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Like many photojournalists based in the United States, I traveled to Haiti to cover the January 12th earthquake. I came home with an impressive array of photographs, which I believed to be both marketable and worthy of public notice. Yet, like many young photojournalists, I had limited opportunity by which to market my work.
It was a small moment of crisis for me. Were these images of others suffering to become mere fodder for my tweets and Facebook updates? Just another portfolio to be displayed on my website? I immediately decided that I would do to do more than simply allow these images to lay idle on my hard drive. I had to find a way to make a difference, and also advance my career at the same time.
The answer came via example. I looked to other respected professionals for possible solutions. For instance, Marcus Bleasdale and James Nachtwey of VII are blazing new paths by brokering complex and powerful relationships with NGOs, private corporations, and governmental institutions. These relationships form powerful initiatives to reach audiences in ways that have never been done before. As a result, their images have championed issues such as TB and violence in the Congo, respectively. I knew that if I followed their example, I could find a way to do something similar with my own work by reaching out to local businesses, NGOs, and non-profits.
A simple fundraiser seemed like a good place to start. I reached out to several NGOs working in Haiti. I decided in the end to work with Partners in Health (PIH) and a small NGO called Longchamp Charities. I had to front most of the money, however, PIH allowed me to use their logo for press and marketing, and Longchamp Charities provided catering for the event. Finding a location was difficult. I looked high and low all over the city of Manhattan. It was both a shocking and humorous experience. People will try and make a buck off of you no matter how good your cause is. In the end, and an unlikely end at that, a great tattoo parlor offered a beautiful space in their Soho studio for a small fee.
The next challenge was turning the fundraiser into a venue that would effectively raise awareness and raise money yet provide a pleasurable experience for all guests. This was accomplished in several ways. A simple raffle proved an effective means by which to request donations at the front door. A number of businesses, from bookstores to Broadway musicals offered something for the raffle. Second, a silent auction; I contacted photographers, agencies, and galleries. In the end, James Nachtwey, Ron Haviv, Lindsey Addario, Stephen Katz, and Richard Mosse donated images from their recent assignments in Haiti. These names lended credibility not only to the fundraiser, but also my own work which was on display. Lastly, I put into effect the fun factor. Basically, I made sure the event was loaded with excellent food, good drink, and engaging live music. Everything was free, no charge at the door, and no charge for anything else. The goal was to overwhelm people with generosity so that they in turn, might consider aiding in the cause for Haiti. It was an incredible success. I was able to recover my costs, and come through with a generous donation for both PIH and Longchamp Charities.
Although my Haiti images remain unpublished, I’m glad they never were. Otherwise I would have sat on my images, and been content with the a few sales. This experience taught me that there are greater possibilities now and in the future, and that the future is looking good.