March 5th, 2013
Los Angeles, California
Unfortunately, I must say that Waiting for Haiti is on hold for the indefinite future.
When the project first began over three years ago, I was willing and able to fund the majority of each trip. Along the way, many generous supporters emerged to help lighten the load, and I hope that each of you can feel good about your decision to help me complete the two essays which received the majority of your donations: The Michels and Once Loved. It has become clear to me, though, that self-funding would not be a viable, long-term solution. Eventually I’d run out of money, and then what? With that in mind, I began exploring other options.
Since April of 2011, Waiting for Haiti has been rejected by every direct funding opportunity for which it was considered. Some were public opportunities and others private. This has weighed on me quite heavily. I’ve wondered if these rejections were a result of the quality of my photographs, the writing, or if my style was simply unappealing. I also considered the possibility that these foundations may have seen Waiting for Haiti as just another project about Haiti — a subject which is now often viewed as cliché.
After a few months of consideration, I decided it was time to not only put Waiting for Haiti on hold, but to also begin steering myself away from freelance photography in general. Honestly, I’m not that good at it. I may be good at taking pictures, but definitely not the entrepreneurial aspects of it. It seems as though most young photographers share the same fantasy I had: to not only work for yourself and make a living, but to develop a respectable reputation as well. This “dream” no longer fits with who I am.
I’ve never been a good salesman, businessman, or fundraiser. Moreover, the majority of folks in the surprisingly small photography community would find my opinions (should I express them bluntly) to be contradictory to their own. I never bought into the idea that photography can change the world, or even the future of a small island country. I do however believe in the value of sharing thoughtful opinions which have been formed by personal experience. The stories within Waiting for Haiti are not about my life, but are clearly a reflection of who I am.
In order for a photographer to influence any real change, he or she should be willing and able to provide direct assistance when needed. On a case-by-case basis, I have rejected the code of ethics that demands a photojournalist avoid contributing to the outcome of events. I have and will continue to directly help when the opportunity arises. Another flaw in the code of ethics involves avoiding stereotypes. It sounds fair but, in reality, political correctness has essentially neutered quality journalism. When it comes to the media, journalists (and editors) constantly manipulate public opinion by cherry picking which stories to cover in order to trade negative stereotypes for positive ones, which then dilutes the reality—whatever that reality may be. When it comes to Haiti, the general practice is to depict all lower class Haitians as victims in desperate need of outside help. As victims, they are not responsible for any of their own actions, unless an action is deemed praiseworthy, in which case it is promoted as a story of hope.
One stereotype which is often avoided by “respectable” news organizations is the “Vodou Cannibal.” I learned that the hard way. On May 9th of 2012, while working on the essay Once Loved, I filmed a man at the morgue who was skinning dead bodies. Morgue staff explained to me that the bones and soft tissue would be used for anatomy studies only, but my instincts were screaming that something wasn’t right. As I began to show the video to various Haitians and expats for insight, I was shocked that none of them actually seemed surprised. I was repeatedly told the same disturbing rumors, and from wildly different sources. Rumors should never be given much credit, especially in Haiti, but a few valid questions did arise from the resulting conversations. I decided to begin contacting news organizations to offer the video (for free) and suggest an investigation be done by someone more experienced than I. Why was the soft tissue being neatly bagged up, and where did it go? That, I thought, was a question which needed to be answered. I contacted over two dozen journalists with experience working in Haiti. One of them, a well known and respected journalist who has made Haiti the focus of his career, responded. He took the situation very seriously, talked with me at length, and eventually pitched the story to his bureau chief. A small team was gathered together which included some of the best investigative journalists currently working in Haiti—or so I was told. The group studied the video and photographs, discussed the possibilities, and concluded that they would not pursue the story because of the repercussions it would have on the country. I became extremely angry, frustrated, and even depressed. But it was a valuable experience; a little more of my idealism flew right out the window.
Much has already been said regarding Haiti’s earthquake recovery efforts in numerous documentary films. Michele Mitchell’s “Haiti: Where Did The Money Go?” and journalist Kim Ives’ reports on various WikiLeak documents are only a couple examples of the many widely circulated and well-researched stories regarding post-earthquake Haiti. These reports helped answer some of the most common questions asked by the international community. And I keep imagining how helpful it would be if all this information was in one place.
My hope is that Waiting for Haiti can eventually become an important resource of photo essays and documentary videos. Each story would be archived in chronological order to help viewers analyze the country’s progress. The website could be a place where visitors read thoughtful essays, view powerful photography slideshows, and learn, learn, learn. At the heart of it all would be the Michel family. Or more specifically, Jhemy. We would watch him grow up over time and, by doing so, viewers could become emotionally invested in the well being of the country through the life of a child. Instead of the usual approach, with one story now and an update to follow 15 years later, I hope to produce regular updates every other year, or whenever a significant event occurs in Jhemy’s life. It saddens me that I will not be able visit the Michels during their current transition. But I feel extremely grateful for the time we have spent together so far, and also proud that Jhemy is one of the only children in his neighborhood to have actually gotten to know and trust a “blanc”. Jhemy’s mother once said that he might be the only child in the area who isn’t racist towards whites.
Looking back, my “plan” was clearly half-baked. Naively, I thought one photo essay would lead to another, and another. I thought these essays would generate attention, resulting in funding opportunities which would help make the more challenging stories possible. In the long term, I’d like to include additional writers and photographers. All these ideas may may still be possible later, but the current situation prevents the idea from becoming anything more than a thought. I need money, and I don’t have it. Though Waiting for Haiti has not been proposed to every foundation out there, nor have I begged and pleaded for money from every family member and friend, I’ve done more than enough to see that the interest just isn’t there (at least not for those who have the means to provide significant help), and that it’s time to put Waiting for Haiti on hold for a few years; to re-evaluate and come back again later with more experience and a different plan.
For now, my goal is to finish school and find a steady job. When it comes time to pick up and start again, I will be able to continue funding Waiting for Haiti on my own. The project will continue to be a labor of love. After all, it was my love for a friend that helped connect me to the country in the first place.
The other day, one of my former teachers, Julia Dean, replied to an email I had sent out about my Grandparents. She remarked that personal stories are often the best. Her straightforward statement left me wondering how a white man from Los Angeles who doesn’t even speak Creole could go to Haiti and create such intense, personal stories. The answer to that question is also the key to Waiting for Haiti’s current weakness. Although I have deeply personal reasons for choosing which stories to tell, I got caught up playing photojournalist. I was trying to be serious and laudable rather than sincere. This realization is going to be my food for thought for awhile.
To be continued…
Jeanmary promised Janelle that he would take her somewhere special for her birthday - a break from the heavy burdens of daily life.
St. Christophe. Roughly 100,000 earthquake victims are buried here.
May 12th, 2012
Usually I write more when I am on these trips, but almost right from the start this visit to Haiti has been different.
As far as the the city and the people go… I don’t find strangers any more or less hostile. Basically the same unpleasant bunch. Oftentimes I have heard aid workers refer to the Haitians as kind generous people who want the opportunity to work hard - I wonder if they only say this in order to convince themselves that it is true. I have only met three Haitians who meet that description. One of them is now dead. The other two are Jeanmary and his mother. Jeanmary will be the first to say most Haitians are lazy, liars, and thieves. But he also says that the Haitians who remain in the countryside are much different; that Port-au-Prince attracts many who come seeking free housing, food and money from the NGO’s or government. He says that many who come to Port-au-Prince are already lazy, preferring to leech off of the foreign aid than to continue working their own farms. Apparently, once they are here - the realization kicks in that many of the rumors are pure fantasy (one rumor going around was that the government was giving 5,000 gourds to every Haitian in Port-au-Prince. In reality, they only gave money to some Haitians for the specific use of repairing their homes.). At this point, many become stuck in the city. Which is how, over time, this city turns them into liars and thieves in order to survive.
I am looking forward to the moment when I witness a whole group of these kind and generous island people the legends speak of. That being said… my experiences here in Port-au-Prince are much different than most “blancs”. I have to fully rely on the people around me in order to get information, travel from place to place, and keep safe. I basically have zero support beyond what Jeanmary can provide. The only times anyone has done anything helpful for me are when Jeanmary either pays bribes, or tells lies about who I am and what I am doing. These tactics make me uncomfortable but looking back… I just don’t see how most of our experiences would have been possible otherwise. I do not have the connections to operate the way I would like to.
Tonight it has been raining very hard and right this moment the power is out. I am sitting on the front steps of the house. Jeanmary is walking around worried about something, Janelle is scolding Jhemy for tearing his clothes, and a few family friends are standing around. This is a typical night. The electricity has been much more consistent this trip; I am very thankful.
Tuesday we went to the funeral of a woman named Micheline Purrhys who died at the age of 44. It was an interesting experience. I am told that funerals usually last about an hour, but this one went much longer. The preacher spoke heatedly about death. Many in the audience became impatient and about 1/4th of the guests walked out before the preacher was finished. Once the church part was over… the funeral procession made it’s way to the cemetery. The remaining guests gathered around as the preacher spoke one last prayer before the workers dragged the coffin into the crypt. The first attempt was a failure because the coffin had some fancy woodwork and wouldn’t fit into the small opening. The workers grabbed hammers and smashed pieces off the bottom of the coffin until it could fit.
The next day we visited the morgue. I had a lot of anxiety about being there again. It turned out that I had very good reason to be anxious. The conditions are worse. Much much worse. But I’ll save that for another time.
There isn’t much else that I can say about certain parts of this trip. I’ve witnessed and recorded some things that I do intend to write about in detail, but it would be best if I did so after coming home. I could also use the extra time to percolate the experiences.
On the bright side, I’ll be spending all of next week with an organization that I have been hoping to partner up with. I’ve respected their work from the beginning. It will be a wonderful experience… to see something good in Haiti… something positive. A wonderful opportunity to finally operate the right way! I am also cherishing the chance to help out more directly. Lately I have been wondering what good I am doing. It is a pointless thing to worry about because documentation is necessary, and long term documentation is very important. But, I know that I will likely never see any good come of it. Definitely not anytime soon.
I cannot say much more about the organization or what I’ll be doing. I signed a pretty hefty non disclosure agreement but if you know me or have been paying attention for awhile, I’m sure it isn’t hard to figure out. I hope that I will be able to put together a photo essay of the experience that will become a part of Waiting For Haiti, but nothing has been given the OK yet.
This has definitely been the roughest trip. But I hope that in the end I’ll be able to piece together two positive photo essays to support the negative one.
Jenny and my family have been wonderfully supportive. My sister has been having some health problems and my mom and dad were pretty stressed out at the beginning of the week. But Jenny and my dad have been taking my calls and letting me talk through some tough experiences. My mother would too of course, but she really doesn’t need to hear some of this stuff. I miss Jenny terribly. I’m really not very good at being away from the person I am in love with. In the past I was single, so this is a bit of a learning experience. Thankfully, mobile phones are cheap, and international minutes to call the US are inexpensive. She has been so patient with me.
Jeanmary and I took motorcycles up the coast today. Our drivers were about half crazy. They must have never been inside the morgue. It felt a little bit like paying Russian roulette - thankfully the gun turned out to be empty. Our plan was to visit Titayanne. An area where some of the unclaimed dead in Haiti are being buried… and where many of the earthquake victims ended up. The motorcycle I was on had some trouble, and while talking to a mechanic the guys found out there was a mass grave closer which we had already passed. The area is called St. Christophe. The locals says that it is the final resting place for about 100,000 earthquake victims. The area is quite beautiful. There is a flat square of gravel above the mass grave. On top is a memorial. Behind it are small green mountains over looking the ocean and landscape. There are small patches of black crosses here and there along the path up to the top of a larger hill. At the top of the hill are two big crosses. They are both very different from one another. One brown wood and sturdy. The other made from a bamboo type wood with a reef hanging on it. It is the most peaceful place I have visited thus far.
The night before Jeanmary and I returned to the morgue for the third time. I was dreading it. Fortunately Jhemy kept peeking in to my room to watch the preparations - keep me company. I’m pretty sure he could tell that his strange white uncle wasn’t feeling too well.
May 7th 2012
Tonight is my first night back. This is now my third trip. I can tell already that something is very different. Personally different. I am laying on my mat right now, mentally preparing myself to go back to the morgue tomorrow; almost right away I started to cry. This crying has been lightly rolling along for about 10 minutes now. As much as I think of myself as emotionally resilient… I really don’t want to go back in to those freezers. But yet I feel the need to, and it is these two conflicting forces that have me in pieces. I can see their grey faces in my mind.
The important thing this time is to photograph their faces. You know what it looks like in there. I know what it looks like in there. It is terrible, but you need to see their faces. There is a mental disconnect that happens when you see a dead body. But when you look them in the eyes… that is when the armor falls off. It is important to go back in there just once more… and take time.
I am dreading going back in. Jeanmary and I have protective suits, rubber boots and face masks. It is over kill. But it will help keep our minds off the smell, what is getting on our shoes, or what could get on our clothes if we slip. This time he will be able to focus on asking questions, and I’ll be able to focus on taking pictures.
I want to find some real hope here in Haiti. Something deep and honest. Something more than an NGO…. more than a new school house or community art program. I want to see something wonderful. Last year I was more interested in capturing the right mood than I was in planting seeds.
April 17th 2012
Los Angeles, California
Pretty soon, I’ll be able to put “Port-au-Prince” up on top there. I’ve set up a PayPal account and have been busy urging friends and strangers alike to help me get back to Haiti to complete a new series. Some people really surprised me, and to those individuals… I hope that I already made it clear personally how much I appreciate your help - thanks to you I am buying plane tickets this week.
On May 7th - 21, Jeanmary and I will be back together again and working to thoroughly document various morgues, cemeteries, and funeral’s within Haiti. Many Haitians are not treated with respect after they die… as in the case of our friend Renaldo. It is a problem that is extremely upsetting for those involved, and easy to ignore by everyone else. This is one of many stories that we hope to tell; possibly one of the most grim, but for us it is deeply important. It is personal.
I am trying to sell some prints that I have sitting around. The prints are from another photography project called City of Demons, but so far I have not had any luck. The donations I’ve received made the plane tickets possible, but there is still a long way to go to reach $4,700. That being said… I am committed to going.
It is clear to me that Haiti is a tough sell. Most people just don’t care anymore, or if they do… are not in a position to help. Whatever money I have not been able to raise by May; I will pay the difference myself. It has been far too easy to sit around applying to grants, contests, awards etc: basically, hoping someone else will pick up the bill.
I have a new strategy from this point on: to not let other people’s money dictate the future of Waiting for Haiti. The chance to visually map out Haiti’s future is an opportunity worth fighting for. It is worth going into debt for. We’ll see what happens. I already know exactly what happens when I sit on my ass and wait for other people. Why should YOU care about Haiti, right?!?
I’ll try to show you.
March 20th 2012
Los Angeles, California
I have been meaning to write an update for over a month now. It seemed like a good idea to wait so that I would have more to report. Unfortunately though, I still don’t have any Waiting for Haiti news to catch up on - only some personal updates. I am getting married in November to my fiancé, Jenny. We just recently set the date and are very excited! There is a lot to do in the next few months. Needless to say, getting engaged was a commitment in and of itself, one that has shifted all of my priorities around. I feel very proud of the pictures I have taken over the last seven years, It has been a really educational experience. Seven years ago I realized that I absolutely love photography, and I feel very fortunate to have discovered that. But life gets much more serious with each passing year, and I am accepting that I might never find a way to monetize this passion. Maybe I will later, but it might not be meant to happen this year, or maybe even this decade. So I have given myself another eight months roughly to figure out a way to get back to Haiti, and move forward with the project. After which time, I will be totally at peace in knowing that it is time to move on and put it on the back-burner. I’ve been telling myself for many years that I’ll find a way to make a living with a camera - and it hasn’t happened. I am excited to change directions, work hard, and maybe pay my own way back to Port-au-Prince again in a few years.
Blogging has been something that I’ve always enjoyed. The main reason why I started this journal for Waiting for Haiti was to share my experience publicly so that anyone interested could learn from any success or failure. I wanted to document the path, no matter the outcome. It isn’t over yet, but so far there is a very good lesson to be learned: It is really difficult to raise money. Go figure.
I am not giving up though. Waiting for Haiti has been submitted to half a dozen awards since my last update. Each award is between $2,500 to $10,000. No more big grant expectations… right now I am just hoping to get enough money to go back to Haiti by myself for another couple weeks. I’d like to document many of the non-profit’s working in Haiti. Starting with one.
St. Lukes is first organization I’d like to document. They have a program called Paper Coffins which focuses on the collection and burial of the unclaimed dead in Haiti. One of their weekly stops is the morgue at the general hospital in Port-au-Prince. As you can imagine, this project really struck me. They are doing something that I once dreamed about doing myself. It would be an honor to spend some time with their volunteers and to document this compassionate and grim service to the Haitian people.
I hope to hear back from them, that they will say yes, and that I’ll find a way to go. Maybe we’ll get one of these grants or awards.
The Palm Springs Photo Festival is coming up soon. I’ll be attending and taking a workshop by Gerd Ludwig, who is my favorite living documentary photographer. I need to get some proper instruction on how to form images into a story. It is a skill that I’ve not properly developed. The self taught method is only getting me so far.
I also have portfolio reviews scheduled with the photo editor of Time Magazine, Mother Jones, and the Annenberg Space for photography. Among with a few others. This is my first real portfolio review before. A few weeks ago Gerd Ludvig was generous enough to take a look at Waiting for Haiti. He gave me some helpful pointers on which images to remove, which to add, and which ones to edit differently. I think the portfolio representing the project is now about as good as it is going to get… short of me going back to Haiti to take better images.
I’ve also applied to The Eddie Adams Workshop in New York. I applied five years ago with a weak and unfocused portfolio. I did not get accepted. I think that I am ready to give it another shot. I am going to be trying some new tactics in the coming months.
All this to say… wish me luck. Wish me luck that I’ll be able to get enough money somehow to move forward with this project; just a little. Just enough to keep it alive.
February 8th 2012
Los Angeles, California
Strength in numbers
I was approached a little while ago by Jennifer Kaczmarek and Jerry Englehart Jr. regarding a non-profit collective that Jennifer had founded. Jennifer’s project started out as Love for Alyssa; A non-profit organization designed to bring together a community of people in hopes of helping a little girl in need; Alyssa Jadyn Hagstrom, who was born with a condition called Arthrogryposis. The goal of her project is to provide funds which will assist in providing Alyssa with equipment, and therapy, and long-term personal care.
Jerry and Jennifer have been getting ready to greatly expand Love for Alyssa; to change the name of the organization and bring in other photographers into the fold who have personal projects, and would like to raise funds for any individual or organization that is health related, in any capacity. Jennifer approached me to consider joining, and after a handful of long discussions, I accepted. Together, we will help each other by sharing ideas, advice, contacts, and encouragement. Jennifer has nearly completed the process of becoming a 501c3… we are simply waiting on our final approval!
What this means for Waiting for Haiti is this: There are now two more people who give a damn about the project and want to help get it moving in the right direction. We will all become part of each other’s projects, sometimes more directly than others. Jennifer and Jerry are incredibly smart and driven… it will be an honor to work with them and to pool our collective knowledge to help push each one of our projects forward. The benefit of joining a 501c3 is that Waiting for Haiti will eventually be able to break away from Fractured Atlas, who is the projects current fiscal sponsor. Fractured Atlas take 6% of all the funds I raise for Waiting for Haiti. FA was a wonderful tool that made it possible for me to receive a grant to return to Haiti last year. But in the long run, it is a financially inefficient partnership for Waiting for Haiti to be in. Joining a 501c3 will give Waiting for Haiti access to a much larger pool of grants that otherwise would have been unavailable.
I will be posting more updates regarding the collective. The name Love for Alyssa will change. A new name and a new website for our group will emerge soon.
To read the official announcement by Jennifer Kaczmarek… please visit the link below.
February 5th 2012
Los Angeles, California
I wish that I had more news to share… things have been quite slow lately. I have not yet heard back from Sean Penn. The only message that got through was from Brian to Penn’s agent. There has been no reply yet. My snail mail letter to Penn’s manager came back “return to sender”, the address I got is an old one and no longer his. Or he just doesn’t accept unsolicited mail?!?
I have also not heard back yet regarding the Gilhousen grant - trying to remind myself that these things take time. The suspense occasionally feels unbearable. Jack, Brian, and I have decided that as soon as we get some money.. we are going straight back to Haiti for 3 weeks. I need to get fresh images and stir up some new excitement for the project, but more importantly… we need to collect some footage to make a proper promo video for WFH. With a good promo, we will be able to run a more effective Kickstarter champaign. We can also apply for documentary film grants that require current or previous work samples. A promo would also allow us to demonstrate our vision… visually. I realize how general it sounds when I type out or explain to someone what the films purpose will be…
“In 2012 I will return to Port-au-Prince with the resources to help Jeanmary and myself share our story, his story, and Haiti’s story. Together with a talented and passionate production team, we will film Haiti in the way that it is. We will show the reality of a beautiful and mysterious country that has been left by the wayside. Through Jeanmary’s eyes, the film will show what a large natural disaster and subsequent flooding of foreign aid money really mean to an undeveloped and highly corrupt country. Haiti has a complicated story; its history is full of mistakes that many promise to never repeat. This project is an ongoing study of the country’s future through the life of a man who calls it home.”
… to some people that might sound interesting. But others might want more of a detailed explanation of how we are going to achieve this. It would be good to have a promo video available that can demonstrate the overall look and feel of the film, to show examples of the information that will be provided and how it is going to be presented.
Speaking of presentation… I’ve switched all the images on the website and Facebook from black and white to color. It is something I have considered since my second trip… the advantages and disadvantages of b/w vs. color. Finally it became clear to me: black and white is for art and for photographers. Black and white is a more artistic way to present an image since by nature, we don’t process the world that way through our own eyes. This project isn’t for other photographers or the art critic… it is for everyone. In the end, the whole point of Waiting for Haiti is to bring more attention back to Haiti. Color images are more engaging.
Also regarding the still photography aspect of the project… I had a small epiphany in the shower this morning. Jack brought a photographer named Antonio Bolfo to my attention a few days ago. Antonio has some really impressive images from Haiti spread across 3 small photo essays on his website. I think it was a very effective way to maximize the information being shared through the pictures.
I get the sense that he was not in Haiti for all that long and needed to make the best use of what he was able to get with the small time he had. When I look at photographs from Haiti that other photographers have taken… I always get the sense that the pictures were taken in a small window - as if the photographer was there for a week or two, took a ton of pictures all over the place, and is now trying to make the most of it. But how effective can a couple photo essays really be?!? People look through, they learn something or they think… “wow thats terrible, someone should really do something about that!”. Or maybe an organization or publication will purchase the use of an image and increase the exposure. People love to look at pictures… it is educational to SEE things, study them with our eyes.
I’ve been told twice in the last week that the Waiting for Haiti images would be more appealing to look through if they told a story. My epiphany was that I need to also break my pictures up into small photo essays… The Michel Family, The Morgue, Buen Samaritano Hospital, etc. It is an effective way to educate people who have a short attention span. These essays would continue to grow in size, and in depth. Ideally… Waiting for Haiti would be a place where anyone could drop by to view a high quality photo essay about anything in Haiti that might interest them. Vodou, The Red Cross, J/P HRO, Carnival… the list goes on.
Then eventually we would figure out a way to monetize this large and continuously expanding archive of Haiti images… so that the project could sustain itself and be effective at raising funds for organizations doing good works in Haiti. I’ve already said that before because it has been the plan all along, but the HOW TO part is beginning to clarify itself.
January 10th 2012
Los Angeles, California
I should be writing here more often but this last month has been pretty distracting. Lots of anticipation. I’ll find out in the next week or two If the Gilhousen’s will be contributing to the project this year. Regardless… I should always be moving forward, not waiting around holding my breath. Every time I talk to someone about the project who might be in a position to donate… I am reminded that having seed money in the project is going to open so many more doors. I was given a piece of advice recently - talk to a potential donor three times before asking for money. Everyone has their own method, but this is a rule I’ve been unconsciously following. Asking for money is awkward - I prefer to give people ample time to come around on their own.
My friend Struan put together a book for me to give to these potential donors. I mentioned it in the last update. He will most likely be getting the first copy of the book sometime today. If there are any changes that need to be made, they will be, and then I can start printing them out to give away. The books are expensive so I need to be very strategic with who I give them to. I am running low on my own money right now and am feeling paralyzed.
I’ve been using Facebook ads to promote the Waiting for Haiti page. As usual, the Romanians are the most eager lovers of anything photography. They make up about half of the total “likes”, but I am going to need to put the ads on hold for awhile now until I get another couple of jobs.
Speaking of money… I managed to get the total budget down by about $18,000. It was pretty easy… Fujifilm announced the X-Pro1. It is small, discrete, well made, and should take superb low light images. I took the Leica M9-P off of the budget and replaced it with the X-Pro1. From everything I have read so far, this camera will meet all of my needs. Best of all… in a pinch, I could purchase it myself to use in Haiti I because it doesn’t cost your soul like the Leica does.
I have begun attempting to get in touch with Sean Penn. Our producer Brian sent an email to Mr. Penn’s agent today, and in the next few days I will mail a personal letter to his manager. I would love for Waiting for Haiti to one day be able to contribute funds to a effective Haitian relief organization. This is not the reason I want to contact him personally though, since I am sure there is an official channel that we can go through to make those arrangements with J/P HRO. The reason I want to personally interact with him is because his motivations intrigue me. He is a rich white American with a safe life; and then he suddenly threw himself into this chaotic situation and ended up making a huge positive difference in tens of thousands of lives. I want him to mentor me. I admire what he did and continues to do in Haiti and hope that he would be willing to share some of his wisdom - off or on the record, I don’t care. If getting in touch with him proves too difficult, then I am sure I’ll meet other outstanding individuals during this next year who will be willing to open up.
I’d really like a mentor… someone who has experience in Haiti and in project management.
December 20th, 2011
Los Angeles, California
First Grant Application
I sent my first grant application last night to the Gilhousen Family Foundation. The foundation had previously funded my second trip to Haiti. They also expressed interest in making an additional contribution to the project in 2012. I have made a list of foundations and grants that are a good fit for the project; but I will be starting here since I have a history with the Gilhousen family. I also sent a letter of inquiry to the Knight Foundation, to see if they are interested in hearing more about the project. Sending a letter of inquiry is often the starting point when approaching a foundation with an unsolicited request.
For this first request, I asked for the minimum amount needed to guarantee production and to secure the first 25% of the total budget. I asked for $78,614.10 - pointing out the specific items and sections in the budget that are factored into this amount. This number does not cover security, my salary, or the purchase of a professional still camera.
Securing the first 25% and guaranteeing production will pave the way for other foundations, individual donors, and partners to climb on board. The most common warning I have received from peers is that getting the first chunk of money is usually the most challenging part of the fundraising process. No one ever wants to be the first one through the door. For instance, I’d like to partner with J/P HRO but they are not going to take me seriously if I approach them with talks of “if” or “when”… I need to say that we have money, we will be there and this is what we WILL be doing and that we want you to be a part of it. “Lets be friends!”
It feels great to have the first proposal sent off, and an additional letter of inquiry out for consideration. Now I can focus on finding other possible financial resources. Once I hear back from the Gilhousen Foundation I will have an idea of where I am at and can adjust the plan accordingly.
December 12th, 2011
Los Angeles, California
The first couple budgets made were far too complicated and expensive. We were not just aiming at the stars, but at the blackness behind them. It took much longer than I would like to come up with a simple list of achievable goals utilizing the fewest people possible. Having a full crew just doesn’t mesh with the style of the project.
Filming a documentary does not have to be an expensive process. When we first started talking about filming in Haiti, Brian (our producer) gave me a copy of a documentary called Recycled Life. That movie demonstrates that you don’t have to be a savvy cinematographer, or have a high end video camera in order to tell an incredibly interesting story. Another inspiring film is The Devil Came On Horseback. This movie about the genocide being committed in Darfur was put together using a ton of stock footage and photographs. Post production at its finest. Or should I say editing? Which brings me back to the point I was going to make… It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to film a documentary, especially if you have a lot of time (years). But post production takes a surprisingly large amount of cash. It was surprising to me. And again… things can be much cheaper if you are not on a tight schedule and can wait for people to do free (or discounted) work in their spare time… or whenever they feel like getting around to it.
I’d prefer to pay for work rather than wait for favors - if the funds permit. This budget will cover the cost of hiring professionals so we can give this project the best possible shot of reaching it’s potential.
In a nut shell: The most expensive section is post production… the most expensive person is our security (I will still work even if I don’t get paid, but our body guard won’t)… and the most expensive equipment purchase will be the Leica equipment.
There is obviously a bare minimum amount that is required. We have to make the most out of whatever funds we raise. If I have to take amateur equipment and learn Final Cut Pro, then that is what I will do. But I think that the story we seek to tell deserves much better than that. Some things have already been cut out, like the purchase or rental of video camera equipment. We are confident that we can find a talented film student with his or her own 5D MRK II that would be willing to come film a doc for $1,200 per week and all other expenses paid.
The salaries are pretty straight forward. Brian get paid well because he has a wife and daughter - it was initially his idea to turn this project into something more than a photo essay, and he is a kind man who deserves great things in life. For myself, I’d like to get this project up and running without having to constantly stress about my next small photo gig. I have spent a lot of money on my photography education over the last few years, and like any student… I hoped to make a return one day. This might not be that day. And if it isn’t - okay. Many grants do not provide funding towards staff salary.
Security is a massive chunk of the budget. CNN spends roughly $700 USD per day on security when they have a reporter in Haiti covering a story. For this money they get multiple Haitian police officers. It attracts a lot of attention. We will have one man, and he is giving a discounted rate. Ex soldiers with his type of background charge $800-$1,200 per day. He is doing it for $3,800 per week. He is also my instructor… and I trust the man whole heartedly. I’d rather have one individual that I trust instead of a dozen Haitian police officers - who are notoriously crooked. As much as I like Dennis, it would be nice to save the money and continue going alone; but the dangers grow exponentially the longer I am there… word gets around and already there are plenty of people who know that Jeanmary has a white friend that comes to visit and he brings a lot of expensive stuff. Plus, my mother and Jenny will feel much better if Dennis is there with me.
As for the camera, $20,000 is a ton of money, but It would cost more to rent the M9-P than to own it. I picked a Lieca because in the years I have been taking pictures…. I have come to grow extremely comfortable using a small camera body and one prime lens. During the last trip to Haiti I used a D7000 with an 24mm f1.4 prime lens. There are two challenges that I struggle with the most: focusing with a DSLR in low light conditions and camera size. In Haiti, I cannot use the auto focus illuminator - it is very bad juju to shine a bright light onto someone at night in Haiti. Haitians also become very guarded when they see big fancy camera equipment. The M9-P will attract the minimal amount of attention, and will take the maximum quality images. This is though, one of those things that we can do without depending on funds. Plus, some grants will not support the purchase or rental of equipment.
The most important thing is that we operate in 2 week blocks for security reasons. And also that we stay as small as possible… I don’t like the idea of having more than 3 people total in Haiti. With 3 people we can stay at Jeanmary’s house and operate out of his neighborhood comfortably. Will also be maneuverable. More than 3 and it becomes multiplied times more complicated and expensive; having to stay at a hotel and coordinate with Jeanmary every day. Not to mention the separation that puts between us and the society we are trying to document. I love ending the day with the Michel family, sitting out in front of their house listening to music and talking. It is a perfect intimacy that needs to be maintained. It is vital to the project.
December 9th, 2011
Los Angeles, California
This is nice… writing on a regular basis. It is a late at night thing… laying in bed and finishing the day flushing out ideas. I am trying to write regularly about Waiting for Haiti… like I did when I was there. It is a different becauseI was writing about my trip during my trip, and now I am writing throughout the process of trying to get to Haiti again. If I feel comfortable enough to explain ideas publicly… then I am probably on the right track. Or I am an idiot. Let’s hope it isn’t the latter. This is an incredibly odd process… fundraising, a process that I haven’t even officially started yet. I want to write about the experience because no matter what the outcome, it might be helpful for other people to read. There are a lot of photographers out there who have wonderful ideas and no clue how to get the money to move forward. It always comes down to… money.
Money Money Money Money
I don’t have a clue either, but I am trying to surrounded myself with experienced people who are willing to share their wisdom. It is time to jump in with both feet. Life is short.
I need almost three hundred thousand dollars to take Waiting for Haiti from where it is now, to where I want it to go. Waiting for Haiti needs to not only be a complete photography project and documentary film… but also generate enough of its own income in the future to sustain itself in the long term. It also needs to actually help Haiti, otherwise it’s pointless. I don’t know how to solve all of Haiti’s problems, but some other people might…and I would like this project to help contribute to those individuals or organizations.
If I ask for a hundred thousand dollars… or fifty… then I will return with a complete body of work but will then need more to complete the post production. Then I’ll more for marketing. My strategy is to package this project in a way that will paint a very clear picture of what my goals are, and the financial needs from start to finish. Once I am done… I don’t want to have to ask for another dime. I will go into more detail in the future about the budget, and how we came to the numbers we came to, but for now I just want to set the stage so to speak.
If I fail in this task… or if the future is full of unexpected challenges; I will write about them in order to organize my plan, vent my frustrations, and maybe help some stranger learn how to approach this better than I have.
December 6th, 2011
Los Angeles, California
When I got back from Port-au-Prince in April…. things became odd. On Easter, my brother-in-law’s brother, Brian, asked me if I had considered filming in Haiti, rather than just taking still pictures. He worked at a production studio called Greenhouse Studios and was especially interested in the story and images from the morgue. I showed him the pictures at the dinner table, which in hindsight was a bit untactful… but it left an impression.
A week later, Brian set up a meeting at Greenhouse to talk about the project and discuss it’s future. The three partners/producers Moni, Desi and Marquette were excited by the potential Waiting for Haiti had to become a documentary film. They promised to produce it and help me find funding to make the film.
Soon after this happened Renaldo was murdered. Jeanmary and I were already frustrated by the morgue - the horrible conditions and gangster tactics used by the staff. Then suddenly, like a nightmare… Renaldo is there. Someone we knew, someone Jeanmary grew up with and considered a best friend - a brother - a new corpse stacked on old corpses.
Jeanmary and I were fired up to the highest degree. We wanted to go back to the morgue with a film crew and bury all the bodies… or return them to their families for burial if we could. We were going to make a bad situation better. At least for awhile. But now we had a team, Greenhouse had our back!
But alas… after almost a whole year of empty promises and zero progress - we are back to the beginning. Regardless of all the emails and meetings, nothing changed with Greenhouse. Money was still illusive. Moni applied for one grant, maybe two; and I applied to every appropriate grant I was able to find… about seven. It finally occurred to me that I was still doing all the work, which I am happy to do, but then if I actually did manage to receive funding - Greenhouse would want a piece of the pie, and for what? That made no sense. There was plenty of talk about Marquette’s professional football player “friends” who wanted to fund the documentary. But the words never evolved into actions. So we went our separate ways.
On the other hand… If it wasn’t for this cliche Hollywood style disappointment, the idea to clean up the morgue would have never been broached. The empty promises gave us hope, and so we dreamed big. My brain was spinning - constantly imagining the different ways that Waiting for Haiti could become a film. I’d still like to make a video, but it will be much more simply. I don’t mind it becoming complicated so long as we come by it honestly.
There is so much more I want to see in Haiti, questions I want answers to. There is also so much more time I’d like to spend with Jeanmary. We might as well do these things as we normally would. Spent this time together, seek our answers… and film it along the way.
In the last year I have done a few interviews, and they have helped me to organize and understand our motivations. No one wants to read a bunch of fluff. Things should be shown the way they are. At their most beautiful and their ugliest. It is fine to have a story if there is one worth telling, but life tends to tie things together just fine without anyone actually knowing he main plot.