In October 2013, I traveled to Haiti for the first time with a medical relief team and brought a camera to document the experience. Having no medical background, I worked with the translators in registration. Without a clinic to work from, we traveled to a chosen church or village and set up a mobile unit and pharmacy. We would see as many patients as we could. When the line stalled, I would photograph.
In January 2018, NOVA Hope for Haiti discovered these images. NOVA is a collective group of medical and non-medical professionals who operate from a year-round community clinic in the small town of Cavaillon. The mission-driven organization dispatches a team of volunteer, US-based medical specialists to provide care in mass every six to twelve months. I contributed photography for NOVA in April 2018 and again in January 2019. Besides making images of the patient transformations, I began a personal collection of photographs of the life and people of southwest Haiti.
No day is the same. I start without my camera and assign myself small tasks, checking in with the providers. I also make a point to warm up to the kids and know that if I can win their trust, the adults will follow. Once I bring the camera out, all it takes is connecting with one person. I think the unfamiliarity of who I am and what I'm doing is minimized when I get to show people not only what the camera does but how they look in a way they may have never seen before. Establishing that connection is pivotal for winning over other onlookers. The more comfortable people are with my blanc presence, the easier it is to make images less from the perimeter and more from the perspective of the clinic rush.
I let scenes unfold freely and try to photograph before intervening. Photography isn't always welcome. I want to respect the privacy of the patients as well as acknowledge that I'm a visitor. My setup is as simple as possible so I can capture real moments. I try my best to take what I’m seeing and put it into the camera. There are so many different means of making pictures today: studios, lights, post-processing, huge budgets. I’ve never been interested in that production-level of photography. I’ve worked on sets for big clients where the photographer was highlighted by $50K of production. But what was happening around me didn’t feel like photography. It felt void of personality and perspective. In no way am I excused from this judgment in my own career. But with every visit to Haiti, my goals and responsibility as a photographer change. The heart scales; your empathy scales. I have access to many assurances, all facets of my life I know are not given to others. I want to redistribute the privilege I have through the means of making photographs.
On my first mission with NOVA, I met with the patients, Haitian staff, and got to know the volunteers. I observed the registration process, patient-provider interactions, and learned about the community of Cavaillon and NOVA's direct impact. It also allowed me to get involved in community activities. I loved playing soccer with the boys. I quickly learned my place when they all laughed at my pale, winter body in a shirts versus skins match. They ran circles around me! But I got several players’ portraits which were some of my favorite images from that mission.
I also met Jethro, a young boy who lives with his family down the road from the clinic. We first met when he came in for a dental exam and we immediately took a liking to one another. I saw him daily whether he was in to see a provider or to attend one of NOVA’s many nightly activities. In an interview with his family, I got emotional listening to his father share their story. They have so much gratitude for NOVA and their spirit is unbroken. I photographed standing off to the side. This image could easily sum up my experience and what NOVA does for its community.
On our last trip, the team and I traveled the familiar 190 miles from Port-au-Prince to Cavaillon. It's a bumpy six hours on a yellow school bus. This trip's goals were to complete a laundry list of upkeep. We also hosted about 100 kids for a morning of games and activities including a girls-only game of Duck, Duck, Goose amusingly misinterpreted as Goose, Goose, Duck. In the evening, we screened the latest Jumanji on the front porch (in French) and handed out small candies. We capped the week of maintenance work at Rainbow Beach. Two American dollars gets you access to the pristine waterfront and a coconut. On our final day in Port-au-Prince, we visited historic landmarks and museums, drove the windy roads to an overlook of the entire city, and enjoyed one last Prestige at a small bar in Pétionville to listen to some jazz.
I've seen many facets of the country, all very different from one another. The urban landscapes of Port-au-Prince showcase the lively, vibrant life of Haitian culture. The portraits from the rural countryside represent a certain pride, innocence, and joy. Together, they illustrate a hopeful perspective of a country in constant recovery.