Behind the Scenes: A Child's Eye View of Haiti

  • Posted on: 20 June 2010
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Lens, the New York Times photography blog, recently covered a Zanmi Lakay photography project in Jacmel.  Through Zanmi Lakay, 28 Haitian children were given cameras and asked to document different aspects of daily life in a city trying to recover and rebuild.  A description of the project is below.  The photos are well worth a look and you can view them by clicking here.  Who knows? Perhaps one day, some of these children will become photojournalists themselves.


Behind the Scenes: Child’s-Eye View of Haiti



They sweep through the streets of Haiti’s fourth-largest city, Jacmel, photographing the evolving daily life of a nation as it rebuilds. Moving quickly, they capture the resurfacing of a bustling market or a family settling into its new home inside a brightly colored canvas tent. Sometimes they meet resistance from residents, who worry that their tragedy might be exploited. Other times, they breeze through areas unnoticed, candidly photographing subjects who are acclimating to their new environments.


For two weeks, 28 young Haitians used their perspective as citizens to create a distinctive document: pictures of Haiti, as it regenerates, through the eyes of insiders. With point-and-shoot digital cameras, students ranging in age from 9 to 18 participated in a project organized by the nonprofit Zanmi Lakay Photography Workshop, run by Jennifer Pantaléon, 48, and her husband, Guy Pantaléon, 41.


Students were assigned eight different themes including a newly risen tent city at Jacmel’s largest soccer field, business and the marketplace, schools (many of which have toppled or been destroyed), rubble removal and clean-up crews. The Pantaléons honored the students by referring to them as photojournalists, likening them to the news crews that had swarmed to Jacmel. Andy Levin, the editor of 100 Eyes Magazine, and five other photographers were on hand for a few days to help the students. He said the “directness and straightforwardness” of their work had informed his work. “Hopefully, some of the kids will go on to make careers out of photography,” Mr. Levin said. Beyond acquainting themselves with a camera, the students have gained a deeper understanding of their community and a new faith in themselves. “Because of what I learned in that class, I feel I am on a new level that I wasn’t before,” said Fedno Lubin, 17, whose photos of the tent city can be seen as Slides 1, 4 and 8.


Zanmi Lakay (Friend’s Home), which the Pantaléons established in 2005, is concerned with improving the lives of street children. Each year, the Pantaléons hold workshops in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel that cover technical applications and the history of photography. Their students come from families often composed only of sisters and brothers, or single parents or distant relatives. Some participants are orphans. None of the children in the photography project can afford school. The Arts Creation Foundation for Children sponsors their education, food and living expenses. “Just holding a camera in their hands was something they never imagined they could do,” Ms. Pantaléon said. “With no school since the earthquake, we have been trying to find activities that enrich and educate, keeping the kids busy.”


It certainly seemed to have worked for Michou Jouissant, 14. “The moment I love the most is when they gave us subjects to work on,” she said. “They gave us subjects to work on, even if we’re not journalists, too, and we did our work well and I like the work I’ve done.” It’s rare you see kids like us get a chance.”


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