Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Life At Ground Zero
Photo Courtesy of Charlie Pahan
Current Location: Jakarta, Indonesia 6°12′45.61″S - 106°52′23.74″E
For the first time in a long time, I held a shot that I couldn’t stop rolling. Her face was full frame in my viewfinder—and for a synapse, it felt like our eyes locked as she turned and stared down my lens. I couldn’t stop recording.
Every now and then you meet people who touch you, reach deep into the depths of your heart to remind you you're still human. Sometimes, you cannot understand why. We do not share a language, have never graced the presence of each other or yet to believe in common bonds--but some how, we are connected.
In the slums of Jakarta, children toil through a landfill of shattered dreams. Picking and prying their way through hills of garbage, they look for scraps of plastic and metal, bags, bottles, paper and food to sustain their existence. It's hell on earth--a form of unsurpassed humility to the human kind. I've seen images like it on television before, but never did I imagine that one day I'd be behind the lens--focusing, tilting, panning, and zooming amidst a pile of trash and treasure. War, conflict, and tragedy--some how merely measures up to the effect that this has had on me.
I've been behind on posts lately, mainly not because I'm offline or struggling to marry images with prose, no--it's because I've yet to find that rhythm in my heart to best describe what I've witnessed. But when I awoke this morning, it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, I'm not desensitized after all. I'm still able to feel, to hurt...and to cry.
I've been following a group of volunteers from Lentera, a Christian aid group that provides medical care for the people who live in the heart of Jakarta's slum district. Their work is remarkable--reaching out to the poor, the needy and the desperate--sharing the love of God to those who need it most. I forever admire their efforts.
Standing upon a mound of garbage, I collected light by scanning with my inner peripherals, feeling that pounding rhythm in my heart--knowing that what I'm capturing speaks a thousand words. Shot after shot, I zoom in and out, close ups and wides--a marriage of light and magic. I was merely transfixed by my surroundings. Zooming in for a close up, my lens had lost focus. A hypnotic blur of light filled my screen. Turning the ring clock-wise, I brought in clear focus a set of eyes that stared directly at my lens. And that's when I stopped moving.
Through her eyes, she spoke to me.
Ahning and her husband Riahn collect garbage for a living. Making less than one dollar per day, they walk the streets of Jakarta finding things that you and I would discard on a daily basis. Without gloves or masks, they hand pick each item, looking through piles of unwanted treasure. When I asked her what her dreams were, she said she hoped for a better job, a brighter future for her family, and a healthy up-bringing of her newborn son. He laughed and smiled, clapped his hands and waved at us as we started the interview.
Through a translator, she described to us her plight, her hopes and her dreams. Fighting back tears, she spoke of her family, the love for her parents and the determination she has to move forward. Her voice cracked, her face somber. Barely looking at us, her words echoed through my headphones, telling me how lucky I am. Standing there with the camera rested on my tripod, my hands began to shake, my eyes watery and my throat caught in rapture.
As I packed my gear to leave, I gave her and Riahn fourty U.S dollars. She kissed my hands, cried, and hugged me in her arms. I can only hope it will help in one way or another. I've never felt so helpless.