Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Port au Prince posture

Children practice capoeira on January 24 in a camp for homeless families in the Belair section of Port-au-Prince. The program, run by Viva Rio, a Brazilian nongovernmental organization, is designed to help children affected by the quake recover their emotional well-being. The ACT Alliance is providing tents, water, psycho-social consultation and other support for families living here.

I'm a little late posting this week as I wandered off to New York City for three days, where among other things I signed copies of Rubble Nation, a new book on Haiti that I coauthored, at a reception in Manhattan. So I was thinking a bit about the images in the book and what they evoke. And what visual narratives I try to avoid. Besides "disaster porn," which makes survivors victims and turns aid workers into white knights, there's another photographic genre afoot that needs shunning. It's a sort of "voluntourist porn" that populates the slide shows and flickr pages of volunteer groups that have returned from Haiti. It inevitably has smiling native children and suitably grimy fellow group members as they climb in and out of the van on the trip back and forth to the worksite. Very little of the real Haiti, but it serves as great fodder for the inevitable potluck when the group returns home, a sort of visual wampum that can be exchanged for affirmation that makes us feel good about ourselves. And I'm not just talking about church groups. A friend commented to me on the most recent Jimmy Carter Habitat for Humanity mass build, which just took place in Leogane, Haiti: "They never saw Haiti, and weren't allowed out of the either the 'residential compound' or the work site. All they saw of Haiti was the road from the airport, where they boarded buses straight for Leogane, and back. . . some people felt they were in a prison labor camp." That's criminal. Because when you break free from the handlers, Haiti is a fascinating place, and Haitians keep surprising you. In the days after the quake, one of the more surprisingly hopeful places I found was the Viva Rio! project in Belair, where Brazilians were teaching kids the fundamentals of capoeira. It gave the kids something to focus on other than the hell they'd lived through. The instructors kept it low-key, as they didn't want the kids sweating a lot, as there wasn't much clean water to drink. It provided a different kind of image for me, which is the name of the game in a place like Haiti right after the quake. With so many photographers from around the world crawling all over the place, what image can I capture that tells part of the story that no one else has exposed? It's a large and complicated story, of course, and no single image can sucessfully relate it, but one facet of it that certainly needs to be told visually has to do with the strength and energy of Haitians, including Haitian children.

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