Thursday, April 14, 2011

Heidi Kana Emidy: Multifacted Photographer

Hanging on the walls of a modest San Diego restaurant, the Nazca Grill, is a collection of images taken by photographer Heidi Kana Emidy. Emidy, born in Tupper Lake, New York, raised in Argentina, Brazil and Peru and graduated from high school in San Diego, has been a photographer for most of her life.

Heidi lives a portion of the year in San Diego, where she devotes herself to her work as a holistic healer, and where she assembles videos of her images from mountain villages and remote locations in Peru.

The photographs at the Nazca Grill are a small sample of Emidy’s work. They show women spinning the wool of the Peruvian Alpaca and Llama in preparation for weaving colorful blankets, shawls and scarves. From colorful balls of yarn dyed in herbs the women fashion traditional patterns on simple looms. 

Peru is a country rich in precious metals, but poor in arable land. Though the country is large in square miles, many areas are  unsuitable for growing crops. The towering Andes are rock, with an thin layer of soil in narrow valleys. There are no wide open spaces or broad plains as we have in the United States for growing crops, and what little arable land in the Andes Mountains exists is often on precipitous slopes requiring careful terracing to accommodate plantings.

Emidy has used her camera in Peru to document her work with the village of Challabamba east of the mountain city of Cusco as she works with a Padre Mateo, the priest of the local church. and members of the village hierarchy to build, staff and sustain an orphanage. Some children have lost their parents to disease and death, while others have simply been abandoned to fend for themselves or to be cared for by the kindness of strangers.

The orphanage, Casa Hogar de San Martin de Porres will be home to sixty children, providing food, shelter, clothing and education. Because there is no education provided by the Peruvian government, Casa Hogar will provide it for primary and secondary grades, as well as self-sustaining small trade training for secondary grades and young adults.

The mayor of Challabama, with the Governor of the district of Paucartambo, donated
the land to Padre Mateo to build Casa Hogar. The goal of Emidy's non-profit, Divine Space, is to build and to sustain Casa Hogar for the future by providing donations, volunteers, education, and developing self-esteem in every child with needs.

Over the years Heidi has traveled up and down the three regions of Peru, la cordillera, la costa and la selva, photographing stunning landscapes, Inca ruins and remote Quechua villages.

Capturing smiling faces of little children has never been a problem, nor has it been difficult for Spanish speaking Heidi to gain the confidence of the women in the villages as she photographs them at work spinning, dying and weaving their colorful blankets and serapes on their “back strap” looms. Watch a male weaver at work at the Center for Traditional Textiles in Cuzco. A single strand of weft took him two minutes!!

Working with Padre Mateo and the mayor of Challabamba is only one facet of Heidi’s activities in Peru. To the east of the Andes lies the Amazon basin. Heavily forested along the river, finding wood for fuel is no problem. But to the west of the Andes fuel is scarce. Wood on an open fire is still the most common means of cooking and heating, and open fires pose a grave danger to little children as well as adults.

Emidy has acted as translator, photographer and medical assistant in bringing medical care to remote villages. She saw a need and opportunity to change the way villages used their limited supply of wood for fuel.

Through the darkness of the first night of a visit with a medical team to the village of Pucallpa in the Tarapoto region in northern Peru she heard the cries of a small child in pain. The next morning she found the child in a hut with severe burns to the upper part of his body. He had been burned by an open fire. She and the medical team cared for the child for several days before  moving on, but not before Heidi saw a way to prevent similar injuries to villagers, adults and children alike. 

The Patsari Stove is a simple appliance, most of which is made from local materials mixed and assembled on the spot. The stove, developed by Grupo Interdisciplinario de TecnologĂ­a Rural Apropiada (GIRA) of Mexico, has an efficient combustion chamber and is made of more durable materials, including a prefabricated metal chimney and hotplates. See how they are built:          or

A standard design, and a mold to assure uniformity of size and shape, is used to build the stove. The stovepipe acts as a “chimney,” drawing smoke up and out of the cooking area. Smoke, a significant health hazard anywhere, goes up the pipe and out through the roof of the dwelling.

The Patsari Stove’s design reduces the amount of wood fuel used to cook a meal, and eliminates the dangers of an open fire. It reduces smoke in the cooking area, which in turn reduces respiratory problems for cooks or “cocineras,” and little children inevitably underfoot.

In this photograph, of a little boy less than four years old, painful “acid rain” burns cover his face and scalp. These are chemical burns which come with the seasonal rains, and are probably a disastrous by-product of chemicals used in making “pressed wood” from trees cut in nearby forests.

Visit Heidi’s website at, and her video channel on YouTube at

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