On an early morning in January, hundreds of poor residents lined up outside a barbed wire-lined compound near the southern Dominican Republic city of Bani. Some would wait all day to get inside, where a group of Western New York dentists, ophthalmologists and other doctors from a Christian ministry were providing free medical and dental care.
For R.H. Stamps, a local photographer who accompanied the group, there's one image that sticks out. It's a girl peering into the compound through its barbed wire fence, exuding a kind of knowing warmth mixed with a tinge of sadness.
"She's haunting, but she has a bit of a smile and she's expressing that warmth along with the contrast of the barbed wire," Stamps said. That photograph, titled simply "Barbed Wire," figures prominently in "Expressions of Hope," a collection of Stamps' work from the Dominican Republic and a subsequent trip to Africa.
Stamps, a documentary photographer and artist, tagged along with two humanitarian groups: a Florida-based organization of doctors called Jesse's Children and a contingent from the Crossroads Christian Church in Elma. Stamps said the experience opened his eyes to the disparities between the United States and much of the developing world, as well as the groups which want to make a difference.
"When you meet people from a different culture, it changes you, it humbles you, and it gives you strength," Stamps said. "And when you come back, I just want to go out again and do it again."
In the Dominican Republic, the team of doctors worked 12-hour days for a week in various areas of the country, as they have been doing for the past 15 years. Dawn Maher, a physician's assistant who belongs to the group with her husband, William, an oral surgeon, said that the state of medical care there is appalling, especially for those who can't get to places where health care is available.
"These are people who don't have any access. They could stand in line for days," Maher said. "They don't have transportation money, even to get to the closest city."
Stamps' photographs, he said, try to capture the everyday lives of the people in and around the country's remote villages and towns. Often that means capturing the staggering depravity of life in an economically bereft landscape, which serves to make the warmth and kindness of the people that Stamps photographs all the more poignant.
After the Dominican Republic, Stamps flew off to Africa for 16 days, which he and the group from the Elma church spent mostly on the outskirts of Nakuru, Kenya. Stamps' memories of the trip gravitate toward Bishop Francis Macharia, a man who he said has created a system of orphanages, churches and outreach services with hardly any resources. Macharia, Stamps said, built his system entirely on "discipline and spirituality."
"The depth of the man, the lines in his face, just showed you a wisdom, a visual wisdom and dignity that really bespoke the man and the people of Kenya," Stamps said, noting that he took several portraits of Macharia.
"When you have the opportunity to get close to people, I try and enhance and really photograph them, not change it or interpret it," Stamps said. "I think that's what a photo-documentary photographer should do."
WHAT: "Expressions of Hope From Africa and the Dominican Republic"
WHEN: Opens with a reception at 7:30 tonight and runs through Aug. 24
WHERE: Art Dialogue Gallery, 1 Linwood Ave.
INFO: 885-2251 or wnyag.com