Love for photography lets Michael McCaskey show bigger picture
By Sean Jensen firstname.lastname@example.org July 4, 2011 10:42PM
Michael McCaskey taught sixth- and seventh-graders for two years in Fiche, Ethiopia, as a peace corps volunteer more than 40 years ago. | michaelmccaskey.com
Updated: July 5, 2011 4:53AM
The black-and-white photographs are weathered, originally snapped 44 years ago in a remote village in Ethiopia.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, Michael McCaskey spent two years teaching sixth- and seventh-graders in Fiche, a small farming community about 70 miles north of Addis Ababa, and he wanted to capture his experience.
So in many ways, his passion for photography was nurtured there, and it only seemed natural to return earlier this year after spending much of his 28 working years as either president or chairman of the Bears.
“We’re very excited about him and having the opportunity — having worked all this time — to enjoy himself a little bit,” said George McCaskey, who replaced his older brother as chairman in May. “He loves to travel. He loves photography, and him and Nancy are going to have a chance to see the world while they both have excellent health and can get around.”
Michael, 67, launched a website (michaelmccaskey.com), and he’s filling up his calendar with projects and exhibitions throughout the region and country. In September, as part of the Voices From the Warehouse Art Exhibit in Dubuque, Iowa, McCaskey’s photo essay of the Trappist Monastery will be featured. He also is considering other projects, in addition to travel that he and wife Nancy have scheduled.
And while he still is looking for his first paying gig, McCaskey won’t be shooting any weddings or birthday parties.
“I’ll be a sports and humanitarian photographer,” he said. “If someone has an assignment that interests me, but there’s a lot of things that would not.”
On his website, McCaskey has a diverse pool of subjects and destinations, ranging from a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Amritsar, India, to Whistling Straits, the famous Wisconsin golf course.
But Fiche always will have a special place in his heart.
The two years he spent there were among the most memorable of his life, an opportunity to immerse himself in a new culture and influence students.
And he wasn’t too proud to ask his students to teach him Amharic, the national language, or to participate in after-school sports, most notably volleyball.
But he never was too separated from one thing.
“What I remember the most is his passion for photography,” said Taye Teferi, now a conservation director for the World Wildlife Fund in Kenya. “Everywhere he went he took pictures.”
In his spare time, McCaskey learned about the people of Fiche, which, back then, had about 5,000 people. When a bridge washed away after a heavy rainfall, McCaskey organized students and residents to build a new one.
“Such community work became exemplary to all of us, which was unprecedented,” said Fisseha Adugna, one of McCaskey’s students, who became a diplomat for Ethiopia. “Everyone knew his name, even after so many years of his absence.”
The students said McCaskey, then 22, always was prepared and approached every lesson with excitement.
McCaskey said he’s humbled that his students still think so highly of him and that many have become highly successful, including an English literature professor, a chemist, an exporter and a lawyer.
“It’s what you hope for, as a teacher,” said McCaskey, who has taught at U.S. business schools, including Harvard. “I think teaching is such important work.
“So to come back 40 years later, to find that some of the work I’d done and other teachers had done had paid off so handsomely was tremendously gratifying.”
McCaskey kept in touch with several of his students, and he always wanted to reunite. So with his chairmanship winding down, McCaskey decided this was the year, returning with his daughter and a fellow Peace Corps teacher who served in Addis Ababa.
In preparation for the trip, McCaskey put together a photo book with some of his original shots from 44 years ago.
The book was a hit.
“It was really wonderful,” Teferi said. “It was very nostalgic as we all reviewed the book and talked about the various students and teachers from our yesteryears with fond memories.”
McCaskey has devoted a significant portion of his website to Ethiopia, but he intends to do even more there.
Among his goals: explain how important his Peace Corps experience in Fiche was in his life and change the perception of the country.
“There are parts of the world that maybe Americans could learn much more about,” McCaskey said. “For example, a lot of people have an image of Ethiopia that’s built mainly around the tough times, when famine was oppressing the people.
“But there’s a whole other story to be told. That’s what I want my picture to show.”