vendredi 17 août 2012

On Photography: Régine Romain

For our anniversary post a few months ago, I mentioned wanting to incorporate more forms of cultural expression in the content we cover here at Tande.  This post is inspired by that desire in regards to what is called "visual culture."   As I complete the edits for my book manuscript, I have been thinking about photography and images a lot because some of the texts I analyze are visual images of the Rwandan genocide. In relation to Haiti I have often been preoccupied by the question of media images in the USA--which images get circulated, who are they taken by, why are they made popular, and what they convey. More often than not, the answers to these questions fall dismally in line with the predominant stereotypes of Haiti in the international lens. Though I am often the first person to critique these "media images" of Haiti, I think what is more important than critiquing the different images that are out there, is to find alternative visions, images, and lenses (in fact some of the comments to my last post generated a discussion about this issue as well).  

I recently had a wonderful conversation with Régine Romain, an artist who represents one such view.  She literally makes use of her camera lens to project a different vision of Haiti that diverges from what we see in the popular (US based) media.  In particular her "post-earthquake" photography intentionally sought to transform and challenge the proliferation of images that were being published by media outlets in the USA.  As a Haitian living in the diaspora, she felt it was important for her to return to Haiti to "see" for herself in order to expand her own vision. Romain's artistic statement reveals the depth of this vision

put a spell on me.
From inception
deep, beyond my mothers womb
her waters nourished me,
birthed me.
put a spell on me
and to know me
is to see her.
My magic is her spell." 

-Regine Romain © Ayiti (Haïti), February 2010

Much of her work focuses on this spell. Romain's images are striking in terms of the angles, the poses, the faces.  She focuses on faces rather than bodies, perhaps in direct contrast to how, especially in the aftermath of the earthquake, Haitian bodies were highlighted, objectified and spectacularized.   Instead, Romain focuses on faces, eyes set in close up, looks defiant and looking directly into the camera without a trace of shyness. With the"Ayiti:  Reaching Higher Ground" exhibition, Romain features series of photos that were taken after the earthquake. The exhibit began at the Brooklyn Museum and is available for viewing at the Schomburg. 

Susan Sontag has written in depth about the uses of photography and the consumption of images in her books On Photography (1977) and Regarding the Pain of Others (2004) both of which consider the objectifying lens of the camera in documenting atrocity and suffering.  Given some recent videos and slideshows published this week courtesy of The New York Times, I am reminded that when it comes to "seeing" Haiti who is doing the looking and how they look is of extreme importance.  While Sontag spends a lot of time detailing what is wrong with images of suffering, she offers few alternatives.  Today we can look to Romain and other photographers such as Daniel Morel as artists who use their lens to show audiences how to see differently by offering breathtaking counter-images.

Photo Credit © Regine Romain, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
In her photoessay "Ayiti: Reaching Higher Ground" Romain explains what motivates her work: "I am her storyteller, offering insight into the lives of Haïti’s extraordinary yet often marginalized and misrepresented people. I look into the black space, into the black face that is often overlooked. People of color are analogous to the black space in the negative of a photograph. We are often the backgrounds that allow the foreground to be seen. I share the remarkable stories of my people to dismantle this paradigm" (Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism 2011, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 132–140). 

As the images clearly demonstrate, Romain is successfully using photography to tell a different story about Haiti that is not often captured through the mainstream lens.   
I have included in this post some photos of her work, more of which can be viewed here. I encourage you to take a look!


samedi 4 août 2012

Olympic Pride & Prejudices

I was actually preparing a different post when I came across this story about Samyr Laine, the Haitian-American Olympian who is representing Haiti rather than the US.  This story moved me as I imagined what it must be like for the parents of this young man to know that they raised a son lot bo who has such prove for and allegiance to their native land.  I thought of my parents, who often marvel at my own passion for Haiti despite the fact that I was not born or raised there.  I thought of my sons and how my husband and I have joked about whether they would represent Haiti or Ghana in the World Cup.  Once I emerged from the fog of my emotions I began to think about Haiti and the Olympics in general and the questions of who represents where and why.  Then I discovered that of the 5 Olympians representing Haiti only 1 currently lives there or has Haitian citizenship.  This is, according to some, problematic [NB I found that article to be very troubling in its tone myself...].   How do we understand the involvement of Haitian-Americans who represent Haiti in the Olympics?  Is there some way to think about their participation that isn't just about identity politics?  Does citizenship matter as much in a worldwide event such as the Olympics?

What also struck me about these articles is how each one seems to link the Haitian-American athlete's desire to represent Haiti to post-earthquake Haiti.  To "lift the spirits of Haitians" as one article puts it, or, "to give hope to the people who have none."  It seems sometimes like another path to a familiar storyline.  Regardless of how the story is spun, the fact is that those participating are proud to represent Haiti in the Olympics and will stand united together as they do.  Here are their names and their events:

Linouse Desravine--judo
Jeffrey Julmis--100-meter dash
Moise Joseph--800 meters
Samyr Laine--triple jump 
Marlena Wesh-- 200 & 400-meter races

Some of these events have already happened, did you follow and who were you rooting for?  Did you root more passionately for Linouse Desravine in judo than you will for those in the other events?  Will you be paying attention to the Haitian representation in the Olympics?