No one understood me at first. As a photographer in the heart of one of the most critical natural disasters to hit Central America for many years, I was in the perfect position to capture stunning images of what was happening on the ground for my mostly American and European audience. Yet, I didn’t take a single photo. I left my phone at home. I kept my camera locked away. I chose instead to share ways in which people could help. Locations of donation centers online, links to make financial donations, articles and videos by locals showing their perspective of what was happening. But why wouldn’t I take to the streets with my camera? Wasn’t I aware that I could be taking compelling images like other photojournalists who took photos of dead children crushed beneath volcanic ash? For me it was important that Guatemalans be able to tell their own story without having some American photojournalist get it wrong. So I left the initial photographing to individuals born and raised here. It was important to me that I let them use their voices.
I deleted all the requests in my inbox from companies and news outlets asking to purchase any photos I may have had from the eruption, and I instead shared photos of Guatemala’s beauty on my social channels. I wanted people to know the Guatemala I had fallen in love with so that when videos surface of volcanic ash crushing everything in its wake, people may understand the severity fo the tragedy and the time it would take to truly recover.
It wasn’t until I was approached by a few Guatemalan creatives that I decided to pick up my camera. “…there’s a lot of fake information going around…[we would like] you [to] help out by taking pictures and help handing out food.” That was enough for me. I had been asked to help, and I certainly wasn’t going to say no to a request like that.
Was it dangerous? Yes. Did I put my health in jeopardy? Maybe. Do I regret it? Not one bit. It took a few hours to calm my mom down when I told her of my decision to go even closer to the volcano to get images of towns that were no more and photos of people suffering to increase the volume of honest media surrounding the issue. My girlfriend, though supportive, wasn’t the biggest fan of the idea either. Not only was I putting my life at risk, but I wasn’t even going to get brand recognition out of it. Those photos are available on the site of the non-profit I worked for. Below are a few photographs I took a week after the eruption of the clean up efforts in Antigua.
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