Photojournalists Unite for a "Stand With Haiti" Benefit

Apr 26, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

In a Manhattan supermarket-turned-art gallery, the Nuru Project held Stand with Haiti, a silent auction to benefit the victims of the January 12 earthquake.

An initiative whose mission is to leverage photography "for social change in this developing world," the Nuru Project is the brainchild of J. B. Reed, Omri Bloch, Daniel Murray, Matthew Watson, and Chris McAleenan, five men who were looking for a way to use their skills and knowledge to give to the needy.

"When I was traveling through Cambodia," says Block, who works in the finance industry, "I met a ten-year-old kid going through the garbage, trying to make a dollar or two a day on recyclables. His dream was to go to Harvard, so I asked myself, 'How can I create a scenario where we can start raising fund for this and for similar situations?'"

Photojournalist JB Reed had recently returned from shooting documentary photos in Kenya on a Fulbright scholarship and arranged for the proceeds of a showing of his work shot on that trip to be sent back to the subjects of the photos.

"So Omri and I got together and realized that we could create an organization that would become a platform to do that on a regular basis," Reed says, about the origins of the Nuru Project.

Reed and Watson solicited images of the destruction in Haiti from a network of shooters. "We reach out to photographers," says Murray, "and then word spreads amongst them and they start submitting work."

'We'll get an e-mail from other photographers who say 'what you're doing is great and I'd like to contribute" Watson says.

"We curate images for each show we do," says McAleenan, "so anywhere from fifteen to twenty photographers participate in a given show. And what's nice is we're seeing photographers that have donated images for multiple shows."

This is the Nuru Project's fourth exhibition of photos that benefit their subjects and while this evening's show, on the southern tip of the Upper West Side, features numerous images of the destruction of Haiti, it includes more than a few celebrating the beauty and color of the country, both before and after the recent quake. Stark monochrome shots of people standing amidst rubble are juxtaposed with color-splashed images of young men playing pickup soccer in the streets.

Another of those colorful images, depicting a clutch of hands raised together in triumph to celebrate the end of the Aristide era in 2004, is the work of Timothy Fadek, a photojournalist in attendance at the Stand with Haiti event. Fadek's work has taken him to war zones in Kosovo and Iraq but the devastation he says he witnessed in Haiti in January was particularly affecting.

"What would normally be a twenty-minute drive from the airport into Port au Prince took two hours," says Fadek. "Every few blocks there were rows of dead bodies. And a few blocks beyond that would be a street full of destruction. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a natural disaster and not a man-made conflict."

Aside from the overwhelming scope of the wreckage of Haiti, Fadek was touched by what he considered the unexpected response among the citizens. "I was moved by the silence of the people. They weren't emotionally broken-down and crying," he remembers, "they were stunned more than anything else."

Fadek is proud of the fact that his photos and those shot by fellow journalists alerted the world to problems with the relief effort in the wake of the disaster.

"Once the photographs and stories about mishandling of food distribution reached the front page of the New York Times and the cover of Time Magazine, the U.N. got their act together and things got more organized," Fadek said.

Though Fadek insists that he is "conflicted" about the Stand with Haiti event -- "it feels strange that we're drinking wine and celebrating photography when the subject of it is the millions of people (the earthquake) affected" -- he acknowledges its significance as a fund-raising effort.

With a take for the evening of $9,000, the Nuru Project's J. B. Reed said he and his partners were "very pleased" with the event and Bloch was gratified that the photos that were sold raised both money and consciousness.

"We hope that people can view these images and, hopefully, they'll remember Haiti long after the mainstream is not covering this story," said Reed.