Friday, January 29, 2010

Humanity in Haiti

Photo: Cindy Terasme screams after seeing the feet of her dead 14-year-old brother Jean Gaelle Dersmorne in the rubble of the collapsed St. Gerard School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday.
Photo Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

A very good friend of mine phoned me the other day after viewing some disturbing images from Haiti. Her voice trembled in horror--and after describing to me in detail the images of dead bodies and crying children, she asked me a question that reverberated deep in my mind: As a photographer, how would you have covered the Haiti disaster?

Below is a blog post that I hope will not just answer her question, but also give everyone a better understanding of what it's like to cover such events. The following are from my personal experiences covering Afghanistan, post-tsunami in South East Asia, and the recent earthquakes in Sichuan province, China.

Capturing All That Is True:

I close my eyes, pretend to sleep. Maybe I am sleeping. Truth is, when you're in a hostile zone, it's hard to tell. Coiled in a dirty sheet, sweat-soaked, my hair matted with the day's dust, and grains of sand in my mouth, I dream of work.

Sometimes, I'd see myself with the camera on my shoulder--hitting the ground running, locked and loaded. There's nothing like that feeling. As a photographer, you run towards what everyone else is running from--thinking some how that the camera on your shoulders will protect you, not really caring if it will or not. Scene after scene, the action moves through you like a funnel--and all you can do is capture as much as you can, as fast as you can. In my dreams, I just breathe, keep moving, breathe, keep my head low, breathe, keep moving, try to stay alive.

I wake gasping for breath, unsure where I am. Lately, that dream has been re-occurring--and after watching much of the media coverage from Haiti, I keep imagining myself there--alone and armed, capturing with my camera the chaos of looters and debris, dead bodies and orphaned children alike. It's a sick imagination, but when you view life through glass, the only thing that stands between you and your pride is the sheer fact that truth is in your eyes--and capturing it is the only salvation you have.

Images frame themselves, and after taking just a few, your soul is conditioned to accept all that is before you--no matter how it makes your heart wrench in horror. There are times when you'd question yourself, ask whether it's right or wrong, justice or injustice to capture the plight of human suffering--but there's no time to find answers--it's just you and your camera, the world around you, and sheer adrenaline pumping through your veins a thousand miles an hour.

But believe me, I'm not a war junkie. I don't seek adrenaline, nor do I find it rewarding to see pain thru my lens--and to be honest, for the photogs in Haiti right now, I doubt they do too. They're husbands and wives, fathers and mothers just like you--just like the many that are trapped and left to die in the rubbles of Port-au-Prince. They are there because they believe in truth-seeking, in the notion that the world needs to mourn with those who have lost lives and life themselves--which in the end, ultimately--they are there because the stories and images they send back causes us to react, to find that thread that links us all as humans, to find the humanity in all of us.

For those who work in my field, there are no right or wrong ways to cover such an ordeal. There are no text books that explain how and why. Censored or not, we capture what is true. Some photos will seem inhumane and cruel, while some will naturally inspire--but as all things are in life, there's always an injustice when finding balance with reality.

In the aftermath of disaster, we are reminded that life can be unimaginably cruel. That pain and loss is so often meted out without any justice or mercy. That "time and chance" happen to us all. But it is also in these moments, when we are brought face to face with our own fragility, that we rediscover our common humanity. Through our lens, we look into the eyes of another and see ourselves. And so as photographers, we lead the world in this humanitarian endeavor--simply by capturing all that is true.

Blogger Note: I'm currently working out logistics on when I will be dispatched to Haiti in the next few weeks. Please stay tuned.


Manju said...

I can't even begin to imagine it. you are so STRONG Ron

Deboshree said...

What can I say?

You guys are meant to show the truth. It is a path you have chosen yourself but all I can say is that it requires tremendous courage and strength of mind to actually do everything required of you. You guys are a strong lot. It isn't easy to capture human suffering and I'm sure all of you are scarred in a way we can only imagine, but thank you for showing us the truth and daring to go to places where most would not even dream of.
But human beings are strange creatures. In a given situation, he can act in a way he himself could never have imagined. That is when the strength comes to the fore.
Hats off you to you guys.

Lots of love
Miss you babe

Wander to the Wayside said...

"we capture what is true"...I think that about sums it up, doesn't it?

canadasue said...

it seems you are a Gatekeeper of Truth... keep taking those thousand-word images which help us make meaning of chaos...

Anonymous said...

My friend and I were recently discussing about how involved with technology our daily lives have become. Reading this post makes me think back to that debate we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further advances, the possibility of copying our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I daydream about every once in a while.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4i SDHC[/url] DS Fling)

Javier said...

My hat off to you, Ron. Your mission in life is a very noble, royal one. We can only be grateful to people like you.