The Haiti Street Children’s Photography Workshops: How they started?

The people, culture, poverty, and violence of Haiti are all attractive to photographers. Countless international photojournalists go to Haiti, mostly during times of political upheaval, and through them the media show the world a limited view of Haiti. Most of the images we see from Haiti are violent, but there is also happiness, beauty and especially pride. I wanted to create an outlet for young Haitians to develop skills to document their country’s continuing history and its daily life from their own perspectives. During my first trip to Haiti in January 1997, while documenting a home for street youth, I began the Photography Workshops. My love of photography was what I had to give the children. Hundreds of them were living at Lafanmi Selavi, a home created in 1986 by Jean-Bertrand Aristide when he was still a parish priest. Some children had never had their picture taken before, most had never seen a photo of themselves, and none of them had every used a camera. An opportunity was created for kids with no resources to do something completely new, nurturing hidden talents, adding skills, and offering them a way to tell their own stories and express themselves. At the Workshops, we teach the importance, history, and uses of photography, technical information, instruction in the operation of a 35mm camera, and encourage visits from professional photographers. The fun has included an amazing pinhole camera workshop put together by visiting San Francisco photographer Matthew Millman, outdoor slideshows, a permanent exhibit in Port-au-Prince, and students receive income from sales of their prints and postcards. Just to hold a camera is an exciting experience. The kids have worked individually and in groups using photography to interact with their community from a different perspective. In 2004 and 2005, our Photography Workshops thrived at Caritas St. Antoine, a small home for street children in Port-au-Prince. Twenty students went on field trips, photograms were created in a makeshift darkroom, Haitian photojournalist Evens Sanon presented his story of becoming a professional, and two U.S. photojournalists visited the class with their digital cameras. In 2007 and 2008, we went south to Jacmel working with Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC), a nonprofit that cares for 50 impoverished children daily providing art classes, meals, and financial support for school in a newly rented safe and secure house with enough room for a gallery. ACFFC also integrates the local artisans into their program as teachers and mentors, and the children have begun showing and selling their artwork.