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.
Rachel and Kiran, Dawn. Venice, April 2010
from 8×10 negative
From Euphrosyne Doxiadis’ ‘introduction’ in The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, Thames and Hudson, 2000:
“The viewer becomes involved in direct communion with the person portrayed, who is as if in limbo, in a twilight zone between life and death. Looking at the most beautifully painted among the Fayum portraits is a unique and enriching experience…An experience I had in Berlin convinced me of the power inherent in the best of the Fayum faces: I was left in a storage room with about twenty portraits, and when the door closed behind me I felt a very strange sensation— that I was not alone.”
Perhaps that is it: we are not alone, we are not alone, we are not alone. Yet with each utterance, with each brush of this kind of sensation, we sense the aching singularity of each moment, each one of us, each loneliness.
Thirstily reading the current issue of Orion, it made me happy to see the work of two friends Masao Yamamoto and Kathleen Jamie, appear in the magazine. Kathleen’s poem, Roses, struck me with particular force. The last verse reads:
I haggle for my little
portion of happiness,
says each flower, equal, in the scented mass.
PS: This issue of Orion also has an excellent piece by David Sobel about the pitfalls of the environmental and place-based education bandwagon, and a touching, powerful short piece by Julia Alvarez (who recently published ‘A Wedding in Haiti’). Again, I find another resonance, along with my work in Haiti, with the Fayum and a particular kind of photographic portraiture. From her short article:
“The ancient Mayans recognized a … truth in the phrase en lak ech, which means “you are the other me.” it’s a way of thinking about ourselves as interconnected. We cannot exist in any meaningful way without each other.
As we look to the future, we need to look back to places like Haiti to learn how to use our resources wisely.”
Well put, and I wholeheartedly agree, as detailed in another section of my web site. And this quote also articulates why I consider my seemingly very personal portraits as being on the same trajectory as my work in Haiti.
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.
Jean Saint Louis, Fisherman at Ville de Dieu, with his son.
Port Au Prince, Haiti. December 18, 2010
I am about to leave for PAP, and hope to see Jean Saint Louis once again, almost a year later to the day. His relaxed attitude belies the tension we were all feeling after hearing gunshots a couple of blocks away. As we headed out of the neighborhood, guided by Jean, we drove past a deserted street – its sole occupant a dead body, in a white shirt, dark pants and feet pointing our way. A gang killing. Like the sewage laden tidal back-flows on which much of the ‘ville’ teeters, darkness flows in, and then, after a momentary silence, back out.