- September 28, 2017
Windermere fine-art photographer Carey Sheffield doesn’t only use her camera to capture portraits.
She also uses it to tell stories.
“My true passion is in social documentary,” Sheffield said of her photography work. “I’ll always take photographs of people and portraits … but what really inspires me is not having a studio where I’ve got a rolling amount of people coming in. It’s different people, but it’s the same image. What inspires me is meeting new characters and (hearing their) stories.”
After Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc in the Bahamas, Sheffield felt compelled to document the aftermath, the recovery efforts and the lives of everyday individuals whose lives have been turned upside down by the hurricane. She has a soft spot in her heart for telling the stories of individuals who might fall under the radar of major media coverage, she said.
“I wanted to go and give a voice to the people that don’t have a voice,” Sheffield said. “As in all things when you have a major catastrophe — a drought or famine or (something else) — it’s kind of today’s news, and then it moves (on). … I like (talking to) the people that people don’t see, and I like to talk to people that people don’t hear.”
Since the hurricane struck, Sheffield has taken two separate trips to the Bahamas to not only do some volunteer work, but to also document some of the island nation’s recovery efforts.
The First Trip
Sheffield left for her first trip out to the Bahamas Sept. 15, and she flew back Sept. 20. She spent that first trip in Nassau — which didn’t suffer as much destruction as other islands — and stayed with a friend who was a volunteer at the Red Cross.
During the stay, Sheffield joined her friend in some volunteer work, but when she wasn’t volunteering, she was documenting and doing interviews. She interviewed about a dozen individuals — among them a woman rescuing stray dogs in the Bahamas and the local director general of the Red Cross — about their experiences during and after the hurricane.
The story of one woman and her family stood out to Sheffield — that woman’s name was Nelly Frank. Frank and her family originally were from Marsh Harbor but rode out the storm at a hotel in Treasure Key thanks to a generous benefactor who paid for a room for the family.
“They were advised by their benefactor … (who) said, ‘Look, you need to get out of there. You live 800 yards away from the beach,’” Sheffield said.
During the storm itself, Nelly and her family took refuge in the bathroom of their hotel room. She and one of her daughters took turns holding the bathroom door shut as the winds ravaged the rest of their room. The family was trapped in that bathroom for hours as Nelly and her daughter took turns holding onto that door for dear life, Sheffield said.
“They Googled that the safest place (during a hurricane) would be the bathroom,” Sheffield said. “She said her and her daughter were holding the door — for two and a half hours — tight. The thing that stuck with me was the young man — her son, who was 14 — saying the sound was the worst sound ever. … They said when they opened the door to the bathroom, everything was gone. … The bathroom was the only thing left standing.”
Although the hurricane destroyed much in the Bahamas, the Frank family is moving forward as they’re trying to make their way north and move to Canada, Sheffield said.
The Second Trip
Sheffield’s second trip out to the Bahamas was not nearly as long as the first trip, and it was more so a trip to deliver needed supplies. She left for the second trip the morning of Friday, Oct. 11, and she returned home that same evening. She spent her second trip in Freeport with a small charity group she’s involved in called Phoenix Rising. With that group, Sheffield traveled around Freeport and High Rock to deliver supplies directly to individuals in need. Unlike the first trip, Sheffield witnessed firsthand some of the destruction that Hurricane Dorian caused to buildings, infrastructure and people’s homes. Instead of taking photos, she documented her second trip on film.
Sheffield said many of the locals she’s come across during both trips are grateful for the aid they’ve been receiving, one of the most common comments she’s heard locals make is that they just want everything to go back to the way it was before the hurricane.
“The people that I met that I spoke to, largely, they would like their life back,” Sheffield said. “They lived very simple lives, but they were self-sufficient on the whole — maybe not to the same standard that we expect to live — but they were happy with their lives and they want to go back.”
Additionally, because of the destruction the hurricane caused, many schools in the Bahamas have been put out of commission, Sheffield said.
“I’m asking people, ‘What do you need to happen now?’” Sheffield said. “The teenagers there, nobody’s asking them the question, ‘What do you need?’ They need food and water and somewhere to sleep, obviously, but they also need to get their education back and they need a future.”
These two trips that Sheffield taken to the Bahamas so far won’t be her last. She plans to continue traveling there to do more volunteer work, and she plans to continue documenting her experiences and giving a voice to the citizens there that she feels needs to be heard.