Times Free Press Photographer Allison Kwesell on Haiti

Times Free Press Photographer Allison Kwesell on Haiti

January 25th, 2010 in Newsmakers

1:30 David Barry
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:30:38 GMT
Allison Kwesell is here to take your questions about her experiencein Haiti. Allison will also be on WRCB TV 3 today at 5:30 p.m.

1:31 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:31:42 GMT
I returned to Chattanooga last night from the Port-au-Prince area via Santo Domingo and then Atlanta. I did not sleep much at all last night thinking about the things I saw in Haiti. Right now, I'm running on fumes and nerves...

1:32 David Barry
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:32:31 GMT
Were you prepared for what you saw when you arrived in Haiti?

1:33 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:33:22 GMT
I worked in Haiti in May for the Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti. I had an idea about the poverty and often chaos that consumes every day Haitian life.

1:34 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:34:06 GMT
What I saw and did not expect was sadness so close to hope..... and life going on....

1:34 Comment From olhoazul
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:34:20 GMT
It sure was a super job, both on the photography and writing the very moving and riveting journal entries and articles. Does part of you still wish you were there on the scene?

1:35 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:35:37 GMT
Thank you, and yes. I would love to stay in Haiti for the next five years. The mass damage was a great thing for the media to jump on. And, it is good to have so much grand attention to an area in great need. However, I think the story / stories go beyond this to hopefully rebuilding of this country.Whatever that might mean....

1:36 Comment From Guest
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:36:02 GMT
Hi Allison, I read your journal entry in this Sunday's paper - very moving. I'm with the Erlanger Foundation. We're trying to raise funds for another team to be deployed this week and I wondered if you might be willing to share some photos from your trip? I understand you were with Drs. Young and Moore.

1:37 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:37:01 GMT
Very cool. They are doing some amazing work down there. Very selfless doctors with a grand mission. As far as photo sharing I will check with the director of visuals here at the paper, Tracey Trumbull, as they do carry the paper's copyright.

1:37 Comment From olhoazul
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:37:20 GMT
I had some pretty bitter arguments from folks in the area about how much coverage was given to the UT football program at the same time the disaster was happening in Haiti. Any thoughts on what some of us here consider to be truly important and news-worthy?

1:39 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:39:00 GMT
I would agree with these arguments..... When there is mass destruction and so much death, it saddens me that all attention might go to a sports figure. It's all personal though. I used to work in Nepal during the civil war there and it was complete shock that the good majority of my friends did not even know Nepal was a country, or where it was. It's all to easy to get involved in only our own little shells of life.

1:39 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:39:45 GMT
I understand that being inundated by tragedy is sometimes overwhelming -- but as a human race, and when these things happen in our back yard, whether or not they are inconceivable or hard to understand it's important to try.

1:40 Comment From AJ
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:40:27 GMT
Logistically, how tough was it to get down there? What was the flight schedule etc.? I heard the seaport is closed

1:42 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:42:14 GMT
Every port of entry is changing on an hourly basis there. All we know is rumors unless you're there at that moment. Logistics -- I flew into Santo Domingo and traveled overland with a doctor who was working with RAM out of Knoxville. We met on the plane to the DR. Stayed a night on the border and then hitched a ride with missionaries to PAP. It was safer than much of the TV media has made it out to be.

1:42 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:42:46 GMT
Air strips are opening up -- a lot of aid workers are getting on with UN flights I have heard -- to Jacmel, maybe some other areas.

1:42 Comment From Praline
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:42:58 GMT
Are you fearful that "disaster fatigue" will set in among people of other nations, and the relief efforts will fade long before even the basic needs of Haitians have been met?

1:44 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:44:44 GMT
Yes. Completely. Like I mentioned in Sunday's article -- I hope that this puts Haiti in bold on a world map for countries that might help. Truthfully I think that Haiti needs more than on the ground aid. Especially more than disaster relief aid. It needs a long-term humanitarian interest by a government to help it run more solidly. Haitians were living in despair before the quake. Much more needs to go into the island than immediate relief.

1:45 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:45:32 GMT
The quake in India/Pakistan, China -- these are different stories -- even the tsunami -- these are great natural disasters that need worlds of aid -- but still have some sort of governments to continue working from.....

1:45 Comment From junior88
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:45:38 GMT
What do you think the people there need the most?

1:47 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:47:39 GMT
This is a tough one. There is a lot of attention going into medical aid -- a very real need. The attention to basic living aid -- food, water, shelter has been slower coming in but I think is picking up. I think skilled people -- like engineers, plumbers -- I don't know, people who can work with Haitians to better design infrastructure instead of just putting things up the way they were before and praying there isn't another shake for a while.

1:48 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:48:20 GMT
I think a lot of the personnel going in though needs to realize that they need something specific to offer. If not it is better use to send their airfare to the red cross or another organization.

1:48 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:48:41 GMT
This is often a problem with "aid" -- the "aid" worker sometimes gets more out of giving than the people receiving.

1:49 Comment From olhoazul
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:49:04 GMT
Your point about rebuilding the country is a good one. I've noted, however, that many Haitians appear to be giving up on their government. Some are call for the return of Aristide while others want to just become some type of dependence on the international community. I just wonder where or how things may end up...

1:50 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:50:42 GMT
I wonder too -- and I think that is why I feel like a bigger figure -- a governmental figure needs to step in past just small aid organizations. By giving aid, in small ways, it can be easy to create a country of people reliant on that aid. Perhaps that is already what Haiti is. There needs to be a big intervention.

1:51 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:51:12 GMT
Did Haitians ever have a government worth having faith in? I am not sure. Maybe they deserve the chance...

1:51 Comment From Jake Seymour
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:51:31 GMT
Hello Allison - I have seen some very shocking photos of mass burial sites and cleanup efforts that would shock the world in regards to how the Hatian government is handling the dead. Have you personally come across any of these scenes and what was your reaction to what you witnessed first hand?

1:54 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:54:06 GMT
I did not see the masses of bodies. I landed four days after the quake hit -- this was mostly cleaned up. I did experience bodies burning, or being eaten by maggots in the streets, under rubble. I don't think I have processed any of it yet. The camera is a shield, and when I decide to go to events like this I better have decided deep in my heart that what I am doing is with purpose. Showing the world what is going on in these sad situations is with purpose and good can come of it. To tell you the truth -- my initial reaction takes not thought, little emotion, I shoot the picture. It will take a while, personally, I'm sure to sort through these emotions.

1:54 Comment From a reader
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:54:20 GMT
How did you cope with seeing so much pain and need?

1:56 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:56:40 GMT
There is a quote from photographer Philip Jones Griffiths:"I've always said the place to break down and cry is in the darkroom looking at those contact sheets. Not when you're taking the picture. I'm a great beleiver that when you're actually there, the surgeon who faints at the sight of blood is as useless as the photographer who cries when he sees something terrible for one simple reason -- you can't see to focus."I think this is important. I can't cope on scene if that makes any sense.

1:57 Comment From olhoazul
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:57:15 GMT
Maybe so. Some, though, complain that we are giving so much to those suffering in Haiti while we have a lot of problems here locally. My argument, however, has been that their problems today will be ours very soon as more and more Haitian refuguees wash up on Florida's shores. Sad situation, though...

1:58 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:58:47 GMT
There will always be problems locally. Anyone who believes this in their heart of hearts cannot fathom the life Haitians lead. I completely believe that as a human race we all want to survive -- raise our children, feed our families. When this basic need is taken away......well I just think it's not at all comparable to the need or scare that is currently going on in the states.

1:58 Comment From marj
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 18:58:57 GMT
how were you treated by the Haitian people? Did you get any negative responses when trying to photograph them?

2:01 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 19:01:03 GMT
Actually, it was harder when I was there in May. This trip I think many Haitians were worn out. If you know Haitians you know they are full of life, vigor, emotions....... this can be beautiful, it can be frightening. But, they are worn down a little bit right now. As far as photographing, I experienced they did want their stories told. Maybe it's just naivety -- maybe they just associated white skin with instant aid -- but I felt like I was taken well. I had to be smart, of course -- with basic safety, and just reading my gut when a situation warranted me to leave. But, for the most part they were welcoming.

2:01 Comment From junior88
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 19:01:33 GMT
Were there any times you felt threatened or in danger?

2:03 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 19:03:27 GMT
A few times. There were mobs around the UN complex that were a bit unnerving. I witnesses a teenager bleed to death after being shot for steeling rice. I guess when you decide to work in a place of great unsteadiness you have to have faith that you'll be okay, until you are not meant to be. You can't have control. The following earthquakes gave me shaky knees beyond belief -- but I think that is mostly because I've never before experienced the earth moving beneath my feet.

2:06 Allison Kwesell
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 19:06:43 GMT
As I mentioned before -- I have not processed everything I saw while I was in Haiti. I do not know the answers, but I truly hope that people who have never thought before about Haiti begin to. The thing, like those of us who have been to Haiti know, is that what we see in the media, past mass graves, is life in Haiti. It's unstable, dangerous. People are in great need. I hope some answers come from all of this.Thank you all for your time.Alli

2:07 David Barry
Mon, 25 Jan 2010 19:07:04 GMT
That is all the time we have for today. We would like to thank Allison and chat participant for their time and questions. Watch Allison today at 5:30 p.m. on WRCB TV 3 and join us for our next newsmakers chat.

Mon, 25 Jan 2010 19:07:08 GMT