The Third Heaven – photographs, Haiti 2006-2012
The collection has been compiled as book – see a video of the mockup
Haiti has a strange and painful history. 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. I wondered how a slave colony could just rise up and have the organizational capacity to defeat a major power, gain independence and form its own government? Second, how could a nation on the doorstep of the world’s greatest economy be among the poorest in the world? 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. And third, why a situation that seemed so overwhelming to Smith, and acutely observed and relayed through his documentary work, continue to feel that way to others over 40 years later?
My first visit to Haiti, made with my friend S. Dixon Myers, was in 2006, and I have revisited the nation at least once every year since then. Each trip left me more confused about Haiti’s situation, more perplexed about what I could do to help. I strongly believe that over two centuries of dubiously motivated European and U.S. foreign policy, and some fifty years of an intense but unregulated presence of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), have extensively undermined government and the establishment of a sustainable and coordinated infrastructure in just about every sphere: education, health care, water and environment, commerce, agriculture. Thankfully, and particularly since the earthquake of 2010 and the presidential election of 2011, it seems that the Haitian government is beginning to take on greater responsibility for some of these spheres. This trend towards greater autonomy has also been helped by the insistence of major NGO’s such as Zanmi Lasante (whose parent organization is the Boston, U.S.A.-based Partners in Health) that their projects be sustained by government partnerships and public sector policy.
I also believe that Haiti and its people are in a state of long-term trauma. If Haiti was a person, this would be the person who is both pitied and reviled by the village, this would be the person who has become overly familiar with pain and suffering and now can only survive 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 short at being pitied. Haiti’s trauma is symptomized by fractured communities competing with each other for resources, by communities susceptible to being fomented by political factions, and by a flash-point response tendency when dealing with natural, human and political stress. I am not saying that kindness, civility and charity are uncommon – I have observed quite the opposite; 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 characteristic.
This collection addresses the quieter attitudes, a third heaven.
This work comes from the generosity and friendship of many people. I will, in an undeservedly understated way, simply say thanks by dedicating this collection 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, 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, Richard Fleming, Richard O’Connor, Robert Joseph, Sadoni Leon, Samuel Perrin, Sidney W. Mintz, Stefanie Casea, 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.
The collection is intended 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 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 multifarious approach is intended to render an immersive experience, and one that echoes Haiti’s complexity.