¡Feliz Año Nuevo! The dawn of the new year found me waking up in Santo Domingo, having returned to the Dominican Republic to serve again as the documentary photographer for the Dominican Aid Society (DASV) and William and Mary’s Student Organization for Medical Outreach and Sustainability (SOMOS). While I spent a lot of time specifically thinking about and preparing for last year’s visit, this past fall barreled by, and in a wave of photography clients, family birthdays, school activities, and holiday preparations, the eve of the trip was upon me before I really had time to think about packing, much less review any Spanish (so much for studying all year) or form a game plan for this year’s documentation.
In the weeks leading up to this trip, several people asked me what my goals are, now that I have a better understanding of SOMOS and the DASV, the places where they work, and the people with whom they do that work. My answer was rarely more specific than “be more focused.” Be more focused on what? I’m only partly sure. Regarding the specific public health issues in Paraíso/Esfuerzo, I would like to spend more time thinking about waste management and potable water. Regarding the organization as a whole, I’m interested in the ways in which we communicate amongst ourselves and the ways in which we interact with the residents of Esfuerzo – by which I mean the communication styles employed and approaches to interpersonal relationships, rather than literal modes of communication. And of course, I continue to talk to my compatriots about the ethical issues we encounter as (mostly-white, mostly-affluent) citizens of a “first-world” country visiting a marginalized community in a developing (formerly referred to as “second-world”) nation.
Perhaps my largest goal for this trip is to challenge DASV/SOMOS to think about how they communicate their experiences and intentions to our communities at home in the United States. My questions for my fellow teammates would include:
- What information do we want people in our home communities (local/regional/national) to know about DASV/SOMOS?
- What do we want/need to receive from our home communities (discussion, monetary support, participation, etc)? How do we recruit these things?
- What role does photographic documentation of our work play in this communication?
- How can photographs help to illustrate our thoughts and experiences?
- What types of images do we need?
While the group as a whole probably gives the most thought to communicating with our own communities in the months leading up to our visits and the months following it, and their attention is focused on the work at hand during the visits themselves, the nature of my work requires that I be thinking about what and how to communicate something just before and while it is happening. My continued participation in future DASV trips will depend largely upon how these questions are answered. Does the team need a documentary photographer every year, or only once or twice a decade? It should come as no surprise to you to learn that as a documentarian, I think there can be a role for myself or another photographer in every visit. The question is, what does the team perceive as their needs, and how can I best fill those needs?
A couple of other links to follow during our stay in the DR: