I first met Patrick Raycraft when we both were graduate students in the Ohio University VisCom program. Patrick had successfully completed his service as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. I had yet to serve.
One of the things I remember was that Patrick took on this long-term story about a couple who lived in a small trailer in the woods near Athens, Ohio while we were both graduate students at Ohio University. His work on this story impressed on me Patrick’s ability to gain access and trust from his subjects even in trying circumstances. The story also underscored the risks in doing so. Patrick writes this about that story: “My story about Ruth and John – the couple that lived in the trailer out in the woods - ended very tragically. They were both murdered the day before Thanksgiving in 1993. I followed through on the story and attended John’s funeral. Years later I continued to seek new information from the Athens reporter who covered the story. An estranged brother-in-law was eventually convicted.”
Patrick’s service in Peace Corps was integral to his entry into the field of photojournalism. Patrick writes the following about this:
I have always enjoyed photography. I love to travel. I’ve always been a news junkie. So it’s no surprise that from an early age I was attracted to photojournalism. I also enjoy hearing people’s stories.. At the end of the day we are storytellers and to tell stories well I believe we first need to be really good listeners.
During my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic (1984-86) I used my 35mm point & shoot camera to make a rough documentation of my various projects. My counterparts always enjoyed seeing those 5×7 prints I would bring back. In Santo Domingo I was a member of Enfoca, a photo club, where I had my color negative film processed and printed. Maybe it had something to do with the pretty and delightful young lady behind the counter since I kept going back to Enfoca whenever I was in the capital city.
After my Peace Corps service I decided to travel through Central America. While visiting Antigua, Guatemala during Holy Week in 1987 I observed a very intense photojournalist at work. I was really drawn to how he was using his camera and light meter. Six months later I saw James Nachtwey’s multi-page spread in National Geographic magazine.
So in a way, my first lesson in photojournalism was in the field from one of our greatest war photographers ever. At that moment a light went on for me. I learned to develop black & white film and began making my own prints. A few years later I put together a small portfolio and applied to the VisCom program. I was also accepted to the Latin American Studies program at Ohio University but decided to concentrate on photography.
Patrick’s experience as a returned Peace Corps volunteer continues to influence his work.
As an RPCV I have returned to the Dominican Republic and Haiti to produce stories. After the earthquake last year, I was actually on vacation in Santo Domingo. I wanted to volunteer in a hospital and ended up driving out to the border town of Jimaní where I served as a medical interpreter for a few days. I met up with several Peace Corps volunteers who were organizing hospital logistics. What an incredible experience.
I’ve also worked in several other countries including Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Spain. Of course, the language and cultural skills that I acquired in the Peace Corps help tremendously. I would also add communication skills. Following the Peace Corps I worked as a high school Spanish teacher for six years where I could hone my Spanish.
But then I had to learn another language. I needed to learn how to identify a good story and then tell that story with images. I had to learn to ask the right questions and listen for compelling answers. This is a whole other skill set. It’s the journalism component in photojournalism.
I greatly enjoy getting back to my old Peace Corps site and photographing the people with whom I lived, shared, laughed, cried and worked… especially Francisco who I have documented since 1985. It brings me great joy to return for a day or two. And I am sure that I continue to provide comic relief for them in some ways as well.
A quote from Patrick’s blog reads, “Many people often ask me, “What camera do you use? Which is the best camera to buy?” They are valid questions which can lead to great discussions. But for me, cameras come and go. The deeper questions may be, “What have I done with my camera?”
Look at his work and it is obvious that Patrick Raycraft does great things with his camera.
The following is a link to a Haiti audio slideshow that is inspiring work completed by Patrick: