Many times a year, I love to spread all my photography gear out in my studio and plan the details for a new trip to some remote part of the world. Kenya. India. Ethiopia. I love to travel. I love the anticipation of adventure. And I love the exciting moment of landing in a new corner of the world, a new community, knowing I will have amazing experiences. But this is partly a selfish endeavor. And I often have to ask myself, why am I really taking time away from my family to fly on small prop planes and land on grass airstrips?
Can it really always be about the adventure of it, the rush of newness and unknown cultures, or must it be deeper?
It all started for me in 2007, when I was asked to travel to a non-profit in Kenya and Ethiopia to document their health-care efforts in the slums. We were working one day in Nairobi. The slums can be an assault to the senses. The smells of rotting trash, open sewage and smoke are overwhelming. The stories were disheartening. Large families live in ten foot by ten foot shacks. I met one young lady whose husband would not have anything to do with her after he infected her with HIV/AIDS. I met kids who struggled daily to get basic necessities for sustainable life.
I spent a good amount of time photographing those slums, and my lens hovered, fixated on the children. In even such tough circumstances, they could still laugh and play. That night, when we returned to our guest house, I stood at a window and just watched torrents of rain come down from the sky. I thought about those kids I just encountered, their small shacks now surrounded by mud and waste. I thought of their parents, their feelings of helplessness. And I thought of my ability– my meager ability– to help them.
This is where I began to understand what would be the foundation to my work for years to come. I go to distant parts of the world and document their lives in the hope that I can tell a story that will do some small part to transform a life. That desire is not a small task and I often fail. There is so much visual noise in our world that creating a beautiful image to give people a glimpse into the experiences and hardships of somebody on the other side of the world is an incredibly difficult thing to do. But to have the privilege to tell the stories of people who are experiencing transformation is beyond what mere words can describe. And that is why I do it with pictures, thousands of words embodied in thousands of pixels, captured in parts of the world that will remain memories to me for decades to come.
Recently, I was able to visit Uganda and the Congo and see the wells that were funded by a charity organization I co-founded, called Wheels4Water. As usual, I went through my ritual of laying out and loading my gear inside my studio, but this time I knew what I was going for: to look upon an impact I made and communicate it with the rest of the world. It’s amazing to me that my photography can bring an impact to others, but as long as that’s the case, I intend to use it wholeheartedly.