Someone once asked me if it is hard to keep from crying when I am photographing some of the tough stories I come across in my travels. My answer, “No.” But there is more to it than this short, seemingly curt and uncaring answer would imply.
My tears come later, while editing the photos and mentally going back through what was going on in front of me, on the other side of my self-protecting – like a mask at a masquerade ball – camera. Sounds, smells and raw emotions come roaring back, real as life, as I edit the photos on a large computer monitor. Take this most recent trip to Uganda for Sole Hope, a group devoted to offering hope, healthier lives and freedom from foot-related diseases in Uganda, as an example.
A worker with safety pins and razor blades cuts into Isaac’s feet digging out the disgusting little sand fleas called jiggers. I remember the screams as I go through photo after photo of his and other children’s faces contorted in pain. No anesthesia for the poking, cutting and digging. Sole Hope workers pull out jigger after jigger, sometimes taking several hours as they hold down, comfort, hug, and still the tear-stained, agonized child in their arms.
Isaac has over 60 jiggers removed from his feet. That sounds rather clinical and non-descript. There is no mention of the waves and jabs of pain he endures, or the smell of rotten flesh from the most infected areas around his heels. He might have a few moments of relative calm where he smiles a bit and sucks on a “sweetie” in between the probings of the jigger remover. But then the tears start rolling down his cheeks again and Kayla holds tight to comfort him.
But editing photos is not all painful. Thank God I also have other photos to edit of a smiling Isaac on a swing, jigger-free and happy once again. As a friend told me, documenting humanitarian work often captures “A lot of hope sprinkled with a bit of reality.” Thank God there is still more hope than brutal reality in this story.
Here’s a link in case you would like to help Sole Hope in their mission: Sole Hope
Photos Copyright ©Gary S. Chapman
(Nikon D750, 50mm f1.4, 1/250 sec, f1.8, ISO 200)
(Nikon D750, 70-200mm f2.8 @190mm, 1/2000 sec, f4, ISO 6400)
(Nikon D750, 24mm f1.4, 1/160 sec, f1.4, ISO 320)