A Holga in Haiti

It is 4 am February 11, 2011, and I briskly roll around the zippers of my newly purchased camera bag,  I have two more hours before I depart my flight to Port Au Prince Haiti, inside my bag is the latest technology from Canon ready to face the unknown and mostly unexpected situations one face as a documentary photographer. There is a little corner available on this already overload bag, by this point the bag already weighs around 45 pounds, although not efficient in logistic practicality, I feel that I will need this equipment to properly function for the next two weeks. In that little corner I managed to store my Holga plastic camera along with 6 rolls of expired 120 film I purchased from an old mom & pop's camera store (that is another interesting story for a later occasion) I had no major expectations at the moment in regards to the future use of this camera, the Holga has been a trustworthy partner of mine since the early eighties after I purchased one from a camera company in New Jersey through a magazine ad in Popular Photography, my first experiences with the camera were uneventful, I simply loaded the film and started shooting, my first thoughts were that the camera was just a piece of junk, probably worse than previous junk I purchased at the local drugstore, the ones that required a cube flash, but the moment I saw the first prints out of the camera, that moment I knew it was something special, I saw a whole new way to photograph, I saw perfection coming out of structural mediocrity, there were light leaks, scratches and an ethereal look I have never seen before, at this point I knew I found a powerful tool.

Fast forward to 2011 and I'm sitting in the back of a rented Renault, hovering over dirt roads towards a small remote town in central Haiti called Thomazeau, the purpose of the trip was to deliver goods to a small orphanage that while it didn't sustain any major damage from the earthquake, it ended up even more isolated than ever before, when I say that these people had literally nothing I am not exaggerating. Off the car and into the soil, I begin to document with images the current state of the orphanage, mostly composed of small tin roof shacks, the walls were built with wood branches plastered with dried clay and no foundation, I have no doubt that this must be the poorest area in the entire western hemisphere, you couldn't help but be affected by the sight of it. I did notice that there was a bit of apprehension towards me from the very beginning of our visit, I noticed that the elders were uncomfortable that I was pointing my zoom lens towards them, a woman starts yelling something at me in Haitian Creole and I have no clue what she is saying, I felt as if some sort of demand was coming soon; -She asks that you stop photographing them, they all feel like animals in a zoo!                                          

-I apologize! I replied quickly while placing my hands together in a gesture of respect towards the woman                                                                                                                                      

But how can I do my job now? -I asked myself while trying to figure out how to deal with the unforeseen dilemma, I decided to walk back to the car and place my equipment back into the bag and calling it a day when I suddenly realized that my trustworthy Holga plastic camera was ready for action, I figured that no one was going to take me seriously by looking at this cheap contraption made entirely out of plastic and mummified with gaffers and electrical tape, I took my vest off, closed the car and ventured back into the village with my little plastic camera, Bingo! the children were all smiles as soon as I came back in, they were laughing and pointing at my scratchy plastic lens, the woman who just scorned me five minutes ago was laughing while placing her left hand on the side of her face and tilting her head backwards, they all had a good laugh, but little did they know that I was still working, I was still capturing the story about that little orphanage in the town of Thomazeau, and little did I know that those images were the ones that would end up being published in a book and a couple of magazines, those were my best images. I still have that camera, but the spring doesn't work anymore, I have purchased more Holgas since those days, and I use them on a regular basis, but it is unlikely that I'll have another experience like this one ever again, but who knows, I've been known to be wrong before.