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PHOTOBLOG: Portraits from Haiti

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 11 Jan 2012 02:43 PM
Author: Melissa Phillips
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

CHECK OUT THE FULL PORTRAIT GALLERY HERE

By Melissa Phillips

I tried to find as much information as I could prior to arriving in Haiti. I searched news websites, photo archives, Flickr, Youtube, Vimeo.

I watched documentaries covering topics related to gang activity and the devastating earthquake.

The story was consistent – Haiti is a dangerous place. People are poor, victimized, uneducated. Those living in slums wade through muck and rubble, at times resorting to mud cakes for food.

 

Disease is everywhere. Hunger, rape and kidnappings are common. The only slivers of light I found were on charity websites reporting their progress. Some of those things are true some of the time, but there are other sides to the story too.

Haiti has been called “a nation of NGOs”- UNICEFOxfamWorld VisionRed Cross and many others are all there. 

I’d heard photographers refer to the Haitian people as proud, resilient and strong and yet their photos didn’t seem to reflect this.

The day after I arrived in Port-au-Prince I met with a fixer (local guide/translator) and asked to see the city. We darted through the smoke-filled traffic by motorbike.

 

We continued up into the hills where there were views of concrete houses stacked and scattered along the mountain side. We rode past markets and merchants, rubble, collapsed homes, camps, colourful shops, tap-taps, burning trash and stray dogs.

Connecting the dots were millions of people going about their daily activities. There was a buzz to the city I’d never read about – a complicated palette of colour and circumstance.

 

In the aftermath of the earthquake I understood it was especially crucial to report on the widespread devastation. However after two years, I found Haitians eager to share that their country is also more than rubble, ash, corruption and violence.

I chose to work with the Haitian people to share their spirit through portrait work, deliberately de-emphasizing the environment that usually overshadows them. It wasn’t my intention to ignore their suffering, however I felt this work was another perspective that was important to share.

These portraits were incredibly difficult to produce because of the negative relationship Haitians traditionally have had with outside photographers. They were all completed by willing volunteers with the help of a guide, much dialogue and establishing trust in the work I was doing.

I initially focused on people I felt contributed to the buzz of the city – those working in markets, the motorbike taxis and local artists. I have stories and other details to share related to many of the photos I’ve posted. I hope to include them in future updates.

 

CHECK OUT THE FULL PORTRAIT GALLERY HERE

Melissa Phillips is a freelance Portrait/Documentary Photographer

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