Giving Photos and Houses in Vietnam

 

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Brian Wolowicz

Although Brian’s passion for photography started at a young age, it wasn’t until college that his hobby took a more serious turn. He loved his college photo class elective so much he ended up pursuing a minor in photography and  eventually went on to earn a BFA in Visual Communications. Brian now works as a Creative Director designing apps for Fortune 500 companies and continues to pursue photography projects on the side. Growing up, his parents instilled in him the value of giving to charity and he now dedicates his free time to photographing for Habitat for Humanity. GivePhotos gave Brian instant film to take with him on his recent trip to Vietnam with Habitat for Humanity and we talked to him about his experiences. You can see Brian’s photos on Instagram @hellobdub or on his Flickr page.

When did you start giving photos? 

I started giving away photos in June 2013 by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. It’s not too difficult to get people to come out and swing a hammer, but it is very difficult for most charities to get high quality images. After a call to the local affiliate about what I could offer, I began photographing all the houses being built, the volunteers, sponsors groups, homeowners, families, dedications, and gave away all the photos for free to Habitat, the families, and volunteers. I started experimenting with giving small instant prints away to kids during dedications last year and they loved them! Seeing the little prints come to life in front of their eyes was like magic. Kids nowadays are used to seeing the images on the back of a camera or cell phone, but most have never seen an instant print. 30313789891_4bfb17c151_k

In October 2016, I had the opportunity to go to Vietnam with Habitat for Humanity and spend a week building homes for those in need. It was one of the most challenging, exciting, fun, heartwarming, and rewarding things I have ever done. I am already planning to do more international trips with them!

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Habitat for Humanity built these homes in the Phu Tho region of Vietnam which is about 50 miles outside Hanoi.

What motivated you to do it?

Growing up, my family was often involved with charities and giving back. My brothers and I were in Boy Scouts, active in church functions, and volunteered for different things around town. Fast forward a few years after graduating college and living in the “real” adult world and my weekdays became filled with long hours working, and weekends once spent giving back, were replaced with either more work or catching up after a long week. My time was packed but I had a yearning to get back to that place of giving again, I just didn’t know how.

Soon thereafter, I went through some very difficult and trying times. I didn’t know if I could make it out of the depression I felt myself sinking into, but I knew I had to get out of the house. I had to get back to doing things for others again, to finding a new purpose in life, and getting back to being me.

I started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. At first I didn’t want to be a distraction on the job site, so I became a fly on the wall. “Keep working, I’m not here,” I would tell everyone. I simply wanted to take my photos and leave. But as I continued to show up each weekend, the house leaders would remember me, say hi, and we’d chat for a bit. Soon, that expanded to the volunteers, the homeowners, and the kids in the neighborhood.

Before I knew it, I was excited to wake up early on a weekend to go to a job site. That soon led me to create a public Flickr account and to give the photos away to everyone. I found out that for many of the families, the photos I took of them in front of their new house were the first photos they had ever gotten of the family all together. Knowing how much the families cherish my photos has kept me going over the years.

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What equipment do you use and why? 

House leaders like to joke that I have a bigger tool belt than they do! My main gear are Nikon D700 and D750 cameras, with 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8 lenses. I have to be very careful about where I am on the job site, so the zoom lenses are very important to getting my shots. I am constantly covered in dirt, saw dust, mud, climbing up and down ladders, banging into studs or heavy metal things, which means the gear has to be pro level and weather sealed to last. I have a Lowepro deluxe technical belt with several different pouches for swapping lenses, carrying my cell phone, notebook, wallet, keys, odds and ends, and a water bottle. I usually park my truck and walk between job sites, so I need everything with me rather than trying to use a camera bag that might walk off when I am not looking.

When I travel, I use a Fuji XT-1 with the 18–55 f2,8-4 and 10-24 f4 lenses, and the Fuji Instax printer. I still need to get a telephoto for that set up.

Since I also build on some of the job sites, I have my own hard hat that I reverse to be able to use with my camera. I also have a mix of other safety gear like glasses and gloves, strong work boots and mud boots, and a big stack of business cards with the URL to my flickr account.

 

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Bong and his wife are local farmers in Phu Tho building a new road around their field. After tending their crops in the morning, they use old farming tools to prepare a base for the concrete.

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Bong’s wife didn’t want to be in the photo with him but after a little teasing gave in.

Can you share one memorable story with us about your experience sharing photos? 

When we showed up for the first build day in Vietnam, the neighborhood kids didn’t know what to make of us. They’d run and hide every time we’d come walking down the path to the job site. Most of the people that lived in that community had never ventured very far, let alone outside of the country. They have no TV and they are lucky to have old cell phones without internet. They had simply never seen people so physically big!

Over the next few days, we’d catch them watching us as we built and would say hi and wave. They’d giggle and dart away, but soon they came out to meet us. We must not be that bad, we’re building their neighbor a new house! When I took their photo for the first time, they didn’t know what to make of it. Some laughed and ran, others were fascinated by it. Then I made a small Fuji instant print and their eyes went wide and their smiles reached from ear to ear as they saw the picture develop. After that, the walls came tumbling down. We’d play games together on our breaks, they’d teach us Vietnamese phrases and we’d teach them English ones, and they’d show us parts of their village. They even wanted to take OUR photo and even more photos together with us! It was a good thing we were pretty quick builders since our breaks seemed to get longer and longer each time! And it all started from a smile and wave, and a simple little instant print.

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Brian said, “These adorable kids had never seen a printed picture of themselves before, so I gave them this one! I had to sneak this pic because every time they’d see the camera they’d laugh and dart away behind a tree.”

Do you have any suggestions for people who would like to give photos?

Always bring more film than you think you’ll need, especially for groups of kids! Everyone will want their own print, so you’ll quickly go through a lot. Kids are usually more willing to get their photo taken than adults, but always ask permission from their parents first! Usually once one person gets their photo made and others see it, you won’t have any problems. In fact, the kids may run home to get their siblings and other family members to have even more photos made together.

Sometimes when you need to move along, or get back to building in my case, you need to just finish out the pack of film and tell them you’ve run out so you have to stop for the day.  You’ll get “awwwww!” and puppy dog eyes from the kids, but if you are staying in the area, tell them you can come back again tomorrow with more film. But, if you do that, don’t let them see you pull another pack from your bag around the corner to photograph someone else!

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