Bryan Meltz admits she would be a bad photojournalist.
Being an impartial, unfeeling observer behind a lens holds no appeal to her. Instead, Ms. Meltz tends to latch onto her subjects, using her photos to appeal for change.
Just ask the Somali refugee family she started shooting on an assignment years ago in Clarkston, Ga. Photos turned into friendship, which led to an ongoing project tracking their resettlement journey in the U.S.
“I’ll do this for the rest of my life,” she said of the project.
Ms. Meltz, an Emory University photographer by day, stumbled into the field of documentary photography at 18, snapping shots of HIV victims at an AIDS organization her family ran for 20 years in Atlanta. The experience piqued her interest in public health, which ultimately led toward her latest fixation: Haiti.
She first visited the country with a Haitian-American physician studying at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. He returned after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that reduced Port-au-Prince, the capital, to rubble and killed tens of thousands of people.
Ms. Meltz was “appalled” at the living conditions that remained after news crews left. About a million people lived in tents in the capital. Poor rural communities lacked health services and food to support migrants that fled the city.
“After that first trip, and I came back and Haiti wasn’t on the news anymore, it was like, ‘That was it. That was it.’ They did a couple of fundraisers, and a few celebrities got involved, everybody got excited, and then? Nothing,” she said. “We’re not even talking about rebuilding yet. We’re talking about people having basic human rights.”
The 32-year-old Ms. Meltz made it her mission to tell the story buried beneath headlines that were quick to recount the death toll but that rarely gave insight into how life had changed for those who survived.
On four trips, she ventured outside the capital, visiting villages and health clinics, staying with families, even sleeping on the floor of an orphanage. The resulting photo book and exhibition, “After: Images From Haiti”, is her effort to speak for a population frustrated by the malaise that has plagued the rebuilding efforts.
“They have a tremendous amount to say, and I do feel like people have diminished Haitians to sitting on a pile of rubble, and there’s so much more to them and there’s so much more to the country than that,” she said.
Ms. Meltz will be selling books at the AJC Decatur Book Festival Sept. 3-4. She will hold a book signing on Sunday, Sept. 4.
All proceeds go to support the work of GIANT Global, a Tucker-based nutrition nonprofit with which Ms. Meltz has partnered in Haiti.
Visit www.bryanmeltz.com for more information.