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.
deep, beyond my mothers womb
her waters nourished 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|
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!