In January 2018, photographers Katie Jett Walls (Washington DC) and Aniya Emtage Legnaro (Barbados) travelled to Puerto Rico to document the on-going affects of post-hurricane devastation on the lives of puertorriqueños living in marginal areas. Here’s what Katie had to say about the experience:
I really don’t know where to begin or what to include in talking about our Puerto Rico project.
I could talk about how hard we worked – leaving our guest house before 7am some days, shooting nearly every day for a week solid, relying on translators for conversations nearly everywhere, thinking hard every minute that you’re working how to get an image that captures not just what you are seeing but what you are learning, what’s under the surface, what you and your subject are feeling as you collaborate with them to weave their story with images.
I could talk about how blissfully sensational it feels to focus on just one thing for days and days and days. No family, kids, clients, home, administrative tasks, laundry, to-do lists – nothing but this work you’re making and just getting enough food/water/sleep/coffee to keep working on it. It’s heaven.
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I could talk about the uncanny synergy I felt working alongside Aniya. At every juncture we were in harmony in our thinking about this project. Every key decision we were of the same mind about how best to proceed. We trusted each other’s judgement, we moved just outside of each other’s peripheral vision, always close but never in each other’s frame (unless one of us was intentionally capturing the other at work), when one of us couldn’t catch a detail or get in a good position, the other had it. We talked a lot about life, but mostly we talked about this work we were making together.
I could talk about the ridiculous good fortune of finding our fixer – which wasn’t luck at all but the result of smart hard work. Aniya tracked down a reporter who’d published a story in Washington Post on communities in Puerto Rico without power and got us a phone call with her. The reporter connected us to Mardelis Jusino, a San Juan journalist and attorney who provided legwork services to media covering post-hurricane issues. We contacted Mardelis and were able to negotiate a fee we could afford for her time before our trip and during – and she brought us directly to the amazing people we photographed with for two of the three locations we documented. Mardelis’s insight and passion for helping people is how we gained such access so quickly – she unlocked Puerto Rico for us. The bulk of the money we raised for this project went to pay for her services and she was worth every penny and more.
“If you want to embark on a project like this, finding your inside person is your most important step.”
I could talk about the pain of taking in story after story of suffering. Of the frustration and exhaustion behind the eyes of so many people. I could also talk about the deep, bright bedrock of optimism and resilience that right alongside the pain. I worry that there are not answers for many of the people that we met and photographed. I marvel at their faith and their concern for their neighbors. These aren’t neighbors who just ask how you’re doing when they see you on the street: these are neighbors who walk miles to bring you food, stretch a tarp over your wrecked house, dig you from the mud, or come when you call because your son is suicidal. Neighbors who won’t let you die when government assistance can’t reach you or won’t.
I could talk about how I asked one of these strong people how they took in all this trouble and managed it in their hearts and they said, “we’re strong because they need us to be strong and find solutions, but when we’re alone in our office, we cry together.” I could talk about how our families handled life without us for a week – our spouses stepping up and letting us go do this thing we needed to do.
I could talk about How. Damned. Proud I am of Aniya and I for making this happen.
I could talk about How. Damned. Scared I am that there is no outlet for these stories that people entrusted to us, hoping that in doing so, help might come to them at last. That someone might care, at last. That they aren’t forgotten after all.
I could talk about how much more of this kind of work I want to do.
I could. Or I could let the pictures do the talking.
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Guest post writing is from photographer, Katie Jett Walls. Images by Katie Jett Walls and Aniya Legnaro.
These ladies are not paid photojournalists on assignment from any media organization, they’re volunteering their time and using their own money + donations.
You can show your support by visiting their Go Fund Me page, which has awesome rewards (including, a signed Limited Edition book of the project, and prints) gifted at different levels.
About Katie Jett Walls: Katie is a documentary photographer specializing in families and street photography. A proud resident of the Washington DC, Katie lives in a rowhouse with her nerdy husband and precocious kindergartener. Though her family would tell you all she ever does is take pictures, or talk about pictures, in fact she also reads lots of British crime novels, drinks coffee with the other school moms, and binge watches all the best shows. She believes the world offers it’s stories to anyone who will look or listen. For that reason, she and her camera is always ready to see and hear. Website
About Aniya Legnaro: Aniya is a documentary wedding and family photographer living in Barbados with her daughters and husband, 2 dogs and 5 turtles. She is an avid surfer, reader and coffee drinker. She understands the importance of documenting and firmly believes that kids and the elderly hold the key to life. Kids have fantastic imaginations, with no fear or judgment. The elderly have fantastic stories from life lived and know time is too short to have fear or judgments. Website