The Third Heaven – photographs, Haiti 2006-2012
UPDATE (March, 2018) – Now available – The collection has been compiled as a book – jump down to see a video of the mockup
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 tenacity and determination. They point to greed, 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]