Nov. 25th, 2008 for me was a day that changed the way I view my subjects, the world, my work, and myself. That day I was in Brazil working with, my friend, Jonathan Culp on gathering images and video of a mission’s trip Fellowship Church was doing. Back then I was working for Fellowship and literally days before we left, we received a new HD compact video camera that we wanted to use for this type of trip. So with little experience on it we packed it and hoped for the best. The first day of the trip is always my favorite to capture because typically it’s the first time us, Americans, get to interact with the people we will be serving all week. In Brazil, the people that we were focusing on were these massive colonies of people living in the city dump. Due to a decline in jobs during their Industrial revelation many people were left without jobs and forced to find refuge in the outskirt of the city, at the dump. Over the years, the government disowned these people and treated them like a disease to be rid of rather than a marginalized people in need of a helping hand. So here we find thousands upon thousands of families with out education, health care, citizenship, basic rights, and probably the most tragic with out hope.
Here you find us, November 23rd, in the city dump simply getting to know the people and it was like nothing I ever seen. I pretty much remember this experience by the many oxymorons I saw. Brazil definitely has some of the most people I have ever seen yet I have never seen such sadness in someone’s face. I remember standing on this cliff on the edge of the dump and for miles seeing people living and survive in mounds of trash and turning to the right and seeing some of the most beautiful beaches and resorts I have ever seen. Today I wonder how many people at those resorts actually knows what’s beyond that cliff. The image I feel as thought has stuck with me the most was their homes. The structures these families built to live in were literally made of scraps found in the dump and not even large scraps. Imagine walls made out of all the signs local business throw away. Even amongst all of this despair, once they realized we were there to help them, there were smiles on children’s faces.
At the end of the day, we said our goodbyes because the next day these people were being bused to a warehouse we had rented for the week. There we would work with them on gaining citizenship, teach them hygiene practices, feed them, wash their feet, give them shoes, and teach them about the savior we have come to know. Everything was going great until November 25th when all of our footage disappeared— all of it. Knowing that we had to produce a video at the end of the trip there was no way we could do it without footage of the dump. So Culp, a pastor, a translator, and I went back to the dump to re-capture images. This time we were able to see things from a different point of view because we didn’t have a large group. We were able to go many places that we weren’t able to before and we had many more one on one interactions that the first time. One of those experiences being going to the local ‘hospital’ where basically the uneducated locals do their best to take care of the sick from the dump. The on duty nurse told us that the day before we arrived a young girl had passed away. Jonathan, who in college originally trained to be a nurse, ask more questions to figure out that the girl died of a staph infection caused by a scrap that went untreated on her foot. Suddenly I saw the importance shoes, which we were distributing that week through TOMS. I later found out that while shoes could have prevented this tragedy a pill that cost less than a dollar would have saved her life.
At the end of the day we got back on the bus with everyone else and I was constantly being asked if they could look at the back of my camera to see the photographs I had taken (After what happen we didn’t want people messing with the video camera). I remember people asking me about the hospital we had visited. Showing them pictures and telling them stories. I instantaneously saw my work effect lives. People were moved and felt true compassion because they saw the people. Not my version of them or some contrived vision of who they are but them. One girl on our trip was actually so moved that when she went back to the states, with my images, she gave a presentation at her work. She works at a pharmaceutical and that company donated to the area the very drug that could have saved the little girl’s life. That day I learned that images can affect lives. Art can change stories. That day I learned that what I do matters.