Student’s Photography Raises $10,000 for Haitian Earthquake Relief

When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, the images of mass destruction and chaos touched millions of hearts around the world. As the death toll rose and the agony of survivors grew, many people were inspired to take action. Georgia Tech graduate student James K. Holder II was one of those moved to help. With creativity and commitment, Holder raised $10,000 in donations through his “Your Face HERE: Haitian Earthquake Relief Effort” project.

James K. Holder II
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Student James K. Holder II used his talent as a photographer to raise $10,000 for Haiti earthquake relief efforts.

(To watch a video of James Holder discussing “Your Face HERE” and his photography, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?hd=1&v=bwzi3SqKCHg).

Holder, who earned a bachelor’s in architecture from Georgia Tech in 2008 and is currently working on a master’s in building construction, remembers hearing the news stories and being filled with determination to help the people of Haiti.

“I knew I wanted to do something that would have a significant impact on their situation, and I wanted to start immediately,” Holder said. “After talking with one of my friends about things that I could do to raise awareness and money, I figured through simple arithmetic that I could raise $10,000 by getting 200 people to donate $50 to the cause.”

A talented photographer, Holder came up with the idea for the “Your Face HERE” project. In exchange for making donations of $50 or more to the American Red Cross or Yele Haiti, people could have Holder shoot their portraits. Through previous work for the Technique and classes he took as an undergraduate from the College of Architecture’s Artist-in-Residence Ruth Dusseault, Holder already had a solid portfolio and an established reputation on campus for his photography. This made getting his fundraising project off the ground a little easier.

“I figured because people already knew me for photography, it would be easy to get them to sacrifice a monetary donation in exchange for an image,” he said. “It was also very affordable for me because I already owned all of the major equipment necessary to produce the images. I was able to simply leverage the tools that I already had with my time to complete the work.”

Everything came together quickly; he created a website and launched publicity for the effort within 24 hours of news of the earthquake. To shoot the photos, he set up a makeshift studio in his dorm room. With the assistance of Dottie Hunt, a multimedia designer in the Library and Information Center, he was able to reserve equipment to film interviews with several of the “Your Face HERE” participants. He then uploaded the footage to YouTube and other websites to assist in the viral effort. The project quickly took off.

While he did not have a time limit in mind for raising the money when he began — only hoping to raise it soon due to the urgency of need in Haiti — he reached his $10,000 goal in July. He encouraged his friends, the Georgia Tech community, and others who lived in the Atlanta area to participate.

“People seemed to love the photos, so much so that they often donated even more than the requested amount,” Holder recalled. “At first I didn’t know if I would be able to get 200 people to donate $50, but as the project continued and as participants posted their photos on Facebook and Twitter, their friends would begin to sign up and so on and so forth.”

The Georgia Tech community was instrumental in helping Holder reach his goal; an estimated 70 percent of the money was donated by Georgia Tech alumni, students, staff and student organizations.

“The most satisfying aspect of the effort was that I set out to accomplish a seemingly insurmountable goal and completed it without giving up,” Holder said. “It was also extremely fulfilling to get so many people, especially young people, who otherwise may not have been so actively involved in a cause.”

The “Your Face HERE” project has become an inspiration for others seeking to make a difference. Holder noted that friends in places such as New York, Los Angeles and Vienna, Austria, have started similar grassroots relief efforts using his concept as a model. Holder also emphasized that although the media and public interest appears to have waned six months since the earthquake, Haiti continues to need assistance and the country’s recovery has been slow.

“As much as an accomplishment as it was for me to raise the money, it only provides a nominal solution to the problems in Haiti,” he said. “There has been a lot of money raised for the relief efforts, but it doesn’t necessarily seem to be translating directly to progress for Haitians. Early evaluations of the damage were estimated at $14 billion — about 1.4 million times what my efforts were able to raise. There is still a lot of work to be done.”

As he prepares to graduate, Holder has been interviewing for jobs. He also recently opened a photography studio in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood, Atlanta’s historic art district, and is planning his first solo photography exhibition this year. However busier his life has gotten lately, after reaching one goal, Holder has already begun to work on achieving his next one. He is currently arranging a service trip to Port-au-Prince with a small group of Georgia Tech students and alumni. He is hoping to secure enough sponsorship and funding to offset the cost of travel and other expenses.

Those who would like to help in this service effort through donations, sponsorships or volunteering should contact Holder at JKH@gatech.edu. His portraits for “Your Face HERE” and other photographic work can be viewed at www.jkh2.com. 

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.