A year ago, LinkedIn announced the first ever Transformation Grant program, which gave LinkedIn employees the opportunity to receive a grant to go towards something transformational for themselves or their community. Looking back, I remember thinking it was a terrific idea, but I couldn’t think of anything applicable in my life.
Two weeks later, I was introduced to Philip Holsinger through a colleague in my office. Philip, a professional photojournalist, was in Chicago to photograph folks in the office to see if he could capture the same human spirit in cubicles as he had in his work in the field. As the resident amateur photographer in Chicago, I was brought into the conversation. Over coffee, Philip told me about his nonprofit Caractere, Inc and a program they run called the Haiti Workshop for Foreign Field Service in Photojournalism, which takes a select group of amateur photojournalists into the field. As he told me more, my mind and heart began racing. I immediately knew this meeting was serendipitous; I had something transformational on the horizon. I had to go to Haiti.
Earlier this year, I spent 7 days on the ground in Haiti. I traveled to the Central Plateau. I traveled to the tip of the Southern Peninsula. I spent time in some of the worst slums in all of Port au Prince, in Cite Soleil. I slept in tents in front of peasant houses and sat down with people from everywhere, listening to their stories. I saw more of the country than most other visitors, and more than most Haitians themselves. I took over 3,000 photos, and learned a tremendous amount technically and artistically about photojournalism. Funnily enough, upon return, the least important takeaways from my photojournalism workshop were about photography.
The above are a sampling of photographs captured during my week in Haiti. None can capture the essence of what I saw, but hopefully they help paint a picture of what a rich, beautiful, and truly transformational experience my trip was.
Six months later, I’m still trying to sort my thoughts and reactions. I still have no idea how to answer: “how was your trip?” Most would assume I’d come back shell-shocked by both the destruction I saw from the earthquake and the circumstances of those living in abject poverty. And sure–there’s an element of that. The news coverage doesn’t lie; most of these people are in need of help in a big way. But more striking than the horrors was the beauty all around me. The contrasts were remarkable: a starving puppy standing in the midst of a stunning lakeside landscape; a pig sleeping in a mountain of trash next to a little girl running around playing with her sister, both with gleaming smiles on their faces; a group of kids, covered in grime in the worst slum in the country, delighting in a chance to fool around in front of the camera.
Six months later, I do know this: I’m not the same person I was before I went. I catch myself looking around my home city of Chicago through a different lens, wanting to capture every moment of unexpected beauty that I come across. I want to take more pictures. I want to hear more stories.
I also know that I want to go back.