Haiti Captures Our Souls

Good assignments help photographers grow. On occasion, a story can change you in a profound way. For many photographers, Haiti is that story.

Years ago, I was a student at the first Platypus Workshop and Roger Richards was one of my team members. At the time, he was working for the Washington Times and had covered a number of crisis regions. He asked me if I had even been to Haiti and at the time, I hadn’t. He said I had to go. And he said, with an urgency in his voice, that unless I’d been there I couldn’t really understand Haiti.

I’ve seen other photographers become similarly engaged in the stories of Haiti. Carol Guzy has a remarkable legacy documenting Haiti, often spending her own time and money to go there. Michael Laughlin was shot covering the 2004 coup but has returned and is there now covering the earthquake aftermath.

I went to Haiti for two weeks in 2004 for the coup and eventual ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It was a difficult assignment, challenging in all the expected ways. I did a decent job with my photography, though there were certainly much better photographers there like Carolyn Cole and Joe Raedle. But I took away more than photos.

It’s said your career can effect who you are and that a carpenter doesn’t build a house – the house builds the carpenter. Assignments over the years have affected me but Haiti has stuck with me in a different way. I saw a perseverance and courage in Haiti that was amazing and when I am faced with a challenge, I feel silly being anxious because my challenges are nothing compared to what the Haitians can handle.

I feel certain that I will return to Haiti someday. It might not be on a newspaper assignment. It could be on a mission trip to help rebuild Port au Prince or on a trip to visit the child my wife and I sponsor through Compassion International. Until then, I’ll pray for Haiti and hope for their future.

all photos in Haiti by Tom Burton/Orlando Sentinel 2004 ©