I’ve been meaning for quite some time to write a post about my experience early this year covering the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The earthquake occurred January 12, and according to the Haitian government killed over 200,000 people, injured 300,000 and left 1,000,000 homeless.
I spent just over 4 days in Haiti two weeks after the earthquake. It was a whirlwind experience, devastating, marking.
Lately, I have been trying to get back to Haiti. In the last month I have been on a roller-coaster of “yes, you’re going and you’re leaving in two days” and then “no, the trip is off pending further notice” and back again. As I write, I’m sad to say the trip is off. Of the three Virginia-based nonprofits I was trying to cover, one has had to cancel their trip. They were supposed to be in Jacmel, Haiti, right now building a temporary school, but could not afford the trip because of an onslaught of new government-imposed “fees” on all their construction material and equipment.
I will continue to pursue the chance to return to this beautiful and haunting place, but in the meantime I wanted to share my experience from my first trip. Below is the piece I was asked to write for the paper upon my return. I’ve posted the original, unedited version, my words versus what ran. Then there are 5 slideshows documenting what I saw. Please take the time to reflect, not forget and do something to help.
As soon as I heard Haiti had been rocked by a magnitude 7 earthquake, I wanted to be there. It was suddenly the center of the world, and I wanted to be in the middle of the action.
As I repeatedly asked my bosses to allow me to cover the story on the ground from Haiti, I started to question my own intentions. I wondered how much of my drive to be there, was really just drive, ambition and the desire to be playing with the big guys. I wondered if I was a vulture, taking advantage of people’s suffering to get a few more portfolio images.
After sitting on it for a few days and having a few conversations with my mom, I realized that I could apply that same question to most of the stories that I have covered with passion thus far in my photojournalism career. In the end I have the privilege of being a storyteller, and the responsibility to tell the story. My job is to document what happens, good and bad, or at least to be there and convey what I see, how I see it. If I get a few portfolio-quality images out of it, so be it. It’s not why I go. It’s not what makes me want nothing else other than to be there to tell the story. In the end, I decided I needed to stop stressing and just go do my job.
I left for Santo Domingo shortly after, had a two-day wait in Barahona, DR, and then began the journey over the border to Port-au-Prince. I was traveling with a driver, a fixer, a videographer and a writer.
Driving into Port-au-Prince was anticlimactic. I expected war zone scenery, devastation and quiet. Instead, there was bustle, traffic and markets everywhere I looked. I expected the smell of death to be overwhelming, I’d brought a scarf sprayed with perfume for that purpose, but the smell that confronted me as I rode into the city standing in the back of a flatbed truck was of diesel fumes. I quickly understood that my job was going to be different than that of the first-responder journalists. Going in two weeks after, the graphic, high intensity photos had been taken, the bodies had been cleared from the streets and life was continuing. I knew my job was going to be finding out how people were coping, how they were living, what they were feeling at this point, two weeks after.
On day one I photographed a missionary clinic in the hills outside of Port-au-Prince. Wards consisted of large rooms of 15 to 20 beds. Family members in charge of cleaning their loved ones and cooking for them crowded the narrow spaces between patients. Moaning was a continuous background sound, sometimes overlapped by chaplains reading psalms and praying. Newly admitted patients lay on thin mattresses placed on the floor in a corridor. A doctor sat on the floor next to one patient looking at his X-rays with the help of window light. As I prepared to walk into the clinic to shoot, a woman was leaving after recovering from femur surgery. I watched as she draped her arms over the shoulders of her brother and a friend, each held her waist to support her, and she slowly walked down a ramp to a waiting vehicle. Sweat dripped down her face and the pain was evident in her features. A small crowd gathered to watch, no one stepped in to carry her, but a few did lift her into the back of the truck once she reached it. As she prepared to leave what had been her home since the earthquake to stay with a friend, since her own home had been destroyed, a missionary reached into the truck to take her hand and say goodbye. That human touch and the look of affection and gratitude exchanged by the women moved me and set the tone for my own experience in Haiti.
Throughout the following four days I photographed in tent cities, churches and people’s homes. I visited a community built into the side of a mountain and slept on the roof of an orphanage under a full moon. I rode through downtown Port-au-Prince and allowed the extent of the destruction, the piles of rubble and even the smell of death to wash over me. I experienced the distribution of 1,000 family relief kits under the watchful eyes of U.S. marines in the Cite` Soleil neighborhood and found that the voices of those 1,000 people singing in their church, before receiving their kits, brought tears to my eyes.
What affected me most during my stay was the sense of a loss of dignity by many of Port-au-Prince’s residents. As humanity milled around them, women, old and young, washed on street corners. Men approached me in one of the tent cities to ask for a job as our group’s interpreter or guide, saying that the core of a man is to work and they could not find work or provide for their families. Children hung on to our truck and begged for water, even half empty bottles of water, when we stopped at traffic lights. Women fought over an insufficient amount of sanitary pads donated by an aid group to one of the tent cities. And an unidentifiable and decomposing body still lay in the middle of a main downtown street. The smell of death wasn’t the most impressive smell, but each tent city seemed to be soaked in urine and the smell of human waste. I felt like people were living on top of their own waste.
And finally, in some ways my trip has seemed to me to be a study in contrasts. I have had difficulty processing the idea of life going on around buildings that still trap bodies in their rubble. My team’s escape from the hot sun and the dust of downtown Port-au-Prince was a shaded restaurant owned by a Swiss woman where we could indulge in gelato. The restaurant was located a block from the squalor of a tent city. I heard stories of piles and piles of aid sitting on the tarmac at the airport, but saw little to no aid reaching the people. And spirituality and religion seemed to be ever-present themes in a place and people that had just lost everything to a natural disaster.
I spent my last night in Haiti at an orphanage run by a Mechanicsville couple. As we drove into the orphanage compound, 22 children greeted me politely. These children aren’t up for adoption, but are being raised there because their families cannot provide for them. The mission of the orphanage is to give them a safe and good place to grow, to educate them, and give them role models and opportunity, in the hope that they will be a new future for Haiti. As the children prepared to climb into their bunk beds placed in the front yard because they still fear sleeping inside, I was overwhelmed by the hugs
goodnight that I received by child after child.
The Tent City
All content by Eva Russo
All photos @ Richmond Times-Dispatch
The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represents the positions, strategies or opinions of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Have I mentioned that I love shooting engagement sessions? This particular session is a perfect example of why. I had a great feeling about Katy and Brandon when I met with them last Spring to chat about their upcoming November wedding. Katy was super organized, arriving at the meeting with the biggest wedding planning binder I have ever seen, and Brandon not only came to the meeting but participated more than some grooms-to-be would. The couple had a comfortable and genuine vibe. Well, my first impression was right on the dot and after spending a whole day traipsing around Richmond-Newport News-Gloucester with them, I can’t wait for their wedding. As they relaxed and settled into enjoying the different locations they had picked out, I was able to see how wonderfully they work together as a couple. Katy and Brandon really seem to balance each other out and make sense together. We started the session in Richmond’s Carytown, where we played in the rain, ate ice cream and tried on fun hats and glasses at Bygones Vintage Clothing (one of my favorite Richmond places to shop). Then it was off to a charming old country store that Brandon’s grandfather once owned near Gloucester, Virginia. Even though the store was closed, it was great to be somewhere so important to Brandon and his family. Finally, we headed to Christopher Newport University, where Katy and Brandon met. We played with the Geese Fountain on Saunders Plaza, where according to tradition, on graduation day, each senior throws the same penny they were given as a freshman. Sunset in the colonnade at the school’s new Ferguson Center for the Arts made for dramatic lighting and fun shots. Also, Katy and Brandon both work for Ferguson Enterprises, a leading plumbing-supply company in the area which sponsored the construction of the center. All in all, I’m really grateful for the time I had with this couple to get to know them a little better and witness their relationship. If Katy and Brandon’s families and friends are anywhere near as sweet and fun-loving as they are, their wedding is going to be a blast. Following are some of the images from the day: enjoy!
Happy Labor Day everyone! I thought I would share a video I made recently for the Richmond Times-Dispatch Labor Day feature. The story was on unique jobs and I was assigned to Alexander Brusilovsky, of West End Piano Restoration. Meeting Mr. Brusilovsky was a treat. I spent two hours learning about his work and I left his shop feeling so fortunate for my job and the opportunities I have to meet such interesting people. This man is a true artisan and emits a profound passion for his craft. He has been making and restoring pianos for over 30 years. Mr. Brusilovsky is from Moscow, where he learned to play the piano at age 4, got a master’s degree in instrument design and production and worked in a piano factory for 15 years. He started his career at the piano factory in an entry level position and by the time the factory shut its doors 15 years later, he was the chief engineer overseeing the last piano it ever made. Now, he is one of the few piano restorers in the region who does full piano restoration. With a full restoration, which can cost around $22,000, he guts the piano and replaces everything except the cabinet and the interior metal framework. Most importantly, Mr. Brusilovsky makes and replaces piano soundboards, the heart of the piano, and a job so delicate most restorers won’t do it out of fear of ruining the piano. According to him, the best soundboards are made out of wood taken from a spruce tree that is at least 200 years old and has grown in Alaska or Siberia. After it’s been cut, the wood must age for 50 years. So, every true instrument maker must do 2 things during the course of his career: train an apprentice to take over when he is done and collect wood for future instrument makers to use throughout their careers. How often do you meet someone with so much knowledge and experience? This assignment just made me wonder about all the other unique jobs people do day in and day out and how we get so caught up in our own daily lives we forget to ask not only what someone does for a living, but what that person loves about their job, what makes them tick, what they can’t imagine not doing the rest of their life. And, of course, I was thrilled to hear Mr. Brusilovsky play, beautiful music flooding his basement piano shop and taking me to a whole different world.
Photos by Eva Russo
All video @ Richmond Times-Dispatch
The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represents the positions, strategies or opinions of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
As most of us who have reached the “grown and sexy” age (of 30 and above…) know, it is not easy to find your match. The dating world can be rough and, if you’re searching for someone, the wait can be disheartening. However, when you’ve found that person, your person, everything stops, makes sense, fits. It’s like he (or she) was meant for you, like he was made purposefully for you, and you wonder in amazement at how you possibly found him amid everyone. You wonder how someone who encompasses so much of what you were looking for actually exists and is so much more than you even knew to look for. This is what I saw as I watched Shelley and Rey say “I do” in front of their friends and families. They were so completely overjoyed to have found each other, so completely aware of what a gift that is, that it was infectious. Enthralled, they grinned at each other throughout the ceremony, wiped away each other’s tears and held hands.
The wedding was a beautiful and intimate ceremony in the gardens of Oatlands Plantation. The couple included a few traditions from the Philippines such as a birdcage filled with coins, to symbolize prosperity, a veil which was placed over the couple’s head and shoulders to symbolize God’s embrace and a cord wrapped in a figure-of-eight shape around them to mark their union. The sunset light and numerous gorgeous locations throughout the grounds made for a photographer’s dream-come-true. From the gardens to the barn and the cake-cutting on the steps of the mansion, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect setting to play with Rey and Shelley in. But no matter how beautiful the location, the experience would not have been what it was without the couple’s warmth, love and energy.
Awesome vendors such as DJ Ian Lade, who kept the feet moving on the dance floor, Paula Kiley at Seasoned to Taste catering in Leesburg and the ladies at Oatlands Plantation made the experience even better. Following are images from the day: enjoy!