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:
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.