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Haiti, 15 Months Later…
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Haiti, a land of great spirit and tremendous hardship occupies a special place in my heart. My first visit to Haiti goes back to 1985. Then, for ten years, I made a total of 19 trips, and my work culminated in the publication of the book “Haiti” that earned the European Publishers Award for Photography in 1996.
I thought I was done photographing in Haiti, but when the earthquake struck, I felt the urge of going back. Last February‐March 2010, in Port‐au‐Prince when I saw the enormity of devastation, I feared that once the media attention would shut off, Haiti would fall into oblivion again, so I decided that I had to keep the light burning.
All of the familiar sites I knew had been destroyed. Instead, I found rubble, chaos and homeless people sleeping on the streets, in their cars, in tents and makeshift shelters. For all of that, when I looked around at the improvised shelters that people had built out for themselves out of scavenged material, it seemed to me that the Haitian spirit was alive and shining on the decorated flimsy walls of these tiny huts.
The “residents” of these encampments had recreated all the elements of Haitian life as if they knew right away that this temporary settlement would be their long term home: a one-seat barbershop, a two-pot restaurant, and families taking bath buckets in the open, women ironing and watching TV, courtesy of the diverted electricity from the Presidential palace. The first time I stepped into one of these encampments, it felt awkward, as if I were invading people’s privacy, stepping into an open living room without being invited. But this was the street, this was Port-au-Prince post earthquake last year.
Unfortunately, when I returned, last April, 15 months later, I did not notice much improvement. The encampments were still there, with more small huts built and decorated. The walls display all kinds of statements, personal, religious, and political, and once again I was touched by their poetry, proving that the vibrant and unique Haitian spirit could fall through the cracks of the worst possible living conditions. During this last trip, I was able to capture the mood around, and I felt that I am today even closer than before to the people of Haiti: Older ones distressed by the emotional impact of the earthquake, and younger ones in need of work and leadership to human development.
editor’s note: these photographs were shot on exclusive assignment from Burn…dah
Bruce Gilden, a native New Yorker, has received acclaim for his black and white portraits and street scenes. Gilden has won multiple awards including the European Award for Photography, three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a Japan Foundation fellowship. He has published many books. His work, exhibited widely around the world is part of numerous permanent collections.
In 1998, Bruce Gilden joined Magnum Photos.
While another early essay focused on the famous “Mardi Gras” in New Orleans, Gilden worked from 1968 until the late 1980’s on his first long-term project on Coney Island. It was published in his book Coney Island, in 2002.
In 1984, Bruce Gilden began to work in Haiti where he returned nineteen times. The book Haiti concluded this work in 1996.
Since 1981, Bruce Gilden had been working on his on-going project, the streets of New York City. It culminated in the publication of Facing New York in 1992, and later in 2005, in A Beautiful Catastrophe.
His next project explored rural Ireland and its passion for horseracing. After the Off juxtaposes Gilden’s photographs with text by the Irish writer Dermot Healey.
Published in 2000 Gilden’s next book, Go, is the result of Gilden’s immersion in Japanese culture, with images of Yakuza (the Japanese Mafia), the homeless, and Bosozoku or young biker gangs.
After years of worldwide travel, in 2008, Bruce Gilden felt the need of photographing his own country and draw a social portrait of America in this time of great recession. Gilden has just completed an extended personal project on foreclosures, in Florida, Detroit and recently in Fresno, California.
In February 2010 and April 2011, Bruce Gilden returned to Haiti a country that occupies a special place in his heart. He is passionate about dedicating a second opus to the people of Haiti and continuing to raise awareness on their everyday life struggles.