Crazy month, my friends. Ten flights between April & May have left me yearning for a little time off. A week after returning from Haiti I was back on a plane (or three) to the Bahamas for my first wedding of the season (pics coming soon). Talk about a change of scenery…it was surreal going from one extreme to the other. Anyone who’s done documentary or mission work in a third world country can tell you, its not easy to dive back into the grind of everyday life in the states. I was the girl who inexplicably started sobbing while pumping gas (at a packed gas station, no less) on my first day back. By the look on his face & his quiet whisper asking “are you ok, darlin’?” I totally freaked out the old man at the pump beside me. I think I gave him a half laugh, half sob response to the effect of  “Yes, but Haiti..they need us.”  Wow, poor guy. I’m sure he was wishing he had chosen a different gas station that day…

Truth is, after spending time with the Haitians and falling in love with their beautiful spirits, I longed for more time with them. They taught me so much in my short time there. Despite struggling to have their most basic survival needs met, they are trying to rebuild little by little. The earthquake of 2010 left so much devastation, it literally aches to see it in person. But the Haitians remain united in their hope for a better tomorrow for the country they love. They are surviving with no source of clean water & nearly 80% of the population living in extreme poverty. If anyone has a right to feel bitter & despair, they do… and yet they choose to live with hope and joy in their hearts. It was so inspiring to witness their unwavering faith, capture the light in their eyes, and have them welcome us with open arms.

Visiting Afca tent city was one of my favorite days. Not only did I learn so much about the hearts of these beautiful people, I left with a new perspective on life and the art of photography. Street photography is never easy, at least not for me. There’s a fine line between documenting and exploiting that I think we, as artists, walk. The hardcore photojournalist doesn’t stop to ask, and I’m willing to admit that this trip made me realize I’m just not that hardcore. As we walked up to this tented community, there was a little boy about my Emery’s age getting a bath in a tin bucket, out in the wide open for all to see. He was trying his best to cover himself, and I saw the look of terror on his face when he saw my camera. I thought about Emery & how mortified he would be to be getting a bath in public…with a photographer standing 5 feet away. So, I tossed my camera over my shoulder and smiled in his direction. No photo of that moment & no regrets. It could have been a stunning shot, sure, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice his feelings for my own desire for “art.” So, therein lies another truth the Haitians gifted me with. Above all I am a human, a mother, a wife, a friend, a daughter, and a sister…then a photojournalist. The moment I put the art first is the moment I lose perspective. If hardcore means photographing this without wrapping the child up in my arms and kicking that vulture in the teeth, then I’m happy to take my place among the softies. Being a mom changes you, I guess. I had to fight the urge to scoop up all of these kids & take them home with me. They are so full of light and unending joy. Life will never be the same for me…

So, let’s wrap this up with the stories behind two of my favorite images below. The first is the lovely woman in the floral dress & pink crocs (oh, her pretty pink crocs). Older folks are not as keen on photographs as the children are in Haiti. The kids love it, and will walk right up yelling “photo, photo!” and then practically pull your arm off to see the image on the back of the screen. But I got a lot of adults turning their backs to me, scowling when they saw my camera, even a few that flipped me off (hey, can’t say that I blame them). But this woman… when she saw us her face lit up with the biggest smile, she opened her arms & we each walked over to hug her. She kissed me on the cheek so warmly & cradled the side of my head as she did. I had chills & wanted so badly to take her portrait, so I gestured to my camera & said “photo, oui?” She smiled & said “oui, oui” and lifted her chin proudly to pose. The image of her below is one of my favorites. Maybe its because I lived it, but I can see the love & pride in her eyes. She had a profound effect on me in that brief moment in time & I’m so grateful she let me take her portrait. Beautiful, isn’t she?

And then there’s Edelynne Auguste. The 13-year old girl with a smile to end all smiles. The image below was a split second of her sprinting, arms outstretched, with the biggest grin on her face. She recognized our team leader Frank & was overjoyed to see him. I had no idea when I snapped this shot through the truck window that the pile of rubble behind her was her home. She lost her entire family in the quake & is now caretaker to 5 young children in the home where her family was crushed. Just look at her. Such joy despite unimaginable pain. From this day on, anytime I think I’m having a bad day…I picture Edelynne and remind myself that if she can smile after all she’s been though..well, so can I.

Through these images, I hope you guys can get a glimpse into the beauty of Haiti. To the people of Afca City, thank-you for welcoming us with open arms.

Comments: 11    leave a comment

  1. Kellie, these are outstanding. I feel the love you have for this country and these amazing people through your lens!

  2. Kellie, I am so grateful that you have opened my eyes and my heart to these beautiful children. I feel the love you have for these people and I hope you’ll visit them again. I think it’s touching that you see the joy in them; not just their hardships. You saw and captured in your photos a people who could teach us so much. I believe they can recover from the earthquake, but I know we must help them. I pray that your photos will touch the hearts of many and that we will find a way to lighten the lives of the Haitian people. May God bless you and the children and families in Haiti.

  3. These photos have given me chills. Somehow the atmosphere is haunting but very beautiful at the same time.

  4. Kellie, the images are exceptional. But having seen your work 100 million times, that part is no surprise by now. But what I love is that you keep an honest outlook on Haiti and the people there: ” If anyone has a right to feel bitter & despair, they do… and yet they choose to live with hope and joy in their hearts.” … Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  5. Amazing photographs! Beautifully written Kelli! This is so close to my heart. LOVE!

  6. Ohh how I love the expression on her face and those Crocs. And I love your comments on photojournalism and respecting others as individuals… it’s something I struggle with often. Beautiful post- keep it coming.

  7. These have left me close to speechless, they are beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.

  8. Thank you for sharing your journey! Your work is amazing and I just love reading about the hope and joy the people of Haiti have! Some of my favorites include: the little boy with the pixie stick and sucker, the group of boys with the soccer ball and the precious little one in his/her underwear with a sucker that is looking right at you….melts my heart! Thank you Kellie!

  9. I love the photos, Kellie. Thanks for sharing so many!

  10. incredible Kellie!

  11. This is so good, Kellie – really amazing seeing all this through your eye!

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