I have created this blog to document and share my experiences and photographs of Haiti. I have just returned from my second trip there and am preparing to return for an extended stay, probably a year. This first post will give you some background information and resources to refer to as I move forward. If you are not familiar with my photography you can start by visiting my website sander-martijn.com
To begin with I would like to thank my parents Carl and Marianne Milks, for without them none of this would be possible. They have been extremely supportive of my photography career and have helped me in times of need with financial support, equipment and most importantly their faith in my chosen career. More importantly they introduced me to Haiti and funded my first two trips there. My mother had been to Haiti several times with my father joining her on one of them. The trips varied from building a school to working at Hopital Albert Schweitzer Haiti (HAS), about which you will hear much more. Every trip they remarked how I could do beautiful work there, until a year ago when my mother invited me to join her. I agreed, not knowing at the time that it would change my life and direction. At this point I would like to point out that my mother has had a blog about Haiti for some time now and it would be helpful to read some of her thoughts about Haiti to gain some insight from another point of view. Her blog can be found at mariannekmilks.blogspot.com.
My first trip was a powerful eye opener. In November of 2007 my mother invited me to join her on her trip. Excited to see and capture something new I jumped at the opportunity. As I am an artist and not a journalist, I wanted to document what I saw rather than what I expected or hoped to see. Therefore I did little research on Haiti or what others had done there before my trip. I knew some things from my mother and read some of the history of Haiti so I wasn't going in blind but left it at that. What I discovered was a country of beautiful, proud, strong people. With next to nothing to call their own and facing a long history of political turmoil, deforestation and erosion, disease and a lack of education the people refuse to give up. It is not uncommon to meet someone without work that works for free with the hopes of it eventually turning into a paid position. What we hear in the news and from many aid organizations is pity, sadness, poverty, starvation, AIDS, hopelessness. While all of these things are true and I understand that pity is one way to encourage people to help in whatever way they can, it is not the feeling one gets when in this beautiful country. I left with a series of portraits and supporting material and the hope to use this to change people's perception of Haitian people. For while pity can be effective, so can pride and the understanding that these people need a helping hand so that they can help themselves, that if we give them the tools they need they will step up and continue the journey on their own.
It was my second trip that really changed me. In December I returned to Haiti with both of my parents. They were again working at HAS and I had two goals. One was to continue the portrait work I did on my first trip and the second was to document the work that is being done at HAS in order to help the Mellon Foundation continue their work there. In preparation for this trip I recalled how excited people were when I showed them their photo on the digital screen and thought it would be great if I could give them something permanent. I went to Photo Expo to look at battery operated portable printers. The battery option is important since there are many places and times where electricity is not available. When I spoke to Caroline Zubieta at the Epson booth about their printers I explained what I wanted to use it for. What I did not realize is that she works in Public Relations for Epson. She offered that Epson could give me a printer with all the things I need to do this project and do a story on my work when I return. This story will be coming out soon and I will post a link to it here when it is. I will write more about my trip in future posts, but for now I will simply say that while my first trip was more as an observer, on this trip I truly fell in love with Haiti and the people and made many lifelong friends. I also realized that in order to really capture Haiti in the way I want to I need to spend much more time there.
Because of these realizations, I am currently working on selling my business in New York and finding organizations I can work with. Hopefully by March I can return to Haiti where I intend to spend a year doing humanitarian work and photography throughout the country.