Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Haiti dancers

Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance

This week I continue the occasional example of showing how an image was used. Here’s a photo from last August. I was in Haiti, covering several things, and I went to the village of Mizak for a few days. While there I shot photos of the Nouvel Etwal, a girls’ dance group that’s part of the multi-faceted ministry in Mizak coordinated by Haitian Artisans for Peace and the local Methodist faith community, and supported by United Methodist Women.

Nouvel Etwal – Haitian Kreyol for “New Stars” – is a dance and creative movement group of 16 girls in Mizak from age 8 to 13. According to Valerie Mossman-Celestin, an organizer of the group, “Nouvel Etwal seeks to empowers girls to be self-confident and creative. The girls learn flexibility, discipline and teamwork, lessons they also need for life. Nouvel Etwal promotes health, well-being and enhanced self-worth. The girls are encouraged to live into a brighter future where girls and women are valued, educated, and have equal opportunity to achieve their potential.”

When Valerie approached me weeks before about capturing images of the girls, I started imagining them dancing on the beach, with the late afternoon sun illuminating them against the deep Caribbean blue sky. Or on a hillside, the early morning sun lighting up their faces, projecting an image of beauty and strength that would provoke a bit of cognitive dissonance for some people who assume Haiti is just about poverty and despair.

It was a great idea. Unfortunately, immediately on the heels of my arrival in Mizak came Hurricane Irene, which at the last moment veered northward, sparing Haiti a direct blow, but mudding up the skies for several days. We carried the assignment off anyway, and made a fun trip to the beach with the girls, some of whom had never gone down the hill from their mountain village to the nearby ocean. I shot stills while my colleague Tim Frakes captured video. It was fun. The photos turned out ok, but not what I’d hoped for.

The next morning, we drug the girls out to a hilltop early, as the sun was just coming up. Well, it didn’t really come up, at least not that we could see through the clouds. We had overcast skies and occasional rain. That didn’t stop the girls. I photographed some of them individually, and then had the group line up across the hillside. A tiny boom box produced a dancing song, and I asked them to dance but keep looking forward into that wonderful dawn sunrise that I had imagined and yet which never materialized, though at times we got some blue sky behind them. So the image works, but the contrast and saturation aren’t quite what I’d hoped for. The girls' faces are too dark. The charm and promise of the girls, however, more than compensates for my photographic and meteorological ineptitude.

The image was chosen by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance for their yearly report cover, and for a matching poster. The artwork is by Designworks, a firm based in the Lake District of Cumbria, in the UK.

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