“It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, And that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey.” –Wendell Berry
I have been a commercial photographer for about 16 years, but my journey as an artist—even as a human being—started two years ago. Two years ago I took my first trip to Haiti. Somehow, on this island littered with destruction yet filled with hope, my paradigm shifted—my heart crumbled—and I discovered my purpose and mission in life. It’s my hope that I’ll encourage you to do the same.
I have captured most everything and anything through the language of photography. From chefs to musicians, celebs to fishermen, artists to business people, and architecture to food—I have had a blessed career thus far.
Yet somehow, even with the most creative jobs and supportive clients, my work never completely took me to a place of pure passion and purpose. It failed to rattle the core of my being in a way that stripped away my layers—rendering me raw with understanding of what I was trying to communicate. Until Haiti, I was uncertain of who I longed to become.
In May of 2010, I traveled to Haiti as a photographer for the medical relief team, New Reality International. When I lifted my camera to frame their stories, it was if, for the first time, I was truly seeing through the lens.
I began returning every 6-8 weeks, living with friends in the tent cities, sharing their homes in Port au Prince. Through photographs and video, I was able to document the beauty of every day in the life of these families. They allowed me to give voice to their story—a story of resilience and life post-earthquake—a story which I felt was being ignored. Of course media was plastered with imagine of immediacy, but they seemed to communicate only a fraction of what I witnessed on my trips to Haiti and what I was personally witnessing by living with my friends.
I wanted nothing more than full immersion into this project. I welcomed the insecurity, the fear, the discomfort, but also the excitement. This immersion gave light to a vulnerability and honesty in my images which I have never seen before. I stopped caring about the process and the rules, concentrating instead on the story. Their story. And the photographs projected their voices not just mine.
I have discovered that the beauty of storytelling is found in a series of images which translate truth—not my truth, but theirs. When we, as photographers, let go of our selfish need to create the best work, capture award winning images, or be featured on the cover of magazines, we allow the beauty of others’ circumstance to resonate through our lens. This is art. This is humanity. We are able to show others that their story has significance, that their lives are beautiful and profound.
This is how our gift of photography creates change in our world.
I followed my three friends and their families for the past two years. I have shared their stories and my images and videos with countless people. Up From Under (http://upfromunder.org), a foundation I started, has raised almost $50,000.00 in a single year. Up From Under is now building new homes in Haiti for my friends who lost theirs.
I tell you this not for praise or recognition, but to share with you what a catalyst for change our vision can be if we choose to see clearly.
If you feel stuck or unfulfilled—if you fear that your work declares nothing about the person you are—seek an opportunity to do something beyond yourself. Immerse yourself in vulnerability and you will discover a deeper understanding of who you are in the broad scope of humanity, who you are as an artist, and how your story intertwines with those on the other side of the lens.
Jason, I would love to talk to you, please email me, maybe we will end up there the same time:) Michelle, thank you for the lovely comment, it's easy to find if we seek! Rose-Marie, where in Haiti? Where do you live now? Mwen kontan we' ou. Ayiti se kè m' toujou! Greg, so true, we are saturated with noise. Your kids will be compassionate because you are:) Take them to Haiti!! One Love....
Really beautiful nicole. I think in today's social media driven, "reality" TV world there's a lot of noise. A lot of things that don't REALLY matter or have little enduring value. I know I'm guilty of being distracted by the Noise from time to TIME. i WORRY MY KIDS WILL BE DISTRACTED. bUT THEN i SEE THE WORK OF ORGANIZATIONS LIKE UP FROM UNDER AND i AM INSPIRED. onCE AGAIN i AM ABLE TO SEE PAST THE NOISE aND i KNOW OTHERS WILL BE ABLE TO DO THE SAME. kEEP UP THE GOOD WORK AND THANK YOU!
thank you for sharing this. i WAS BORN IN Haiti, BUT DON'T LIVE THERE AND AM GLAD THAT YOU GOT THE OPPORTUNITY TO GROW AND NOW i CAN READ this AND KNOW I CAN ALLOW MYSELF GROWTH TOO. (I WRITE)
WOW! This gave me chills. Very inspiring to push myself into the unfortable to find out where I should be...