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On December 26th, 2004, a tsunami swept over much of Asia, taking hundreds of thousands of lives and destroying many more. Around the world, video and images of the tsunami, from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and elsewhere across Asia brought the disaster home to people from the rest of the world. The height of the wave, the breadth of the devastation and the unfathomable death toll were all shocking. Images and video of the tsunami, propelled by the age of cell phone cameras, ready digital video and the Internet helped create a second wave, an outpouring of deeply felt charity from people around the world who could not believe their eyes at the terrible damage and devastation.*
Images of the tsunami "silence all the noise"
In 2005, Photosensitive took as its mission a trip to Sri Lanka and capture documentary images of life after the tsunami. By this time the collective was well established as an important agent for social change. Andrew Stawicki met with David Toycen, then CEO of World Vision Canada, and World Vision and CARE Canada pledged financial support. Thus was born a new project, Beyond The Wave, a review in photographs of the life of Sri Lankans after concern over the tsunami and its damage was receding. Toycen was a strong believer in the social change photography of Photosensitive. In spite of the fact that North American lives are frenetic, fast-paced and noisy, Toycen says, "these images silence all the noise." Images of the Asian tsunami, he says, "show the courage and resilience of the human spirit."
An Asian tsunami survivor surveys a coastline that still had not been cleaned up, almost a year later. Photo: Bernard Weil
Photographers found it difficult to remain unattached from these photos
Photographers on the project were especially affected by the devastation of the tsunami and the images they captured. For these professionals this project was particularly hard to distance themselves from. Families had been wiped out by the water. Children were left without parents, parents without children. Stan Behal says that the tsunami had "wiped entire villages off the map. Dropped into that environment, it was impossible not to be personally affected."
Tony Hauser, another photographer on the project, remembers that his sister cautioned him about this project. "People have heard and seen enough," she said, of the images and photographs of the tsunamis' devastation. But Hauser persevered because it was important to tell more of the stories in photographs. Echoing Behal, he says "You're not supposed to get attached... But I find I do, and maybe it makes me understand better what it's like to be them."
Behal tells the story of meeting parents in Sri Lanka who had lost seven of their children in the tsunami. "You feel like crying," he says. "But we are there to take pictures." The subjects of these photographs, he says "do not deserve to see our tears. Our power is to bring the pictures home. And that is why we keep at it."
Parents hold up pictures of four of their children, all they have left of seven children lost in the Asian tsunami of 2004. By V. Tony Hauser.
As always, one more image, one more story
Behal relates the story behind another image that helps capture the deeper, continuing story of life after the Sri Lankan tsunami. Behal relates that there was still a strong military presence and there were zones cordoned off for military reasons. He captured a photo of a man praying before he headed out for a day of fishing (below). This "Sri Lanka fisherman was allowed to enter the military zone, travel to his boat and go out for a day's catch. But if he missed coming in before sunset, he ran the risk of being shelled by the army." Says Behal, "He was praying to come home alive."
Those images of hope against hope, among the ruins of something as devastating as the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka are just another part of what makes Photosensitive unique. Behal says, "I met people with deep emotional scars, and tried to capture their spirit of survival (in these pictures)."
After the tsunami, life must go on. Photo: Bernard Weil
Much of the devastation of the tsunami was still not cleaned up, a year later. Photo: Bernard Weil.