Looking Past the Stereotypes of Haiti

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Dec. 5 2013 1:31 PM

Looking Past the Stereotypes of Haiti

Radio Men Kontre 95,5 FM. Men Kontre (?united hands? in Creole) is the radio of the Catholic diocese of Les Cayes. Sister Melianise Gabreus is one of the stars of the radio. Even if there are no official figures, father Elysee, that runs the radio, says that lots of people tune in for Sister?s Melianise?s program on daily life advice. Les Cayes, Haiti.
Radio Men Kontre 95.5 FM is the radio of the Catholic diocese of Les Cayes, Haiti.(Men Kontre means "united hands" in Creole.) Sister Melianise Gabreus is one of the stars of the radio. Even if there are no official figures, says Father Elysee, who runs the station, lots of people tune in for Gabreus' program on daily life advice.

Paolo Woods/INSTITUTE

Paolo Woods doesn’t want to take a picture you’ve already seen. Although it seems like a given, Woods—who has created photography series around the world—said that he used to battle against making the obvious image. He discovered he was doing a disservice to himself as a photographer and to those around him in various countries who were opening up doors to worlds he hadn’t previously seen.

So when Woods began what would be a three-year-long project about Haiti—his adopted country—that eventually became the book State, he wanted to avoid what he calls “the exceptional” image that has come to represent the tiny island nation: of despair, corruption, and natural disaster. When he arrived in Haiti, Woods first got to know the writer Arnaud Robert, with whom he collaborated on State and who he calls a “real Haiti man.” Woods then got to know the country and its people.

“Not everything is a catastrophe or an event for the front page of the newspaper,” Woods said. “There is a daily life [that] is composed of thousands of small things added together. I did try to attempt to show daily life, and it’s not very photogenic often. And for me that was a challenge because I do live a daily life in Haiti.” Some of the ways in which Woods and Robert show that became the sections of the book: government, rich Haitians, white influence, influence of FM radio, foreign impact, and religion.

At the Karibe Hotel, above Port-au-Prince, two go-go girls dig into fried chicken after dancing for hours at the concert of a local singer, J Perry. Juvènat,  Pétion-ville, Haiti.
At the Karibe Hotel in Juvènat, Pétionville, Haiti, two go-go girls dig into fried chicken after dancing for hours at the concert of J Perry, a local singer.

Paolo Woods/INSTITUTE

A six a.m. spinning class at Ultimate Fitness. In a white T-shirt, the vice president of Access Haiti, one of the country?s major Internet providers. With her hands in the air, Claudie Marsan, a prominent corporate lawyer.  Pétion-ville. Haiti
A 6 a.m. spinning class at Ultimate Fitness in Pétionville. In the white T-shirt is the vice president of Access Haiti, one of the country's major Internet providers. Claudie Marsan, a prominent corporate lawyer, has her hands in the air.

Paolo Woods/INSTITUTE

Règinald Boulos is a doctor, car importer, owner of the major supermarket chain, newspaper and radio station director, and is active in the pharmaceutical and food industries. The descendant of Lebanese immigrants, he writes his own advertising slogans for his products. Here, he is talking to one of his employees. PÈtion-Ville. Haiti. 2012
Philippe Dodard and his wife, Raphaëlle Villard, in their living room in Montagne Noire, Haiti. An artist and the director of the National Arts School, Dodard creates sculptures that are part of many private corporate collections. Villard is known for cultivating rare types of orchids.*

Paolo Woods/INSTITUTE

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Woods said he tries to have a lot of contact with people when working on a project like State. A self-described slow shooter, Woods used primarily medium- and large-format cameras for the book and produced roughly 100 images over the three-year period. He said some of the chapters of the book were printed in magazines leading up to the book’s publication, including a story about rich Haitians, a part of society Woods said many people in the country didn’t know existed beforehand. “Rich people tell you lots about the country,” Woods said. “The rich are a litmus test of a society that tell you the strengths and weaknesses of the story.”

Around the second anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Woods decided to publish a story about Haiti as a travel destination, filled with images of some of the beautiful landscapes around Haiti, instead of going after another disaster story. “My Haitian friends loved it,” he said.

Throughout his life, Woods—who identifies as Italian but whose parents are Canadian and Dutch—said he is always questioning how nationality makes up a personality. He said working in Haiti, which he described as in many ways a flawed state but one where systems are in place that do work, has been a learning experience about how to see another side of life. “We tend to go to places with a certain set of preformed ideas and look for confirmation of those ideas: that Haiti is a poor, miserable place. And I’m sure you can find confirmation of that—it is the poorest country in the Americas—and it has enormous structural problems. But if you go and spend more time there, you start to see lots of other things, more positive things, that make it more complex.”

State is currently on view at Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland, through Jan. 5.

StÈphanie Renault-Armand (on the left) with her daughter. A writer, publisher and director of a communications firm, she has lived in Haiti for years. In the house of entrepreneur and decorator Pascale ThÈard, surrounded by her collection of paintings from the Saint-Soleil movement. Port-au-Prince. Haiti
Stèphanie Renault-Armand (left) with her daughter. A writer, publisher, and director of a communications firm, she has lived in Haiti for years. Here, she's in the Port-au-Prince house of entrepreneur and decorator Pascale Théard, surrounded by her collection of paintings from the Saint-Soleil movement.

Paolo Woods/INSTITUTE

A borlette office. Haitians invest two billion dollars every year in these private lotteries ? nearly a quarter of the GNP. They are often referred to as ?banks? since the poor invest their money in them. Camp Perrin. Haiti
A borlette office in Camp Perrin, Haiti. Haitians invest $2 billion,nearly a quarter of the GNP, every year in these private lotteries. They are often referred to as "banks," since the poor invest their money in them.

Paolo Woods/INSTITUTE

Erol JosuÈ, singer, dancer, director of the National Ethnology Office and vodou houngan priest. He lived most of his adult life in France and the United States. In his Pèristyle, or vodou temple, in Martissant. Port-au-Prince.
Erol Josuésinger—dancer, director of the National Ethnology Office, and vodou houngan priest—in his Pèristyle, or vodou temple, in Martissant, Port-au-Prince. He lived most of his adult life in France and the United States.

Paolo Woods/INSTITUTE

Graduation ceremony for the teachers? college at the Université Publique du Sud aux Cayes. Les Cayes. Haiti
A graduation ceremony for the teachers' college at the Université Publique du Sud aux Cayes in Les Cayes, Haiti.

Paolo Woods/INSTITUTE

A group of missionary tourists arriving at Toussaint Louverture Airport in Port-au-Prince. Every year, the Christian NGO Mission of Hope receives 5,000 American visitors who spend a week in Haiti. Tabarre. Haiti
A group of missionary tourists arriving at Toussaint Louverture Airport in Port-au-Prince. Every year, the Christian NGO Mission of Hope receives 5,000 American visitors who spend a week in Haiti.

Paolo Woods/INSTITUTE

Correction, Dec. 11, 2013: The caption on the fourth photo originally misidentified Philippe Dodard and his wife, Raphaëlle Villard, as Règinald Boulos and one of his employees.

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