I’m going to start with a little back story. I explained in my last post some of why I went to Haiti. But it hasn’t been until I returned that I am beginning to understand more why I went.
I think just about every time I first meet someone, inevitably in the conversation, the question comes:
“so what’s your favorite thing to photograph?” or “so why are you a photographer?” or at the very least “so what kind of photography do you do?”
The answers to these questions are answered swiftly, without much forethought, and then followed by other conversation. I think after Haiti, the answers to these questions can’t really stay the same. And I’m thankful for that.
Yet, in the back of my head as I answer these questions, there’s always this one nagging question that I usually keep to myself:
Why did I pick up the camera in the first place?
I don’t ask this question in a way that assumes I never should have picked up a camera, or that I regret my career choice. It’s more of a little reminder to consider why. And God giving me the opportunity to go to Haiti was that little reminder played out in real life.
You see, I picked up a camera years ago as I struggled to know what I wanted to do with my life. Back then I thought I wanted to maybe be a “counselor.” This idea revealed that what I value most is having real conversations with people and serving others. That was the desire in a nutshell. As I’ve gotten older, studied photography in college, shot 3 years of weddings, started life on my own as a single woman out in the world, and had to make a decision of what I will follow, what I’ll live for, and ultimately what my mission will be…the desire to serve others hasn’t changed- it’s just become more focused.
The thing is, I originally picked up a camera because I saw that, for whatever reason, God had provided a gift, and a desire to use it and other gifts in order to help. I just haven’t been able to put to words what that “help” actually looks like or means. I've only part known what it means and why I picked up a camera to go, to serve, to use photography and this device that somehow by the grace of God stops His time in its very tracks in order to connect people, to bring awareness, and to bring money, aid, and help from people who, without these photographs, would not know about the need.
Since our return, I first of all got sick, which laid me out for a week. But honestly I can see the sickness was a very good thing for me in a lot of ways because it helped me process and settle back in. It also granted me a whole lot of time to read, research, and look deeper into this thing tha,t for lack of a better term, is titled “humanitarian photography.” For those who know and love me well, I’ve been throwing this term around for quite a few years in hopes it’ll stick and be something I could pursue. There is no definition in the dictionary for a humanitarian photographer, but a humanitarian is one who
has concern for or helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people.
of or pertaining to ethical or theological humanitarianism.
pertaining to the saving of human lives or to the alleviation of suffering: a humanitarian crisis.
I’ve thought a lot about this term, this idea and desire I’ve always had, and the comments and ideas of other people who strive to be “humanitarian photographers.” I don’t have it all figured out by any means and I never will, as I’m not the one to know what God has for me now or in the future or why He does what He does…but I’ve been able to realize that long ago God put in me a desire to do something for reasons I may not have been able to put into words, and now He’s given me a little bit deeper understanding than before. I’ve realized that this thing I’m wanting to do with the camera, this aid I’m wanting to bring, this “alleviation of suffering” and desire to “improve the welfare and happiness of people” cannot and will not be separated from the ultimate need and goal of the gospel being that which saves them. I’ve read a lot about bringing dignity to others through photographs. Something I’ve always thought about is somehow using photographs to bring an awareness of people’s conditions and for people to open up their wallets and their time in order to give back after seeing what some people are living in. These are all still missions of mine and ideas I plan to pursue…but the point is..now, more than ever, it’s clear to me that all of these things can’t be separate from a desire to speak the gospel, to make the love of Christ, our need for it, our brokenness, and the grace that came from a man, who wept most of his time here because of the brokenness he saw, that humbled himself in order to go. I can go to other countries and take pictures of people in order to bring dignity to them in the midst of their circumstances, and I can photograph them with a smile instead of a frown in order to show that God made them in his image, and I can stop time in its tracks with this tool that God will likely use to bring money and time and concern from others….but if I do it without bringing the message of the saving grace of the gospel. If I reduce it to “happiness” and “welfare” or even “food” and “clothing” but do not bring the only “alleviation of suffering” there truly is…then what am I doing?
Some of the things we saw and experienced in Haiti are still difficult for me to know how to talk about. Some of my response has been fear to look at the images because I get overwhelmed. How am I supposed to put words to these images and reduce these people, these situations, these circumstances to a bullet point beneath a photograph? The truth is I still haven’t gotten to the answer of those questions. But I know I am to try. You hear people saying “I need to give a voice to these people” and I do. “ I need to bring dignity to these people and show others that they have hope, life, joy, and even faith..sometimes more than we do in here in this culture”..and I do. “ I need to do my share and give up my time and energy and money for these people who can’t speak loud enough on their own.”…and I do. But if I separate it from the love of Christ or from the saving knowledge that I am just as broken, just as helpless, and that it’s only by the grace of God that I have the opportunity to show a beggar where to find food…then I’m just another humanitarian, just another helper, and it’s just another 7 day pin-point on the blip of the radar of my life. God has called us to more. And I don’t know what it looks like in the day- to- day, or if I’ll have a chance to do another trip like this one or photograph those who are hurting and starving and naked and in danger…I hope I do…if it were up to me I would. All I know is I got to go to Haiti, God provided a way to photograph and speak His name while there, and now it’s my job to try in my limited understanding and ability to tell these people’s stories and thereby bring an understanding of the brokenness of all of us…not just them. So the next few weeks will be a very flawed and pathetic attempt to show all of us our need of the very thing that played itself out as we watched hurting, starving, naked, dying people…
This is just an introduction and start of many, many photos I have and plan to show. Please bear with me as I process, in every sense of the word, the photos I was able to take and stick around to see more and hear some of these peoples' stories if you can. Thanks so much for reading, friends.
And thanks for stopping by,
p.s. I'll be telling more soon about the group we partnered with but check out their website to learn more: http://grangou.org/