past.


But let's finish on a nice note with a smile from Master Isaac.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Reds and readers, what do you think of Kwei's photographs? What feelings do they evoke in you?

What makes a photograph, as Kwei would say, "an intense reproduction of a feeling"?

Do you photograph to capture "frozen moments"? Do you keep them on your computer or in a physical photobook? Tacked up on the fridge? Framed and on the wall? 

P.S. And what are your feelings on snakes and toads? Personally, like Kwei, I love them....


Joan Emerson said...

The photographs are absolutely amazing . . . thank you for sharing them. I particularly like the photographs of the children who seem so filled with joy; I’m saddened and angered at the sight of pollution and the slashed, scarred land . . . .

When I’m really ambitious, I scan my photographs and have a Shutterfly book made . . . mostly my photos are in books --- but there are lots of family pictures framed and hanging on the wall and, of course, grandbaby pictures are on display . . . .

As for the snakes and toads . . . you may keep them . . . .

Mark Baker said...

I'm okay with toads, but the snakes are all yours.

Beautiful pictures. I wish I could take pictures that captures half of that beauty. Alas, I'm just not patient enough.

Ellen Kozak said...

I have a huge collection of frogs and toads (not real ones, but I love real ones-- I just believe they should not be kept in cages). I loved the photo of that tiny toad-- indeed, I loved all the photos.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Wow, you're all up early! (We're having a thunderstorm in NYC, so I'm up too...)

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Lovely photographs showing a wide breath of interesting topics.

For me photos are the triggers to memory. With a single visual image I can often remember a whole day.

Paul Simon wrote about that in "Bookends"

"Time it was and what a time it was...I have a photograph. Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you."

~ Jim

Reine said...

My feelings went straight to Emina Castle and back to Sweden, then to Cape Coast Castle that was built for Sweden by Isaac Miville, a Swiss builder who then commanded it, and his younger brother Pierre who probably helped him. He was a builder, too... he went to La Rochelle to fight for Cardinale Richlieu against Protestants who'd been given asylum there. Emotions? Horror.

Reine said...

What makes a photograph an intense reproduction of a feeling? That it does not allow escape. And the lines drawn goes straight down the generations. It never goes away. The pain will always be there.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, I am crying. Thank you.

Love the toad. And the buildings. And your own painter-like eye.


Going back to look again. Thank you.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Love the Paul Simon quote, James. And Reine, that's a powerful observation.

Re: snakes — from Adam and Eve on down they've just had really bad press....

Hallie Ephron said...

Kwei, wishing you huge success with MURDER AT CAPE THREE POINTS.

What a sunset! And I like to take pictures out of airplane windows, too. Always try to sit BEHIND the wing (can't afford in front of it) for an unobstructed view. My favorite is the approach to San Diego airport, coming in over the Grand Canyon and the painted desert. WOW. It's like watching a gorgeous oil painting unfurl below you.

My major in college was African politics, specifically West Africa, specifically Ghana. SO MANY years ago... when the move from the countrysides to cities was in full swing. As I watch the ecological devastation there (and in China, and in....) I must say I have little hope for our planet. So much promise. So much poison. And on that happy note...

FChurch said...

Just finished an interesting book on the brain and physics--brain scans indicate how powerful the sense of sight is when memories are being recalled--all the visual centers of the brain light up--and photos, to me, are more than mere reproductions of a moment of reality. Like these wonderfully evocative--and powerful photos--they trigger an intense emotional response--joy, pain, sorrow. And like Jim noted, a photo can be the steppingstone to memories of much more than a moment in time. Music is like that, too--thanks for the quote from one of my favorite songs!

As for snakes--if they don't bother me, I don't bother them! Toads and such are also welcome in my garden.

Kwei Quartey said...

Thank you all!
Joan--kids in rural Ghana have a particular ingenuity, making toys out of scraps, e.g they make a kind of steerable cart they make with old tin cans and long bamboo branches and run races with them. Many such things are inconceivable by a child in the West, who just goes to the Toys R Us and grabs toys off the shelf!

Mark, most of my photos are very spontaneous and I won't pretend that I've taken several patient minutes setting them up. Because they're spontaneous, I can't tell you how many opportunities I miss!

Reine--yes! Cape Coast Castle the Swedes, and Christiansborg Castle (Osu Castle) the Danes. It's almost unbelievable the number of colonizers that were in the Gold Coast, now Ghana: Portuguese, Dutch, British, Swedes, Danes and Germans. Hence surnames in Ghana like Fergurson, Vanderpuye, DeSouza and so on. And it's so true, photos preserve pain and joy through the generations.

Jim--great quote from Paul Simon I wasn't aware of.

Hank--I'm touched that you were moved. All the photos carry a special feeling, some more intense than others.

Hallie--interesting connection with Ghana. Every once in a while at a book signing someone will come up to me and reveal her connection with West Africa. I've met professors of African studies and anthropologists with specialty in West Africa and just regular visitors to Ghana. One came up to me and showed off her knowledge of one of Ghana's languages, Twi (CHWEE)

FChurch--that research puts an official stamp on on something we all have but don't realize: how the visual cortex is intimately tied to memories.

Susan--you are correct about snakes! Such a bad name lol. To this day, I'm famous at my high school in Ghana for rescuing a lovely Royal Python that was being stoned to death by some kids. Why? No good reason but ignorance.

Heather said...

Hi there! I was hoping someone could email me about a quick question I have about your blog! My name is Heather and my email is Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail(dot)com :-)

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Kwei, you should add that to your already-impressive list of accomplishments — snake rescuer!

Robin Agnew said...

LOVE Kwei's books and am so happy he has found a new home with Soho. His latest book is wonderful. And I love that he combines his writing with his passion for Ghana in his blog and photos...what a treasure he is!

Kwei Quartey said...

Thank you very much, Robin. Soho is an incredible house and I feel very fortunate to be with them. Bronwen Hruska, Juliet Grames and all the others care deeply about writing and books and their signature crime fiction from all over the world is unique.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Welcome to JRW! the photos are wonderful and sad too...I like toads just fine, but maybe not enough to pat one:).

Tell us something about the new book?

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

The new book, MURDER AT THREE POINTS, is fabulous. I'm honored to have been asked to write a blurb for it and Miss Edna and I are both big fans. (I also think Miss Edna has a bit of a crush on Dr. Quartey, but that's a whole other story...)

Mary Sutton said...

My own photographs are kind of, well, I just take a picture. I don't really think about it - it's something I want to be able to look back on. I used to print photos, now they're almost all digital.

Snakes and toads: I don't mind them, honestly. I remember walking the rain forest in Puerto Rico and snapping pictures (or trying to) of the little tree-frogs, the animal of Puerto Rico. They were tiny and fast - and made the happiest chirping sound.

Lovely photos. Not being a morning person, I am more likely to revel in sunsets, so I will have to enjoy sunrise beauty via other people's photos!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Welcome to Jungle Red Writers! I'd not heard of your books, but they sound fascinating, so I'll have to pick them up right away.

I love your photos. They are so painterly with a true artist's eye. I have to agree with you about toads, frogs, and snakes. all of them, especially snakes, have had such bad press. They are so important and useful in the ecosystem. People have just branded them as evil and try to kill them whenever they see them. Snakes are sacred in some cultures. We just need to respect them and coexist with them in peace.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Alas, I'm going to have to leave the discussion and get some rest now — like Hallie, I have flu/pneumonia... But I'll be back tomorrow!

Denise Ann said...

Get well, everyone! This is a great post -- I love photographs (we are on a visual theme here, from Pinterest to photos) & these are amazing. My husband has been traveling to Africa the past few years for his work. I'm not sure I will get to go, but Ghana is definitely first on my list. Now to look into these novels.