Tag Archives: Photography

Scenes and portraits in the streets and settlements of Port-au-Prince

A simple photo post today.

Taking pictures in the camps of Port-au-Prince is an exceptional experience.

There are almost 350 spontaneous settlements here, ranging in size from a couple of dozen to several thousand people.

We have been visiting these sites, ensuring they have sufficient infrastructure, water, medical support. We are now going to start a major effort to remove rubble, in order to clear the areas where the people come from, giving them a chance to get back to their home areas and rebuild. A gargantuan task, a truly gargantuan task.

The Haitian people are extraordinary. If you take the time to chat, be polite, listen to their stories, they are delighted to pose for pictures, and take great joy in looking at them, giggling. I have come to believe that in some ways, taking a photo, and sharing it, offers an opportunity for people to act with dignity, feel significant, even in the most undignified of surroundings.

Yesterday, we took Kris Allen – last year’s American Idol winner – on a tour of one of these sites, in Place de la Paix. It is a breathtaking scene, a massive labyrinth of temporary shelters, crammed together but well organised, supplied with water, latrines, and a population of deeply welcoming people, delighted to chat about our respective philosophies, the future of Haiti, the international system, footballers, and rock stars.

Out of nowhere a kid came up and started rapping with Kris Allen, playing guitar on a condom. Hilarity ensued. Amazing scene. I hope the US showbiz industry isn’t too nervous to show it.

You can see the whole Flickr set here, and another set here.

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Scenes of an apocalypse; more distributions; touring a slum

Drive to the distribution point at Eglise Bolosse – an extraordinary trip through often apocalyptic scenes; an ad hoc tent camp under the ruins of a former gas station…

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…hillside houses crushed; overflowing gutters filled with rubble and plastic and rubbish; a makeshift infirmary under blue plastic awnings, a child with a swollen foot, welts and flies, who squeals with delight when I snap pics and show him the results.

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We are handing out tarpaulins, water and jerrycans to a thousand destitute families; an old woman comes to me and asks “di ri, di ri”. I realise she wants rice. “Desolee; on n’a pas du riz ici.” She walks off, despondent.

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A small scuffle later on as some men sneak round the back and try to steal boxes, but overall an amazingly disciplined affair, hundreds of women patiently in line waiting their turn, happy some help has arrived.

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We continue to explain the shelter strategy – why starting the basis of a transitional shelter is better in the medium term than tents – but it can be difficult to explain.

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So many demands – why haven’t we fixed everything yet? But even in the insta-twitter age, some things simply take time, and in a deeply poor country, clogged by traffic jams, where the government and international aid community were themselves devasted, with only a small airport, port, and a bad overland road to the Dominican Republic, there are absolute limits to what even the most powerful nations on earth can do.

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We have seen those limits plainly enough in domestic tragedies, in rich countries with working systems, let alone here. We are all working very hard to get a difficult job done.

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A guide takes me through a hillside slum. Some of it still stands, some of it has been destroyed. I will post video tomorrow. Spirits still seem OK. Simple kites are flying. Local markets are working – a woman carries a panful of courgettes on her head. Re-establishing basic social systems. Coping.

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Helping Haiti, in photos; a simple way we can all keep the issue alive

I plan to start posting many more photos of what is going on here – the sights we encounter when we distribute items, help organize temporary settlements, create shelter and so on. They can all be found at my flickr photoset called Working for Haiti.

I’ll pick a few every couple of days and post them. I will also be regularly posting videos on my youtube channel markyturner. My first video, of a distribution in all its complexity, is here.

If you like any of this media, I would strongly encourage you to repost, share on facebook and other social media – whatever you can. (All photos are taken by me, except where explicitly stated otherwise; I have permission to disseminate them all).

The international press is going home, day by day. That leaves people like us to keep the message alive. With the decline of journalism, we all assume a responsibility.

Everyone with a computer is a media person these days. Let’s do what we can to keep Haiti present in the world’s conscience.

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(this photo take by Jean-Philippe Chauzy)

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More colours on the Route de Freres

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Colours on the Route de Freres

On one level, the twice daily drive to and from Dorian’s school is a chore. In another life, I am going to become a frontier traffic flow analyst, fighting embouteillages wherever they may lurk.

But take the time to look, and this drive is transformed into something rather special – a feast of shapes and colours, constantly rewarding, always fresh. I hope I never learn to filter it out.

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The traffic jam on the Route de Freres gives me time to stick my camera out the window and snap, even while negotiating oncoming lorries, tap-taps and pedestrians with my other hand.

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Sometimes I get lucky, sometimes not, but I have started to envision a few potentially perfect pictures, if only the traffic stops at the right moment, and the right confluence of people gathers at the right spot.

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It’s a curious thing to see beauty in such poverty. Let’s be clear – there is nothing beautiful about poverty itself. It’s the ugliest thing we know. But there can be beauty in the sights one sees in a poor place. And aspects of Port au Prince are stunning. The more you look, the more stunning they become.

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There is also a wonderful sensation of constant change. Two days ago this wall was white, now it counterpoints with a delightful orange:

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And the colors are so varied. Blues, yellows, oranges… this extraordinary green:

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The vigour of it all is what appeals most. A ceaseless shifting, evolving. I feel I could take a hundred photos of this same street, and each would be remarkably different.

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Disabilities and horses

Photo-based post today. We visited an event where Haitian kids with disabilities were given the chance to ride and interact with horses. A small oasis; at first I was embarrassed to take photos, but the children were delighted, crowding round and giggling at the results.

I have often been slightly taken aback by kids with disabilities: they are so quick to run up and hug you, hold your hand, playful before the camera. Why should it be any other way? But nonetheless, it is challenging for the first moments. It soon becomes an enormous pleasure.

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On adequacy next to Saints

Been feeing a little inadequate. The culprit? The Pullitzer Prize winning “Mountains beyond Mountains” – which recounts the tale of Paul Farmer, a somewhat superhuman physician to the poor in Haiti and beyond. (He now has a job with Clinton here.) If you want to feel good about yourself, don’t read it.

Within one week of his arrival in Haiti, the 22-year-old Paul Farmer was already well on track to finding his life’s selfless calling, and had all but mastered Creole. I have a gnawing sensation that any journalist worth his salt would already be au fait with half the country’s political, intellectual and activist establishment, have unearthed three earth-shaking scoops, and redefined the way first worlders view third world deprivation for a decade.

A Haitian roadside boutique

Hmm. I have a blog, and have only just managed to organize travel outside my house. My Creole consists of decoding the eponymous banner ads slung across Petionville’s streets. (It’s actually quite a fun game. Speak the clipped words phonetically, and meaning emerges in quasi-French).

Adding to my disillusionment, our first serious excursion – beyond house-hunting – is to the seaside. And I am currently at the rather charming Petionville Club. So much for dedicating my life to telling the stories of the disenfranchised.

People, people everywhere.

Still, all comes with time, and let’s face it, as Anna reminds me, Paul Farmer didn’t have kids with him – those delightful, life-affirming, energy-sapping, career-destroying, paralysis-inducing exhaustatrons. Scant comfort, but it helps a little.

This leads me to contemplate a little how I shall measure myself here. I have a sense of wanting to make a difference – although I have grown more realistic (less ambitious?) about how much difference one person can make. Little things.

But what is the yardstick? I guess I shall seek validation through the approval of others. (A normal goal for a social animal, but we all crave it in different quantities.)

A history of journalism for the FT has spoiled me. Almost daily reports garner almost daily reaction – of one form or another. One’s life is constantly validated in a public sphere. It is hard to wean oneself off that drip of quasi-relevance.

I am also taunted by the increasing success of past acquaintances. A couple of bestselling authors. Friends emerging as ‘thought leaders’. Entrepreneurs who have made a fortune by spotting an amazing opportunity. Documentarists. Scientists. Doctors. etc etc.

I wonder whether I should instead seek my current validation through the happiness of my children. Hmm. I mean, I love them to bits and all, but it doesn’t quite do the job.

From previous positions of employment I often advised others: just do one really cool thing every couple of months, and the rest doesn’t matter. That’s as good as it gets.

Perhaps I should take my own advice. One and a half months to go!