As seen by Haitians

The other day I came across an article on NPR about some projects in Haiti that were using photography as a way to show Haiti–two years after the earthquake–through the eyes of Haitians. As explained by photographer Maggie Steber, from FotoKonbit, an underlying belief of their organization is that providing Haitians with cameras to document their world, “gives them the power to show us what they think is important, beautiful, strange, funny, and… share intimate things that you and I might never see otherwise.”

It’s hard to be critical of any organization that is working to promote awareness about a terrible situation, especially when it seems like most of the world has forgotten Haiti… again. But after reading this quote I was admittedly skeptical. The logic certainly isn’t faulty, but it seemed incomplete. What came to mind was an article written by Faye Ginsburg in 1991, “Indigenous Media: Faustian Contract or Global Village?” in which she discusses the importance of new media forms created by indigenous and minority populations. Although Ginsburg acknowledged the increased attention that these media forms have been receiving at the time, she lamented the lack of “serious analysis of such media as both cultural product and social process,” which she suggested “may be due to our own culture’s enduring positivist belief that the camera provides a ‘window’ on reality, a simple expansion of our powers of observation, as opposed to a creative tool in the service of a new signifying practice.”

But then how do you turn photography into something more? Another organization, Eyes On Haiti (which is a project of Viv Timoun) has some ideas. Beyond simply creating an outlet for Haitian perspectives, Eyes on Haiti attempts to “help self-help” through its creative projects, taking the concept of empowerment through art a little bit further. Rather than investing into short-term development or humanitarian programs–which the organization notes have a fairly extensive history in Haiti–Eyes On Haiti invests directly into the population–“into talent, with a concrete long-term plan and result: pro-active young Haitians and independent photographers who, at the same time, might find a way to overcome their pain.”

The impact of these types of project can be difficult to quantify, but hopefully the organization will be able to provide some report of its activities that can serve as a model or inspiration to other groups. The photography workshop began in August 2011 and will run until the end of this month, so we’ll have to wait to see how they summarize their experience. In the meantime, you can check out some of the pictures here.

[image via Eyes on Haiti]

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