Rejuste Lamercie sorting coffee, Cafevieres de Baptiste (coffee farmer’s co-operative), Baptiste, Haiti, May, 2013
It is with some trepidation and excitement that I received notice of having been nominated for the Prix Pictet for the photographs I’ve been making in Haiti. The prize “is an international award in photography and sustainability. It was founded in 2008 by the Geneva-based private Banque Pictet. The mandate of the award is to use the power of photography to communicate messages about sustainability to a global audience. Its goal is to uncover photography of the highest order, applied to current social and environmental challenges.” It is by nomination only, and photographs are invited each year to submit a folio. Needless to say, I am up against some of the most amazing photographers and photo-journalists in the world, and to be nominated is in itself a huge honor. This year’s theme is ‘Hope’, and intended to find photographers whose work examines “some of the positive actions on sustainability that are beginning to emerge by contrast with the alarming analysis that constantly assails us in the global media”.
The award will be announced some time in July, but I don’t expect to progress further than this point – it is plenty far! Nominees are asked to submit ten photographs, supported with a statement. This is what I wrote:
Haiti has been characterized as a nation to be both pitied and reviled. It is largely seen as self-defining and self-determining microcosm, overly familiar with pain and suffering and now, one that seems to only function by attracting or self-inflicting more of the same. These are false characterizations.
I believe that Haiti and its people have been in a state of long-term trauma, much of it inflicted from the outside. While my photographic work from Haiti strives to understand this narrative of disintegration, it concentrates on the matter of survival, resourcefulness and hope. Throughout, these images express themes about the humanity, tenacity and persistence of the Haitian people. They move from Haiti’s lack of government and infrastructure, and the iatrogenic effect of global aid, foreign policy and non-governmental organizations, and point to the places where all of this is actually working. And working in a way that matters: affecting the day to day lives of rural Haitians, where communities are becoming healthier, sustaining their environments, and educating their children.
Haiti’s trauma has been 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. This work acknowledges the quieter attitude. Photographs always resist complete explanations. The specifics and stories around a photograph beg for conversations, which provide the architecture for a long-term understanding and vision of the future, for hope. This work reduces the distancing effect of pity by bringing attention to details: a tea pot in a farmer’s kitchen serves as indicator of access to water, tea, and time; a mother taking baked bread to market in order to pay for her daughter’s schooling. These photographs call attention to moments of humility and hope within a more natural order. Thus, what manifests in Haiti, despite all of its struggles, also renders some effect closer those of us who live elsewhere. Heaven is not some place else or some time else, but rather a folding of time and space into the ‘here and now’. Seeing Haiti as a place full of hope becomes an opportunity, as W. B. Yeats put it, for the falconer to see the falcon and the falcon to hear the falconer, while sustaining an ever ‘widening gyre’*. This work grows from disorder, but strives to spread hope. It is a reminder of what to strive for, globally.
*’The Second Coming’, W. B. Yeats
My deepest thanks to the two people who nominated me, and to all of those who have guided and supported my work in Haiti for the last 12 years. You know who you are. This work, as they know, could never have been done without their help, encouragement, and most of all, the commitment each of them have to community. I have learned so much from this, and continue to do so. In being recognized for the photographic work, what is really being honored is the influence they have on my life.
There will always be an insufficiency of words to thank you for this. Mesi anpil, zanmi m.