Beyond the Lens

SNAP!! SNAP!! The children yell once they realize what the black box hanging off my shoulder is. “SNAP AND GIVE” they scream, referring to a Polaroid camera they assume based on the size and shape of my camera. Every time I walk through the rickety gate guarding the convent, I have my trusty Canon 6D slung over my shoulder. This camera has become part of me and of my persona whilst in Zambia. We both have a long way to go in our life together. I am 21 years old, just starting to live my life and experience the world, this camera has a mere 15,473 photos taken in its lifetime with many tens of thousands more to go.IMG_1618

I landed in Zambia with only 341 photos of our trip so far, a hand full of photos that reflected my relatively low understanding of Zambia at the time. This new place I was dropped into pushed me far outside my comfort zone and began to overwhelm me. My camera was my safe place, my sense of control and order amid my uncontrollable environment. When I became uncomfortable or confused I would take a photo and use my camera as my shield, deflecting my true feelings and experiences. This caused me to become introspective and analyze myself critically, inspiring the discovering and learning that can only happen on the edge of one’s comfort zone. Over time, and many clicks of the shutter, I turned this introspective nature outward and began to explore my place in the world and do my best to understand our new home in Zambezi.

IMG_6270I am constantly looking around me, observing the faces of joy and struggle, heartbreak and triumph. We are all constantly adjusting for the conditions around us. For an emotional, intimate photo I like using a shallow depth of field, focusing in on one person and allowing them to become the focus of our mind through the image.

On the concrete porch outside a dilapidated house halfway down another sandy road off the tarmac, I sat across the table from James the tailor. His modified foot-powered sewing machine separating the distance between us as he puts down his garment to warmly greet me. James, my first friend in Zambezi, exudes a joy for life I hope to embody every day. We talk about his work, his passion for sewing to support his family, and how he most enjoys his home business because he can work 15 feet away from his wife, Mary, whom he loves with his whole heart. I can feel his love and passion in his words. The conversation continues about our families, and our mutual connection with my sister and his daughter working as and hoping to become nurses. I am curious about schooling in Zambia, so I inquire about university fees. I see the joy on James’ face replaced by pain. He explains that school is too expensive and he is having trouble paying for it. I shift uncomfortably in my seat, unsure of how to react to this news, adjusting my camera whose value could easily pay for all of their education. James continues to tell me how he can work so hard, but there is no opportunity here due to the corruption in the government. The emotion is palpable in the air; I no longer worry about my dirt crusted feet and what I will say next. My friend has become my sole focal point. I can’t help but tear up hearing how hard James and Mary are trying to support their family. I see here, this home, built with love and commitment, as an example of the work James and Mary have put in to provide for their family. Through this conversation, James transitioned from James the tailor to James my friend. He made me feel comfortable enough so I could take the filter off my lens that was distorting my perception and come closer to being able to see the people on the other side of the camera. My camera no longer was my shield but a tool to connect and document.


Through my 24-105mm lens I am granted a unique perspective into the world. I try to focus on the details both in my photography and in my life. These photos allow me to see our experience in a different light. I see things in 1/2000th of a second intervals, which forces me the find the details; from the ways the yellow walls of the convent tell the story of hundreds of visitors or the emotion in the jovial faces of the children. I try to capture the people here to help tell their story. Many of the photos shared on the blog so far have been part of that effort. I have been struggling with how/if I will share these photos publicly when I return home. My fear is I will share these images causing the lives of the people I captured to be stripped away. Leaving nameless African people in the void, reinforcing the white saviour complex we are trying to desperately to avoid. I hope these photos are not the end of the conversation, but the first page in the story of our new friends we will soon be able to share with you all.

Where I find the most peace in my life is sitting outside on a clear night and seeing the millions of glowing dots in the sky. Zambezi offers one of the most spectacular views I have seen, sending chills down my spine with the hairs on my arms sticking up as I let the grandeur of it all flow over me. This nightly ritual helps me process the day’s events and center myself. As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says in one of my favorite quotes:


“The atoms of our bodies are traceable to stars that manufactured them in their cores and exploded these enriched ingredients across our galaxy, billions of years ago. For this reason, we are biologically connected to every other living thing in the world. We are chemically
connected to all molecules on Earth. And we are atomically connected to all atoms in the universe. We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.”

As my camera rhythmically clicks away photos of this night sky, I often reflect upon this quote and its broader meaning. We may all be different makes and models, Canon, Nikon, American, Zambian; but we are all here on this little pale blue planet orbiting our sun, flying through space together at 504,000 miles per hour. This reminds me how petty all our issue
s are in the larger scheme, in a planet of 7.125 billion humans we all make not even a blip on the radar of the universe.
IMG_0382As this snapshot of time in Zambezi ends in a few days for us, I am grateful for my lenses and how I have had the privilege of getting the image and story of a handful of people of Zambia, 8,935 photos later (so far).


Kisu Mwane,

Tyler Hamke

Class of 2017


P.S. For the first time in history Gonzaga won the annual Gonzaga vs. Chilena football match.







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14 Responses to Beyond the Lens

  1. Kurt Hamke says:


    I was so excited to read your post. You moved me with your reflections of what this trip has meant to you and how the Zambezi people have touched your heart. Enjoy every moment and capture every memory in your heart.

    Love, Dad

    PS – I think this is going to be a very long slide show when you get back…and we will love it.

  2. C. Clark says:

    To EVERY one of you!

    Wow, yet another glorious post! Though we may not have met, I want each of you fine people to know how incredibly proud I am of you. I, too, refresh my computer screen often anxiously waiting for the next update. The stories that have been graciously shared are so rich with insights. I pray that each of you know how special you are.
    Today Gonzaga. Tomorrow the World.
    Please always continue to share your gifts.

    Cathy Clark

    PS : Matthew! What a lovely birthday surprise! . . shed a few tears with that one!!
    All my love, xo Mom

  3. Lowell [loh-uh l] Handy says:

    Tyler, I love your perspective from behind the lense and your effort to turn your introspection outward. You have such a gift communicating with images and I’ve very much enjoyed your photos along the way. Thank you for sharing your unique perspective with us.

    Ebby, I’m home. The strike is over and I’m relieved to not be in New Jersey anymore! Can’t wait to see you. Love you…

  4. Beth Polacheck says:

    Tyler, your words and photos are beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I hope you all treasure your last few days.

  5. Jenni Poole says:


    I obviously knew that this post would be good but as usual, Tyler, you exceed every standard. I’m bragging to everyone in NYC that my bestie is in Zambia saving the world. I loved your story about James, it was a reminder sometimes all we can do is be a support for someone when you can’t necessarily fix the problem or change the situation. This is something you are great at. I’m proud of you for continuing to break boundaries and seeking to understand, even when you’re uncomfortable.

    As important as it is to remember that we are a just a blip in the universe, I want to remind you how big of an impact you have made/ continue to make on the people in your life. Just by being you! That’s pretty cool I think.

    Everyone knows that you are, as Davis put it, a super genius third year engineer (which I will probably always call you from now on). However, it is clear that you are also a very gifted artist and it shows in your amazing photos. I, like your dad, am very excited for the long slideshow I’m about to see.

    I wish you the best in the last few days of your journey, and I know you will soak up that starry view as much as you can before you leave. Get home safe. See you soon!

    Love Jen
    (Your not so super genius BFF)

  6. Jenni Poole says:


    I obviously knew your post would be good but as usual, Tyler, you have exceeded every standard. I’m bragging to everyone in NYC that my bestie is in Zambia saving the world. I loved your story about James. It was a reminder for me that sometimes all we can do is listen and support others, even when we can’t necessarily fix the problem or change the situation. You’ve always been great at that. I’m proud of you for testing the limits of your comfort zone by allowing yourself to seek to understand, even when you are uncomfortable. Keep it up!

    It is important to remember that we are a blip in this universe. But I also want to remind you of the impact that you have/continue to make on every person you meet. That means so much more than you know! (Everyone at the breakfast table right now please agree with me so that he believes it. Thanks.)

    We all are aware that you are, as Davis put it, a super genius third year engineer (which is definitely what I will refer to you as from now on). However, I want to point out that you also are an artist and have a very creative mind, which definitely shows in your photos. Wether or not you decide to share them, keep taking them. Just like your dad I’m pretty darn excited for this extensive slideshow I’m about to see. I’ll bring popcorn.

    Have a wonderful, peaceful, and SAFE rest of your journey. Can’t wait to see you in a few days!

    Love, Jen
    (Your not so super genius BFF)

  7. Dori chelini says:

    Seeing a photo of you brings me so much comfort. I keep you all in my prayers and pray that you each find that moment. Love Mom

  8. The Rapp's says:

    To all – Beautiful stories, wonderful pictures, we treasure each you for sharing and caring so deeply! Safe travels as you get ready to move on from your wonderful Zambezi community. Soccer success – Go Zags!!⚽️

    Love, hugs and blessings,
    Cindi, Greg and Chris (Meg’s fam)

  9. Sue Hamke says:

    I loved your post and your prospective on this experience. I look forward to hearing the stories of your new Zambezi friends that will be be told through your photos. Keep your camera close today, tomorrow and always; it’s a wonderful gift you have. You, and everyone that has shared their reflections on this blog, have inspired me to challenge myself to venture to the edge of my comfort zone.
    I could go on and on…but it’s almost 10 PM and you know what that means! 🙂 You and the entire group are in my thoughts and prayers.
    Take care and safe travels!
    Love, Mom

  10. Carlee Quiles says:


    Excuse me but how incredible are you. Finding a way to wrap all of the significant things that feed your soul into one post. Space, Science, Photography, joy for the human experience.

    “We are not figuratively, but literally stardust.” Something about this line really resonated with me tonight as I am sitting in Hemmingson avoiding shutting down the building because you all are far more interesting than moving furniture. Thank you for great thoughts to end my night with.

    As always adventure well!


  11. Venezia says:

    Tyler – awesome post. I love the connection you share with your camera and the pictures are beautiful. Thanks for capturing and sharing so much of Zambia with everyone. I look forward to seeing more photographs and hearing the stories that accompany each of them. Congrats on the soccer match!

    Handy – I’ve tried tagging you in so many baby pictures. Miss you lots


  12. Zack Rosse says:

    Tyler you are the man!

    What can’t you do? Engineering beyond my wildest dream, take beautiful photos, and write like you’re in the wrong major. Never stop creating. It’s what you’re best at.


  13. Hannah Van Dinter says:

    You guys won the football match?! Holy cow!! I guess you guys do have a few studs on your team. Tyler, that picture in the middle with the light streaming through the kids- HOLY SMOKES. Simply breathtaking.

  14. Edith Harman says:

    How unique to have your very thoughtful insights compliment your stunning pictures. They put us right there in our mind’s eyes. That is a real gift and one you will treasure for ever as will all with whom you share it. I can’t wait to see you and hear more about your experiences there. How lucky we are to be your veruy proud grandparents. Love and safe travel, Edith and Mort

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