Sorting Coffee, Baptiste, Haiti, May, 2013
Michaux Flelan, at her coffee stand, Cange, Haiti. May, 2014.
It is remarkable, humbling and something strange how events swirl and conspire to give us gifts, just for a moment. Here’s my friend Mdm. Michaux, whose early-morning coffee is becoming something of an obsession for me. This one photograph came out of a series of about ten shots, and the moment she looked this particular way while preparing coffees for other customers, I thought, ah Vermeer!
I saw the photograph in black and white, but below is the color version… you see what I mean.
A few days ago, I drove by this housing development just north of Port Au Prince. It is vast, colorful, without doorways, and row upon row of emptiness. Questions persist as to why, over two years after the construction project began, the site remains unoccupied. Some sources (Haiti Grassroots Watch) say the project cost over $44 million to construct, and that it is one more instance of a foreign aid complex that is in need of profound overhaul (Jake Johnstone’s article for the Boston Review).
Pere Fritz Lafontant, leaving church at Kay Epin, Haiti.
January 27, 2013
“As an artist, you are a representative human being—you have to believe in that in order to give your life over to that effort to create something of value. You’re not doing it only to satisfy your own impulses or needs; there is a social imperative. If you solve your problems and speak of them truly, you are of help to others, that’s all. And it becomes a moral obligation.” p103
“When you look back on a lifetime and think of what has been given to the world by your presence, your fugitive presence, inevitably you think of your art, whatever it may be, as the gift you have made to the world in acknowledgment of the gift you have been given, which is the life itself. And I think the world tends to forget that this is the ultimate significance of the body of work each artist produces. That work is not an expression of the desire for praise or recognition, or prizes, but the deepest manifestation of your gratitude for the gift of life.” p137
—Stanley Kunitz in conversation with Genine Lentile, ‘The Wild Braid: a poet reflects in a century in the garden’,(Norton, 2007)
A remarkable man, Pere Lafontant, and the people who work around him, is just such an artist that Kunitz describes in his conversation with Genine Lentine. Lafontant’s organizations, Zanmi Lasante and Zanmi Agrikol have slowly turned the central Haitian plateau away from becoming an environmental and human disaster zone. There is much work that still needs to be done, but the changes over the past 40 years are miraculous.
The Third Heaven. The disorder of Haiti matters to all of us. It is a microcosm.
If Haiti were a person, this would be the person who is both pitied and reviled by the (global) village, this would be the person who has become overly familiar with pain and suffering and now can only function by attracting or self-inflicting more of the same. This person, scary and fascinating, has pathos. This person, at his core, has something pure, essential and noble, something that should amount to being beautiful and loved but stops at being pitied. Pity takes the air out of the room.
I believe that Haiti and its people are in a state of long-term trauma. My photographic work from Haiti is based on a narrative of disorder and resuscitation. Throughout, these images express themes about the humanity, resilience, tenacity and resourcefulness of the Haitian people. They point to Haiti’s lack of government and infrastructure, and the iatrogenic effect of global aid, foreign policy and non-governmental organizations.
Haiti’s trauma is symptomized by fractured communities competing with each other for resources, by communities prone to flash-point responses when dealing with environmental, human and political stress. Yet, kindness, civility and charity are common; these are the quieter attitudes and tend to become drowned out by the attention given, both from within the nation and by the international press, to the more traumatic characteristics. ‘The Third Heaven’, acknowledges this quieter attitude. Photographs always resist complete explanations. The specifics and stories around a photograph beg for conversations, which provide the architecture for long-term understanding and vision of the future. This work reduces the distancing effect of pity by provoking conversations about another way of being and striving to be human; a way that returns to humility and harmony within a more natural order. Thus, what manifests in Haiti also renders some effect closer to home. Heaven is not some place else or some time else, but rather a folding of time and space. Trying to understand Haiti becomes an opportunity for the falconer to see the falcon and the falcon to hear the falconer, while sustaining an ever ‘widening gyre’*. This work is both disorder and order. It is air, storm clouds, heaven – a reminder of how not to be, and what to strive for, globally.
This work comes from the generosity and friendship of many people. I will, in an undeservedly understated way, simply say thanks to Ali Lutz, Alice Smeets, Auget Jean Calou, Augustien Denise, Belony Nickes, Bertand Augustin, Bishop Jean Zache Duracin, Cidan Pierre, Conor Bohan, Daniel Josef, Denise Remi, Dominique Pierre, Edwidge Danticat, Eliassaint Magloire, Emmanuelle Celicour, Fabienne Prèvaris, Gassende Ariel, Hervé Sabine, Hyvenson Joseph, Jackie Williams, James Duracin, Janet Anthony, Jean Baptiste Accenat, Jean Rèmy Dèkesse, Jean Richard Duracin, Jean Robert Joseph, Jean St. Louis, Jeffrey Sachs, John Jost, JoJo, Judeline Exumé, Kenia Dominique Pierre, Kenson Perrin, Laforest Coleb, Laurent DuBois, Louise Berson, Louise Jean Baptiste, Lucien Jean Bernard, Mackenro Jean, Magnolita Perrin, Manu Fontaine, Marcenson Cesar, Marie Dosu, Marie Flore Lafontant, Mariechelie Josef, Melarni Denard, Michelet Pierre, Micol Issa, Modline Pierre, Mousson Finnigan, Mrs. Simeon, Obensen Josef, Patti Lynn, Paul Farmer, Peggy Greene, Pere Colbert, Pere Fritz Lafontant, Pere Kesner Ajax, Philemon Fils, Pinchinat Negocian, Rachel Angé, Reginald Cean, Richard Fleming, Richard O’Connor, Robert Joseph, Sadoni Leon, Samuel Perrin, Sidney W. Mintz, Stefanie Casea, Syto Cavé, Tatai, Vanessa, Vicki Sells, Wayne Bussell, Willio Pierre, Woubens Antoine, Yolande Lafontant, and above all, Angela Galbreath, Deborah McGrath, S. Dixon Myers, Rachel Malde, the many students of The University of the South who have accompanied me on some part of this journey, and the people of Haiti. I am certain that I have forgotten to mention many others, and for that, I apologize in advance — the omission is a genuine and unintended mistake.
Haiti has a centuries-long history of abuse and coercion, inflicted both from within and from foreign interests. Yet, it is made distinct from other human narratives by a counter-history of a particularly enduring sense of hope and political aspiration.
“[Haiti] is a country in search of itself,” said Haitian poet Syto Cavé. We need to pay attention to Haiti — but not so much to save and shield, urgent and humane as that need is, a desperate nation from traumatic events and selfishness. The global community needs to pay attention to Haiti in order to understand globality and to protect itself from the worst possible outcomes of cultural, political and environmental opportunism and neglect that seem to have played themselves out repeatedly in Haiti for over 200 years. The problem of Haiti matters to all of us.
My photographic work from Haiti is about this complex dynamic. What manifests in Haiti becomes relevant to all of us through the minute rendering of facts and concerns.
My first visit to Haiti was in 2006, and I have revisited the nation at least once every year since then. Each trip has left me more perplexed and alarmed by its history. I believe that Haiti and its people are in a state of long-term trauma.
Much has been said, and photographed, about Haiti’s trauma. For the past six years, I have tried to look askance at this traumatic profile and instead considered a quieter attitude that acknowledges another way of being and striving to be human. It is less about dramatic events than it is about love, kindness and hope; less about solutions than it is about a state of being — like heaven. But heaven, and beauty, cannot be considered without hell and the sublime. Thus, this other space, not the heaven of being, nor that of aspiration, but a third one, that contains all, even itself. This third heaven becomes both a window and a mirror. In gallery exhibition form, the arrangement of work on the walls, along with varying sizes, sequences of images and the way the experience of viewing manipulates the visitor, reflects this complexity.
The collection is also intended to be viewed as a printed, double concertina (leporello) binding. All the images are originated from a variety of film and digital cameras, scanned and digitally output on Museo Portfolio Rag paper using Epson archival pigment inks. All the materials in this double leporello binding are of archival quality. The double leporello allows the image sequence to be read in any number of ways: from the center folding out on both sides; from a traditional Western right to left or Japanese left to right; or folded out in any combination so that multiple sheets are visible at any moment. This binding is currently only available to order, un-editioned. A larger print run is being considered. Please make contact for more information.
Watch this video of the the leporello binding:
I first became aware of this on seeing photographs by W Eugene Smith, in an amazing exhibition called ‘Let Truth Be the Prejudice‘, made in Haiti about a psychiatric clinic and President Papa Doc Duvalier. [back]
The USA is currently ranked 4th on the International Human Development Index (Norway Australia and the Netherlands being at the top of the list) and Haiti is ranked 158th globally, and with all poorer nations than itself being in Sub-Saharan Africa.[back]
Part II: Save NGO Sec. from Itself (and Haiti from the NGOs) http://open.salon.com/blog/timotuck/2010/03/10/part_ii_save_ngo_sec_from_itself_and_haiti_from_the_ngos
Despite Rape and Abject Poverty, Haiti’s Women Hold the Power for Change http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ingrid-arnesen/despite-rape-and-abject-p_1_b_1459271.html
I have created a web page with notes and resources for a talk I give tomorrow about teaching photography in Haiti. The above image is from a series about children who are, effectively, given away into indentured service because their families cannot afford to feed them. Kenia Pierre Dominique is one of six students at the Episcopal University of Haiti in Port Au Prince (UNEPH) that I am working with to build small community discussion groups by using photography.
My Projects in Haiti
The Viewfinder Project – A Model for Photography as a Community Development Tool
Photographs by UNEPH students, from a class taught in 2011-12
Jean Remy Dekesse – Dlo (Water) – [faster html version]
Kenia Pierre Dominique – Timoun yo desfavorises (The unwanted children) – [faster html version]
Judeline Exume -Jèn ti fi (Teenage Girls) – [faster html version]
Mackenro Jean – Lavi yon elèv apre a Goudou Goudou (A Student’s Life After the Earthquake) – [faster html version]
Belony Nickes – Antèman Yo an Ayiti (Funerals in Haiti) – [faster html version]
Fabiene Prevaris – Timoun nan lekòl la apre a Goudou Goudou – [faster html version]
Community Engagement in Learning (CEL) at Sewanee – http://academics.sewanee.edu/cel/
“Getting involved in community engagement at Sewanee means putting the liberal arts into practice.”
Outreach program at Sewanee – http://life.sewanee.edu/serve/
“Student commitment to social responsibility has always been a large part of the University’s history and tradition and it is our hope to continue to pursue that responsibility.”
The Interactivity Foundation – http://www.interactivityfoundation.org/
“The Interactivity Foundation works to enhance the process and expand the scope and health of our public discussions by bringing people together in small group discussions of broad topics of public policy concern.”
“The Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary composite index that measures a country’s average achievements in three basic aspects of human development: health, knowledge, and income. It was first developed by the late Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq with the collaboration of the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and other leading development thinkers for the first Human Development Report in 1990. It was introduced as an alternative to conventional measures of national development, such as level of income and the rate of economic growth.
“The HDI was created to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone. The HDI can also be used to question national policy choices, asking how two countries with the same level of GNI per capita can end up with such different human development outcomes. For example, the Bahamas and New Zealand have similar levels of income per person, but life expectancy and expected years of schooling differ greatly between the two countries, resulting in New Zealand having a much higher HDI value than the Bahamas. These striking contrasts can stimulate debate about government policy priorities.”
from the UNDP’s FAQs about the HDI
Click! – http://www.click.si.edu
“Organized by the former Smithsonian Photography Initiative (which merged with the Smithsonian Archives in 2009), click! photography changes everything invites the public to consider the many ways in which photography enables us to see, experience, and interact with the world.”
http://www.wendyewald.com/ (this is not yet fully active)
Pradip Malde’s course syllabi that incorporate IF-style discussion formats and CE:
Art 103 – Introduction to Lens and Time-based media
Art 261 & 361 – Intermediate and Advanced Photography
Art 263 & 363 – Intermediate and Advanced Documentary Photography (taught in collaboration with Prof. Deborah McGrath’s Bio 232 Human Health and Environment and recently with Prof. Paige Schneider’s PolS/Women’s Studies 310: Politics of Poverty class.