A Disruptive Portrait of Haiti

In a book recently published by Light Motiv, Corentin Fohlen unveils Haiti as a place filled with vital energy. A step away from poverty and violent stereotypes, he offers an alternative understanding of the country.

© Corentin Fohlen, from the book Haïti

When Corentin Fohlen went to Haiti for the first time in 2010, five days after the earthquake, it was with a photojournalistic approach. For several months, the dreadful event made it to front pages all around the world and Fohlen returned several times to the devastated country in the same year, on assignment for various publications.

It was only in 2012 that, tired of news in a strict sense, he decided to go back to Haiti. "I felt like I had glanced over the country and only approached aspects related to the disaster while I had perceived so much energy there. So, I went back, for the first time without a specific theme to investigate", he explains.

© Corentin Fohlen, from the book Haïti 

Fifteen trips followed, on the occasions of which Fohlen aimed to tell a different story about Haiti - its stammering economy, its art scene, its history. "Little by little, I got to know the place, and I realised that what everyone describes as one of the poorest countries is actually one of the richest", he continues. The golden inscription of his book, recently published in France by Light Motiv, leaves no doubt about his vision. "Haitians are tired of being talked about in terms of misery", he emphasised.

He thus focused on the paradoxes of the situation; starting with what humanitarian aid means in this context. Since the disaster, and even before, American NGOs have been organising tours for "volunteers" who distribute water and candies in affected neighborhoods, and mainly take selfies while hugging local kids. "It’s half way between abject and ridiculous", Fohlen explains. "Haiti receives a lot of support from NGOs and I wanted to challenge the idea of humanitarian aid as benignant." A photo of two tourists who gave up washing clothes by hand five minutes after having started translates the ambiguity of such initiatives.

© Corentin Fohlen, from the book Haïti 

"More generally, I wanted to illustrate the absurdity of the country”, Fohlen adds. "As a photographer, I make use of irony, which conveys how complex and ambivalent life is." A country where everything is possible but nothing actually works, Haiti lends itself to irony. As an introductory example, Fohlen features the village of Lumane Casimir, built after the earthquake but never fully finished. "On a small scale, Lumane Casimir is an example of the country’s cacophony - housing crisis, corruption, disengagement of the state, poorly managed humanitarian projects…", he writes as a caption.

What summarises his point stands on the back cover in the form of a voodoo symbol. "In voodoo mythology, this symbol is the link between life and death. It opens the way. To me, Haiti is at this exact stage", he concludes.

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To get the book, go to corentinfohlen.com.

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