Before I jump into this post, I would encourage you to do what you can for the suffering in Yushu.  The quakes there left close to 100,000 people homeless.  The very little that they once had is now gone.  For more information or for how to give directly to those providing relief, please visit Yushu Earthquake Relief.

The last three weeks have undoubtedly been the hardest three weeks of my life.

On April 14th at 7am my wife woke me up with the news that there had been a series of powerful earthquakes in and around Yushu, a town 500+ miles southwest of where we live and work.  An earthquake in this area is significant.  Not only was my Plateau Photo Tours partner living in Yushu at the time, but most of our friends, co-workers, and employees are from this area – not to mention we had two Lumen Dei tours with David duChemin and Matt Brandon planned to this area this summer.

Instead of preparing for Lumen Dei trips, I found myself back at our NGO’s office coordinating medical supplies and teams to enter into the earthquake area as well as utilizing my skills in a past life as a web designer.  My camera was no where in site for good reasons:  1.) 6’5″ bearded foreign photographers were not allowed into the quake area and 2.) there was no way I would be able to photograph something so personal for quite a while.

As a photography working closely for and with NGO’s as well as coordinating tour’s to the plateau, I very well know the power of an image to raise awareness for a cause – but this is China.  In this part of the world you can’t just show up and expect the red carpet treatment.  In fact, you can’t just show up and expect to be allowed to even participate in relief work.  You have to have permission for three different levels of government, signed and stamped letters to pass checkpoints, verbal governmental approval while en-route to the quake zone, etc. (Luckily I work for the ONLY foreign NGO invited into the quake area by the provincial government to participate in medical relief work.)

Nonetheless, as a photographer, how do you respond to something like this?

Within the first 5 hours after the earthquake, my ideas of what a hero looked like started to change drastically.  I, with no small amount of difficulty, saw pictures on the news of destroyed restaurants where I had enjoyed butter tea with close friends less than two months earlier.  I saw pictures on the internet of my friends homes in ruin (literally).  I saw a place that I have covered photographically in one form or another for almost 8 years in absolute ruin.

To make a very long story short** – I decided to do a photo series of those around me doing direct relief work – my new heros.  These are people who spent the first 72 hours after the quake wide awake, people who travelled 600+ miles over 16,000+ foot passes in order to provide medical relief to those in need.  These are people who saw patient after patient, sent truck after truck, or spent hours on the phone all for continued success of the relief work in Yushu.  These are people who have put life on hold for the last two weeks and have slept far too little – just to provide what relief that can to the suffering in Yushu.

These are heros.  These are the Faces of Relief.  Read more after the jump

So now you know where I’ve been for the last three weeks.  I haven’t given up photography, or fallen off the face of the planet – I’ve been incredibly busy and sleep-deprived.

Just as an FYI, our interview series on “The Life of a Photographer” will continue on Thursday of this week.

**For the full story, please be sure to check out Matt Brandon’s blog tomorrow where I will be guest blogging on the quakes in Yushu and how photographers should react to disaster.