In Your Face -In Haïti?

Posted: 1 October 2015 in Haiti, Understanding Others
Tags: ,
Creeping Up Personal

Creeping Up Personal

Relief workers weren’t allowed to board the plane in Miami to Haiti until after signing a declaration regarding photography.  No pics without permission, and then – only for medical or academic purposes.  That was not long after the earthquake, in response to so many snaps ending up on Facebook.  On my first trip to Haïti I was keen to take pictures.  Another country, another culture, interesting people and places.  But no – I was instructed: no photos without permission; beware of taking images in public, there could be violence.

The hospital I work with has experienced of groups or parties coming over “to do good”, walking through the hospital grounds, taking pictures without permission.  Nothing I’d ever seen happen before say in Uganda.  No – this gets stopped and these people get shoo’ed away.  I did take pictures, but with my national colleague Yousvel accompanying me, carefully and idiomatically asking, photography was possible.  But it was always circumspect.

Street life in Haïti is vibrant, busy, always changing.  But taking photos again was a fraught business.  When I rode into town on the old ambulance, I poked the camera out of the widow, discretely. And hoped to get something….

Approaching river crossing close to Cap-Haitien, I pull out camera
Colleague: “No No. Not here.  If they see you, there’ll be trouble.”
Cross bridge, onto Rue L.  Camera emerges again.
Me: “Here OK?”
Colleague “No not here either”
Drive onto older quieter parts of town,  Boulevard Cap-Haitien and Place de l’Armee.
Colleague “Go ahead”
Snap snap
But it’s not the most interesting cityscape

One relief earthquake worker, who put a strange mix of suffering, surgeries, and drunken party photos on Facebook, posted a rant defending their right to post whatever they wanted. Their logic: If CNN can film a woman giving birth, then why is it wrong for me to do the same?  Indeed, everyone who works in aid and development knows that folks back home need to know, need to see, or the concern, the prayers, the money dries up.  I know personally that Christmas Cards with pictures of the Christmas Nativity Play in the children’s ward really gets a response.  However, the short fuse on pictures suggests a deep level of resentment, a history of being patronised at best or put down at worst.

Of course, the image being developed might not be the Haitian or the Ugandan, but that of the photographer! Try out “Humanitarians of Tinder”, unbelievable.  And “as soon as I walked into that dusty, remote town and the smiling children started coming up to me, I just knew my Facebook profile photo would change forever,” said Angela Fisher of St Louis.  Really? As much as that?  I’d hope your life would change forever too.

Everyone is made, in diverse ways, in the image of God.  The self image of many is of poor resolution and contrast.  Our images must only work to help others, not polish our own.

Bill

With insight also from Michelle May on MediaShift.org, and The Onion.

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