Children playing in the evening, Bois Jolie, Haiti. May, 2015. [photo: Hunter Swenson]
I used to think that there is magic in a camera. It took what I saw and reproduced it exactly. As I got older I learned the how of the camera and was shown it was not magic, but science. Thus the magic I found in photography when I was younger went dormant. I still believed that there was magic in photos, but the camera seemed not to be as important a component of that magic.
However, I have, as of eight days ago, changed my mind. The camera does have magic, and it is that magic that contributes to the magic of pictures.
Eight days ago, Zamni Foto and Zamni Kafe teams hiked up to Bois Jolie—a small farming town in the Western Plateau in Haiti. After spending the day working on our long-term projects, we returned to the place we were going to spend the night, the local school, and were greeted by a large group of local children. After resting briefly, Mary Margaret Johnson, another Foto intern, began to play with the children. Being a photographer, especially a documentary photographer, I grabbed a camera and started photographing the events that were unfolding.
As soon as the kids saw the camera they swarmed and ask me to take their photos. They were more interested in being photographed than in seeing the photographs (the magic of digital photography and instant views). This puzzled me, because I kept showing them the photos I took but they seemed less interested in looking at these than I expected. What is the magic in getting one’s photograph taken? Is it the camera? Or is it the fact that you may get to see yourself through the eyes of another? Or is it that someone is paying attention to someone else?
Cameras are tools, but they are also filled with cultural significance that is very important to documentary work.
This is why I think Zanmi Foto works. When one member of a family photographs others, they are paying attention to one another in a special, magical, way. When they begin to talk about their family photo albums, people engage with each other and communities are strengthened. That is magic.