Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Boy I'll Never Forget

Photo: A boy and his sister in Port Au Prince, Haiti.

"There are always two people in every photograph, the subject and the photographer." -Ansel Adams

It has been one month since I walked the streets of Port Au Prince with my camera. A month ago today, I ventured into the heart of darkness, of devastation and human suffering. So today, I went through my photo's, and there was one that instantly stood out. Here is the story of the one depicted above:

The Reason

When the earthquake first struck, within hours I was asked by news agencies from around the world if I'd be interested in going. Instantly, I weighed my options. I wasn't concerned about the money they'd pay me or the safety of my team--nor was I overly scared of being in danger. At the time, CNN had choppered in Anderson Cooper a few hours earlier, so I knew I'd be in the forefront of this coverage. It was an assignment few photogs would turn away. But there was something in me that held me back. Something that, to this day, I cannot explain. Maybe I was afraid of what I'd see. Perhaps, terrified of what I'd come back with.

Kindly, I declined and waited for the dust to settle. I wanted to see how long the media would stay before something else made headlines.

Three months later, after all the Anderson Coopers and Wolf Blitzer's had left, I decided to go to Haiti as a volunteer photographer for various non-profits. It was the best decision I have ever made.

As a photographer, there comes a time in my life when I start to question the purpose of my work, the reason why I do what I do--and ultimately, when one thinks about it, it also becomes the reason why I am the person I am today. My work depicts who I am and becomes my only reason.

I went to Haiti without deadlines, with no real agenda or editors screaming for my work. I went there for myself--to tell stories that mattered to me most and to fill a need for the organizations that would use my photo's to serve causes I believed in. For the first time in a long time, I no longer felt guilty while shooting the plight of those who suffer. I felt like someone serving a purpose--someone who, without any medical knowledge or life saving abilities, was just as important as those who did have that gift.

The Boy I'll Never Forget

Walking through a crowded refugee camp, I decided to break away from my group and ventured off on my own. I came upon an area of the camp most quiet--where the wind blew card board boxes away without anyone chasing after it for shelter. Sometimes, the best photo's are found when no one is around. So I kept walking.

Turning the corner, I noticed a boy sitting on a red chair. He was facing the other way and didn't see me coming. At that very moment, I thought to myself I had found the perfect shot: a lonely boy sitting by himself with rows of tents in the background. I snapped a few frames--and instantly, he heard my shutter flipping and turned to look directly into my lens. That was when I had lost my breath.

It was one of those moments in my life when the world had suddenly stopped. Moments when, through my lens, I'd blink uncontrollably trying to dictate what I was seeing.

Through my viewfinder, I saw flies hovering around his face, in his mouth, his nose, eyes and ears. For a brief moment, my mind didn't see the boy--but just flies like vultures consuming him--alive. (Click on image above to enlarge and you will see).

I froze and put my camera down. I stood there looking at him and nearly cried. A few seconds later his sister came behind him. They looked back at me and waved. And as soon as I waved back, the boy broke into the biggest smile I had ever seen. Flies entered his mouth.

With my heart wrenching, I managed to pull myself together to snap one frame.

That night, laying in my tent, his image played back in my dreams. I couldn't help but to wonder how much I had impacted his life in order for him to smile like that. Despite his condition--with flies in his mouth, he smiled at me--and because of that, I couldn't come to terms with myself for taking that picture--for being there at that moment. I think I cried myself to sleep that night.



I'm sorry, but I can no longer write this post. I don't know why this image has haunted me so much since my return. I thought that by going to Haiti without deadlines and without being paid would make my heart feel better at night--but it hasn't. No matter how I work, the images that I capture still plays with my head. There's something beautiful about his smile--yet at the same time it haunts me. Sometimes, I wish I was never there for him to see me. Why? I'd like to know what you think.

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The World In Your Living Room

It was a Saturday afternoon just like any other. Having just returned from a foreign assignment, I was devoid of civilization--and like many Saturday's in my home town, there wasn't much to do. So being the geek that I am, I ventured into the nearest electronic store to see what new gadgets I could find.

Walking aisle by aisle, I skimmed every product with a fine-toothed comb. Many things caught my eye, but looking at the price tag made me lose focus. Too many zero's, not enough decimals. So I kept walking.

Large screen TV's always catch my attention. The way moving images danced on it's glossy screens made everything so real--almost touchable. Standing in front of one--for a second, I thought I was some place else. The video played seamlessly smooth with music thumping to the psychedelic beat of an under ground night club I'd be afraid to be in. Surround sound speakers made me lost, confused--wondering where the hell all that sound was coming from. It was amazing--yet at the same time scary.

It didn't take long for a salesman to notice my disoriented look. He asked if I was "interested." To which I replied, "huh?"

And before I could even gather my thoughts, he started spewing out facts and figures I had never heard before. In one ear, out the other. So I just stood there and smiled.

Ten minutes later he starts selling me an extended warranty plan on something I never said I was going to buy. And just when I thought he was going to shut up, he says, "But THAT'S NOT ALL...if you buy this whole system today, I'll throw in a special edition Travel DVD that has all the countries covered! You'd never have to leave home...heck, it's like having the world in your living room!"

I laughed and walked out.

Driving home, I couldn't help but wonder how many people have fallen for this deal. For the price it cost to own that system I could probably trek through all of South East Asia, venture through the Himalaya's and through to Europe.

It's funny, I get people telling me all the time how lucky I am to travel and how they wouldn't be able to do it. But at the same time, they wouldn't have a second thought about spending $8000 (U.S) on an entertainment system so they can sit and have the world brought to them instead of going to it.

A waste of money, if you ask me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Man Behind The Camera

Photo courtesy of John Narvalis
2010 CSC Awards, Toronto Canada

“I was born in a refugee camp along the Thailand and Cambodia border. Every morning, I’d awake to the image of a man behind a camera. Wiping my eyes, I’d see him clearly, in perfect focus as he focused his lens. They were filming the movie The Killing Fields outside my tent. And at that very moment, at the age of three, I wanted to be that man behind the camera. Twenty five years later, tonight, I can proudly say that I am that man.”
-an excerpt of my speech from the 2010 Canadian Society of Cinematographers Award.

Sometimes, it’s easy for me to forget the very reasons why I do what I do. Deadlines come and go, stories change, schedules fall through—and before I know it, the day is done. In my life, there are days when the world just seems untouchable—when no matter how hard I’ve worked or how far I’ve gone, it just isn’t enough. And at that very moment, professionally, I just want to give up, but personally, I know I can’t. So I work harder, push further. And with hope and a prayer, I tell myself that what I’m doing is not just benefiting me as a person, no, but also those who seek an understanding of the world through my images.

So because of that, what I do on a daily basis is not a job, but a journey. It’s my calling. My way of understanding myself--and at the same time helping those who want to understand others.

I began this journey at a very young age. Foolish and stubborn, I followed the path least traveled. Today, I am still that fool. I am still that stubborn-hard-ass that looks to defy those who say I can’t. God has blessed me with enough foolishness to believe that I can make a difference in the world—so that I can attempt to do what others claim cannot be done. So with his permission, through my images, I am going to do just that—no matter how long or desolate that road may be. I am determined.

Sometimes, amidst the chaos and calamity of my world, I trip and fall into the abyss. I lose sight of my vision—and so with prying hands, I try to quickly find my way back. And when I do, that vision becomes clear again—and like that three year old wiping his eyes in the morning, I can see that man behind the camera. Except this time, that man is me.