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Documentary photographers have a long and distinguished tradition of staring human suffering in the face and using their images to raise awareness and mobilize international aid for victims of natural or man-made disasters. But even in this committed company, Simone Scarcia stands out for his unique combination of skills in humanitarian relief, photojournalism and street-level survival.

During the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Simone managed three relief camps that struggled to provide food, shelter and basic services for some 15,000 internally displaced people in Cite de Soleil-a shanty town considered so dangerous and depressed that UN workers typically enter it with military escorts. While directing the efforts of some 200 aid workers, Simone was also busy as a photographer, capturing some of the first images of the human tragedy that surrounded him, opening one of the first channels of communications with media in the outside world, and creating materials for international publicity campaigns to aid people who were perilously close to the edge even before the earthquake struck.

Every hour you're either saving lives or losing lives

'In Haiti, I was project manager for AVSI (Association of Volunteers in International Service) and also responsible for communication for all the NGOs (non-governmental organizations),' says Simone. 'I was working 20-hour days and sleeping four hours a night for my first two weeks in the country. Every hour you were either saving lives or losing lives, especially babies from zero to 6 months old and pregnant women. In situations like that, you cannot sleep. You have to think about solutions to thousands of problems involving water, food, shelter and nutrition for malnourished people.'

A 29-year-old native of Sicily who has worked in trouble zones from the Balkans to West Africa to Latin America, Simone calls his two recent months in Haiti, 'the toughest mission I have ever been on. When you face tragedy and situations of extreme poverty like they have in Haiti, you have to know your own limits. If you don't, then you're too stressed out to make clear decisions. The risk is to add confusion in a situation that's already chaotic enough.'

Simone credits his effectiveness in Cite de Soleil to experience and contacts gained during an earlier humanitarian mission to the sprawling shanty town. 'My previous experience was fundamental,' he says. 'I already knew the Cite de Soleil. I knew the Haitian members of the organization, the staff and local coordinators, the language, customs and security problems. That's why my organization called me back to work there.'

Very good skills in negotiation

The security problems were even worse this time around because the earthquake leveled the main prison in Port au Prince, releasing some 3,000 hardened criminals, many of whom set up operations in Cite de Soleil. 'Eighty percent of these people were on life sentences for murder or atrocities during the 2004-5 troubles, and we had to start the process of negotiating all over again. I did it with the help of my local assistants,' says Simone. 'We had to let them know we were there to help. The gang leaders have a lot of power in terms of mobilizing people in their areas, and they began asking for things, not money, but help for their areas. It was quite delicate, really the most sensitive part of my job. Fortunately, I have very good skills in negotiation.'

After two months in Haiti, Simone realized he had reached the limits of his endurance and effectiveness. He retreated to New York, where he reunited with his finacee, a fellow aid worker whom he met four years ago during training in Germany. But after ten days of rest and recreation, he was off on his next project-a self-assigned, self-financed documentary about the street children of Dakar.

Sent by poor rural familes to attend free Koranic schools in Senegal's capital city, the children are nominally under the care of a teacher (or marabou) who offers lodging and Islamic instruction. But many observers wonder whether the estimated 10,000 street kids in Dakar are learning anything other than indigence. Simone aims to find out by spending two months with the children, gaining their confidence, observing their daily life and recording their stories. When the project is completed, he will offer the work to UNICEF and other media outlets.

Rejecting the media circus

As a photojournalist, Simone rejects the media circus and stands apart from it in two critical respects. First, he spends much more time on the ground (months instead of days) and cultivates a much deeper familiarity with his subjects than the typical deadline-and-budget-driven reporter. Even more importantly, he refuses to let his images be used for sensationalism or exploitation.

'The risk,' he says, 'is that even very high quality photos can be used in unethical ways. In the humanitarian sector, you have to be very careful about this kind of exploitation of images for fund- raising or to mislead and launch very aggressive messages about a country. In photojournalism, it's always very useful to know the final use of the materials and to have high trust in the organization or people to whom you're giving your work. The media circus is always ready to steal images and use them to make strong statements, showing just one side of the problem, not telling what's behind that photo.'

Always willing to change my environment and challenge myself

Simone grew up in the ancient port city of Siracusa (Syracuse) on the southeastern coast of Sicily but always had one foot in the countryside where his father ran a farm and his family now operates an eco-hotel. He started getting serious about photography in his teens, developing his own film with vintage Durst and Beseler enlargers, collecting classic SLR and TLR cameras during his travels in Eastern Europe and eventually apprenticing with a professional photographer in his home town.

His first professional photography job was with working with the National Geographic TV channel on the filming of a documentary about volcanoes in Sicily. At the University of Catania, he majored in communications and media and uses those skills in his work for international organizations. His passion for photography led him to go back to school for an additional year in Finland. 'I took university courses in applied media, digital studio also darkroom techniques. That was a very important moment where I began to structure all these experiences and skills that I had learned by myself in the past.' His first experience of humanitarian aid work was with Amnesty International in Belarus, where among other things, he organized photography seminars for budding photojournalists in the repressive ex-Soviet republic.

Asked how he developed such a strong sense of commitment and direction at such an early age, Simone says, 'I think it was lucky circumstances. I've always had the curiosity and the will to learn and discover. I'm always willing to go deeper into things, to change my environment and challenge myself.'

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What a wonderful world! Lovely pics Simone, im so proud of you, So many feelings in this amazing pics :) It's really outstanding the way you show us, you're reality through your eyes.

Gaetano C.


Bellissimi scatti, molto belli i sorrisi dei bambini con intorno una realtà che per noi da ridere ha ben poco! Buona fortuna Simone!



Que dire de ces jolies prises! Un travail extraordinaire,ce qui nous donne envie d'approcher de plus près ces regards magnifique. Ton travail sur place, Simone, a été important pour ces jeunes. Merci pour ce partage de fichiers. Bonne continuation Simone!



L'enfant, l'espace et le rire... le photographe a su capter les deux dimensions qui marquent la vie d'ún enfant haitien... le rire...car l'enfant haitien rentre en contact avec l'etranger par le rire et un rire penetrant et futuriste... et l'espace enfantin est cahotique, pris dans l'enfer de la misere, le jeune reve de nouveaux espaces, souvent insondables; que seul son rire peut penetrer. Simone Sarcia Photographe donne a voir ces deux dimensions de l'enfance: rire et espace qui marque le reve enfant comme un coup de massues a defaut de trouver de reels espaces d'expression et de liberte.- Pamela Celestin, Pedagogue.
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