Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tearing Down a Mountain . . .

A few past posts in these pages, and more to come with a little patience, expounded on photos taken during a trip to Haiti in February, 1997. Through a convoluted series of coincidences we were invited to stay in a house in Petionville which belonged to Alice Izmery, the sister of Antoine Izmery, who was assassinated on September 11th, 1993 outside a church service. The house we stayed in, a beautiful place, was being rented at the time by Rudi Stern, who received us graciously. Rudi passed away in August, 2006, you can learn a little more about him in this obituary which appeared in the New York Times, and from many other internet sites by Googling his name. Rudi was in Haiti at the time making documentary films, some of which were broadcast on the PBS network in the US. Several past posts in these pages were dedicated to Rudi.
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Just down the road a short distance from that house in Petionville, where there was a voodoo chapel in the valley behind the house, and a neighbor was a former Tonton Macoute, the entire side of a mountain was being torn down, stripped of white rock, being hauled off in trucks little by little. There was already a huge scar in the side of the mountain. With picks and shovels, backbreaking labor, the mountain was being stripped.
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Haiti is a very intense place, a nightmare in paradise, intense misery for the majority contrasted with incredible wealth behind walled compounds for a minority. Gunshots ring out at night. Men reduced to the level of ants in the stripmine here. Intense poverty. The Cité Soleil on the outskirts of Port au Prince is one of the most wretched slums in the world . . . (for a few more photos of poverty in Haiti I found this site...) And now over 12 years later, I wonder if the mountain is still there, or if it has been totally leveled by the scratching and scraping of picks and shovels . . . I would love to go back and see for myself, but I hesitate, as Haiti has become a dangerous place to travel from what I've heard more recently . . .
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20 comments:

Laurie said...

Stunning photos, Owen. As you say, they are like ants. So glad I don't work there!
Laurie

Owen said...

Hey Laurie ! You get the earlybird award today for sure ! A free ticket to the Paris-Asnière pet cemetery... But what are you doing up so late my friend... I have an excuse, I work nights during the week, so I stay up late all the time... are you always such a night owl ??? Or just a touch of insomnia tonight?

Jo said...

Omigosh, these are amazing photographs, and they could only be photographed in black and white. Stunning!

The white rocks were probably being used to build the houses owned by the wealthy folks in the gated communities.

jeff said...

Toutes ces personnes semblent des fourmis sur un énorme morceau de sucre ! La taille du verre pour recevoir ces morceaux de sucres... énormes ! ! !
Tu nous as cachés que tu avais fait un voyage chez les Liliputiens ! Du moins, c'est l'impression que celà donne avec la vue de tes photos. Ces hommes sont tout petits face au travail qu'ils ont à accomplir !
Bien que ce soit en Haïti, je crois que tu pourrais transposer, symboliquement, ces images au travail en Europe... Peu de monde pour travailler car beaucoup trop de chômage 'cause le patronnat fait des ronds plus loin dans les pays asiatiques et le travail qui reste à accomplir est une réelle "montagne" à abattre ! ! !
Je ne suis pas encore bien réveillé mais je crois que tu me comprends !
C'est le genre de pays où je ne penserais pas mettre les pieds en ce moment !... Vu le contexte... Je me vois bien entrain de photographier la misère avec un biscuit dans la bouche...! ! !
Non, je ne sais pas si je prendrais alors mon appareil photo... plutôt une chemise, les manches retroussées...

Tes images sont un bon témoignage Owen !
Sur ce, je vais tailler un morceau de la colline de sucre pour en mettre un morceau dans mon café !

Cia Owen ! Passe un bon week-end et pleins de bonnes choses pour toi et ta famille !
Arrivederci amigo !...:-)

jeff said...

What a wonderful world... sublime, et tout en touché ! ! ! Merci pour le tuyau... Du coup, ce dimanche s'annonce excellent ! ! !

Ciao...:-)

Steve said...

Man's humility and arrogance before nature caught in a single endeavour...

Jill said...

They strike me as surreal surveillance shots. Well captured - the laborer in the middle photo, lower left, is in the perfect posture to represent what is being done (yes, they are like ants). And we are looking down, unable to stop it. An important message Owen.

TechnoBabe said...

Everywhere we travel, everywhere we look with eyes to really see, is clear evidence of a huge contrast in living conditions. Wealthy living in monstrous homes with lowly staff to wait on them, and somewhere nearby is always the poorest population thought of as beneath the wealthy, put on this earth to do the labor that money can buy. You speak of this in your post with a caring voice, with your own memories of the contrast you witnessed in Haiti.

Karen said...

Heartbreaking. Over 25 years ago I worked in a travel agency and our boss told us to never send anyone to Haiti, that it was the poorest country in the world, that other poor countries sent raw materials to Haiti to be assembled because of the cheap labor.
What does it say about us as a civilization that we let it continue?
Here in the USA, we have those who scream that health care for all is socialism, communism, or just too expensive. How do they look in the mirror and justify their stance on this?

Leigh Russell said...

a nightmare in paradise
Amazing images, Owen and a really thought provoking blog.

Ann said...

Owen...finally a chance to stop by and catch up...as always,your photographs and words fill my mind with thoughts that might not otherwise enter it. I get so caught up in the problems of my own life,which at times are like quicksand,ready to pull me down..that I forget to look at the world around me..the bad and the good. maybe I need to stop feeling sorry for myself,find the good stuff and think about making a difference in the world..even if it is just a small one,even if it just has a positive impact on one person who needs it. Thank you!

Owen said...

Jo, thanks so much... and I think you're right, either directly, or indirectly, someone is getting rich while many sweat their lives away...

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Jeff, sacré Jeff, tu m'étonnes toujours avec ta capacité plus que juste à trouver des analogies qui sonnent vraies, qui nous créent des images saississantes, qui nous frappent par leur fraicheur, qui nous frappent tout court, et ta capacité de poser des questions qui exigent réflexions profondes... c'est vrai j'étais souvent pas très à l'aise en Haiti, moi le "riche" touriste, quand il y avait carrément pas de touristes, avec mon appareil photo... mais bon, je sentais aussi que c'était important de ramener des images de la douleur de tout un peuple, un peuple laissé grossièrement pour compte par un monde plus que s'en foutiste... exploité à fond par des sociétés comme Disney qui faisaient fabriquer des fringues en Haiti dans des conditions épouvantables... Et oui on pourrait transposer la notion ici en Europe, car le travail dans trop d'endroits sur cette planète est sous le joug lourd et sans coeur des spécialistes de la rentabilité sans souci des ames des hommes et des femmes.... ai, aie, je dois m'arrêter là, sinon je passe la nuit sur ce sujet...

PS Suis content si le "Wonderful World" t'a plu... j'ai eu de la chance de les voir gratuit à un hotel à coté de chez nous hier... quel plaisir...

In case anyone is interested, we were talking about this piece of music :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEFcmt-fJzA

Owen said...

Steve, their was a world of symbolism in this place... shown so harshly here in black and white light...

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Jill, indeed, I was "spying" that day, the unobserved observer, with a telephoto lens, the scientist with a microscope peering into a colony of bacteria attacking a fruit. The man with the raised pick-axe over is head speaks whole volumes to me... glad you noticed that, for me, that detail is the fulcrum of this series of photos...

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TechnoB, thank you for these warm thoughts, my underlying feeling is that we live in a dangerously unbalanced world, the rage of the dis-enherited may yet surprise us. A French author named Jean Raspail wrote a book over thirty years ago called "Le Camp des Saints" about one scenario which is already starting to unfold today... you may color me "highly concerned"... And I fear there are no easy solutions... the power holders seem to wish to maintain the status quo...

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Karen, interesting anecdote, I'll bet today as well there are not many travel agents encouraging vacations in Haiti. Although I heard some cruise ships still stop there, but the place they dock is heavily protected, people come ashore on a pristine beach but do not see what is happening outside the fenced and patrolled property... And I sincerely hope the USA is going to wake up and find a solution for the health care nightmare... funny how it appears that the people most vigorously opposing any coherent actions are those who are fully covered...

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Hi Leigh, many thanks for dropping in ! Indeed, the goal here is to provoke thought...

Owen said...

Ann... it is not easy to stay out of the quicksand... hopefully there are some overhanging vines to hold onto, to pull oneself back out... and making a difference is not easy either for any one person... but we can keep trying...

louciao said...

I was very interested to learn of your late friend, Rudi Stern. A fascinating and creative individual; a beautiful visage. Your tribute to him very moving.

Owen said...

Hi Lynne, he was a truly fabulous guy... and he nearly became my brother in law, but fate had other plans in store...

The Sagittarian said...

Great pix, kinda reminded me of something from Willie Wonka but not sure why!

Patricia said...

Sisyphus, right? The images are rich. Nothing can touch black and white prints. The human condition.

Roxana said...

these are wonderful, Owen - reminding me a bit of Salgado, with less contrast...

Tom Bejgrowicz said...

I love these editorial images. The perspective it spotlights is both intriguing and, in the end, revolting. We humans, we sure know how to strip away and destroy, don't we?