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Bruce Gilden

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.

Related links

Bruce Gilden on Magnum Photos

93 thoughts on “bruce gilden – haiti, 15 months later…”

  1. Incredible what “normality” can look like.. wondering if and how I could/would adapt.. contemplating on what happiness is made of.. thanks for the way too short essay, both Mr. Gilden and Burn!

  2. Number 7 slams, completely. Digging the interspersing of housing images, but maybe too many of them given the brevity of the essay? Looking forward to seeing the development of this and of the foreclosures work.

  3. An interesting take on how survival and the human spirit: what Magnum does best; in-depth work after the press pack has moved on. Photograph 10 is amazing; is it going to become on of your favourites Bruce? I love number 13 too. Again I find myself looking at a photograph of human suffering and thinking “Nice photograph”. People shouldn’t have to live like this and with the amount of aid sent to such places you would think that they wouldn’t have to. I remember watching a t.v. programme some time ago about Fair Trade and a South American farmer was saying that he would much rather have a Fair Trade price for his produce than overseas aid. He said that millions of dollars had been sent to his country as aid and, speaking about the benefits that it had made, said to the reporter “Can you see it? Neither can I”. I’m not saying that people should not give to charities that help in such circumstances, I’m just saying that it’s not a simple “give and it will get better” situation.
    Thanks for the essay, Bruce.


  4. I have to agree, one of the worse showings on BURN, this one has no meat, and from a sanguine photographer like Bruce, it has to disappoint..
    #10 is of course quite an image, but it finds itself as haphazardly in the essay as the others.

  5. marcin luczkowski

    I didn’t like first set of photos from Haiti, but this time I like it a lot.
    The series is really excellent. Subtell and storytelling.

    First series is too much “New Yorker style”. What is a journalistic crime when photographer is in place like Hait after a huge disaster.

    But this time the images are more subtle, more sensitive and for me, because of that more strong and powerful.

    Well, I should say; there is less Bruce and more Haiti.
    And Haiti deserve to be notice in this whole photographic game, in my oppinion.

    anyway excellent piece of photographic works. I love homes series, and great portraits.
    and pictures from nineties are outstanding!

  6. It looks very similar to the “Foreclousure” work in the States.. there it’s human-made, here it’s nature-made… big new empty houses on one side, full little huts on the other.. similar only in Gilden’s choice of photographic approach..

  7. Changed my mind about there being too many housing images. Was tired. The split between those and the portraits is fine. Overall, the series feels short, though. Would like to take a crack at editing a sequence together.

    Eva – yeah, a sequenced mix of those two projects could be interesting and powerful in it’s own way, too.

  8. Pingback: SD1 And Gilden In Haiti | Fotography

  9. Huh. That’s it? Almost feels as if something didn’t feel right for B.G. about being there. I like the hut pictures but the people pics seem oddly distanced and out of context. Or maybe he’s holding out? Not sure how this BURN exclusive assignment works. Maybe DAH can elaborate. I’m a huge fan of B.G.’s work (and defender of his working style) but I expected more than this.

  10. I really think its brilliant…
    i got used to all the “typical Haiti” photos (crowded scenes, too much info- drama in one photo, more like a Massimo Vitali photo-object, more like a heavy metal senseless nonsense guitar solo, than something “focused”)
    Ive seen so many Haiti photos that all look like a scene of the “same movie”…
    This essay though, especially the carton “houses” did it for me…Great work, simple, brilliant i think…
    not too many corpses and/or starving kids..but focused on their “new life”..new “houses”, “neighborhoods”, “cities”..
    yea unfortunately there is no future for Haiti im afraid!

  11. 8, but especially 10…ahh number 10 photo on the above slideshow…the giraffe looking boy…brilliant…
    and all the carton houses pics of course…they (“houses”) somehow look more happy and alive than those Foreclosed houses we saw a while ago..

  12. Thanks DAH for finding way to fund the production of new work by one of photography’s iconic image makers. I think there may be room here for discussion about the difference between work created over a relatively short period, and or work made on assignment, from worked culled from a lifetime. Viewers digest work so quickly now – perhaps just 3 mins to process years of dedication and creative effort. Of course ideally any given day’s take will be sublime, but despite the photographer’s level of command and authorship, it still seems to me that the old standards of one frame in 36 as a keeper, and one in a year or so as a real celebration – make a degree of sense.

  13. #10 is stunning and memorable. The remainder, to me,somewhat forgettable.

    If you decide to post,Bruce, did you travel outside Port au Prince ?

    What I come away with in talking with a few people with connections to Haiti and in a small
    way from this short piece is that ‘Haiti is done’.
    I’ve never been so I have to plead ignorance based only on what I see and hear secondhand but
    it seems there is no way out. The damage to the core of the country (Port au Prince) seems to vast
    to overcome.
    I’ve seen no coverage on anything outside Port au Prince and wonder if the rest of the country is in
    as dire a situation as the capital?

    “Thanks DAH for finding way to fund the production of new work by one of photography’s iconic image makers.”

    Me. Not so much. I’d rather see funding of this nature directed towards new talent.
    I sort of expected,visually, what B.G. delivered but I would be much more interested to see
    how someone like Panos, for example, would respond to this situation and what type of visual document
    he would return with

  14. a civilian-mass audience

    number 9 is the one for me…MASS…thank you

    a civilian-MASS Audience

    back to my aisle:)


    i think your thoughts parrot what is potentially the substance of the discussion here, that is beyond the topic of Haiti itself…Bruce of course would want everyone talking about Haiti rather than his pictures….

    i have in my possession three HCB Life Magazine assignments…all three “disappointing” at first…why? because they are nothing at all like the HCB books which generally contain material gathered over a long period of time…the first response could be even “well why is HCB so great, this Life work is not seminal..i could have done that well”…could you? HCB in this case, as Bruce, probably worked for just a few days on his commission…if Bruce did indeed make even one “Gilden image”, which most readers seem to think he made, then he nailed it…percentages are rarely higher no matter who the photographer on a short shoot…

    i am sure you well know this from your own assignment work…remember Burn is a magazine…we also will publish books which are compendiums , as we did with Anton, but the day to day use of this space will mostly be magazine oriented works in progress, rather than finalized bodies of work as should and will be properly established in print form….while Anton’s book is now very popular and selling like crazy, i am sure Anton would be the first to say that if you had sliced out any given four to five day period of his larger body as an assignment, then you might be saying “disappointing” as well…surely that would be the case for me and my work …and for most street photographers who are not shooting in the controlled studio….

    great photographers are not factories of production no matter how talented…as a matter of fact, mediocre photographers are way way the better “factory producers” and are frankly the most often employed….

    the mediocre take pretty damn good pictures all of the time……great photographers take great pictures some of the time…whereas mediocre photographers never take a great picture….

    you will never ever get LOTS of greatness from anyone over time with very rare exceptions …my reservation with this work is that i only wish as Mike Kircher does that it was longer…the mind of Gilden is always fascinating to me…yet i am not a fan of every single picture either…or of every single picture of anyone…

    i received an email from Bruce this morning, just before i decided to post here, that while he originally agreed to answer questions here, he has changed his mind and will tell me why he has changed his mind…i will tell you what he says and his reasoning…guessing he prefers mystery to explanation…that his pictures are what they are, and that is that…that is ONLY my guess…

    no disclaimer, just offering perspectives…the best way for anyone here who doubts this is of course to go out and try to be consistent and powerful simultaneous…just does not happen…IF you can make it happen, the world will beat a path to your door!! or, at least i will :) .. and so will every other magazine…

    by the way, commissions from Burn are indeed exclusive and whether or not you favor every single image here, you are seeing all of these for the first time on Burn…this will be our mantra for the future from both this audience and any established photographers who may be published here…we cannot do it always, but we can do it much of the time..

    please know that we are ready to commission any reader here who has the stuff…show us….show us what you can do in a limited time frame…that is why we are here…and financing for your work will be coming from this audience …and this audience is here i believe because we will showcase masters like Gilden and Anderson (Paolo Pellegrin with exclusive work coming Burn 02 in print), yet as i told my Magnum colleagues a couple of days ago, the highest proportion of work comes from you……so keep commenting for sure…but also, go do some work…the bar will keep getting higher…you have the venue…nobody has any excuses…not Gilden, not you, not me…

    is this not the best of times? empty canvas…let’s paint…

    cheers, david

  16. MTOMALTY..

    the majority of Burn funding here DOES go to new talent..i must say you have me scratching my bald head with your comment…i mean really, have you actually not noticed what has been our mantra for the last three years? that is what Burn is all about…we just gave $15,000. to new talent and 90% of what is exhibited here does go to unknown new photographers…i will publish icons from time to time , just to keep the blood flowing and add perhaps a certain kind of cred…but we have been paying emerging photographers all year long for new essays on Burn…has this somehow escaped you?

    very hard for me to imagine how you, a regular observer here, could make such a comment when in fact Gilden has 10 pictures now published here on Burn and Panos has had at least three essays and dozens of pictures from L.A. from Greek riots, from his motel room, lead shot of Alec Soth (all Burn assignments)….and yes we will give him even another assignment when he has an idea that appeals…. i am Panos fan number one…if you look at Burn 01 and 02 upcoming, the emphasis is clearly on the unknown including a long essay by Panos!!…of the 25 photographers published in 01, only 5 were established photographers…my oft stated ratio and i hold to it…

    i.e. Anton is unknown…perhaps now known because of his exposure here but our first Burn monograph is in fact from an unknown photographer and all of my work here on Burn is with the icons of tomorrow, not the ones of today…

    now Mark, what is your idea for an essay? ready to let you cut loose…let’s see for real what Tomalty is all about….go for it my friend…

    cheers, david

  17. I personally like this essay. For me, Bruce is attempting to show the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of extreme hardship and he is attempting to do so in a short period of time. Ironically, for Bruce, he does not stick a camera in the faces of the Haitian people and then take his leave: this has been done again and again. Instead he focusses on how the people have, albeit out of necessity, made homes out of practically nothing. It is at once inspiring and saddening.
    On the subject of having a “name” photographer like Bruce get an assignment from Burn; I find it most interesting to see how an experienced photographer copes against a deadline and to see what he can capture. Again, for me, Bruce has a keeper with number 10: I expect to see this photograph again and again. Photograph 13 may well be a sleeper; one of the quieter photos that becomes more important as time passes.

    I recently watched a short video featuring Bruce in Derby, England, where he was a guest at a photo festival. In the video he mentions that he has been photographing for 40 something years and he considers that he has taken about 25 great photographs. Photography in general and street photography in particular is not easy. It seems like it should be easy but it’s not. As I’ve mentioned before, I asked a photo shop owner (when I was buying my first b&w chemicals, processing trays etc.) “Is it easy?”. “It’s easy to do badly” was his reply.

    I like the idea that if I submit work to Burn that I’m up against, and have an equal opportunity as, anyone else, established or not.

    DAH, hope the nose has healed,


  18. Still think 07 slams it, that’s badass. And there’s something about the shanty houses filling the frame in similar fashion to the people in the portraits that really suggests how cramped and forced those living conditions are.

    Got a feeling this essay, while being far from Bruce’s best work (due no doubt to time limitations), is being read with tired eyes and that a lot of the interesting stuff in it is being missed that way.

  19. David, I’m glad to see you moving towards exclusivity. Being somewhat old-fashioned in publishing matters, it’s always bothered me a bit that Burn publishes so much re-hashed work and that the same work, and usually more, is almost always available on the individual photographer’s website. I don’t mean to be too critical on this since I know that is the way of the photo world these days, but I still hate to see it. I suspect the lack of exclusivity probably plays a part in the general devaluation of our work. Why pay to see someone’s work, or pay to publish it, when it’s up there for free? Tends to become more of a charitable operation than the old good honest pay for good honest work. And I can’t help noting that when I go to the sites of top professionals, I don’t see gallery after gallery of unpublished work.

    Anyway, I’m glad Gilden’s not answering the criticism. I didn’t see any that particularly begged an answer. Me? I like the repetitive back and forth of the shacks and (presumably) the people who live in the shacks and would also like to see more. I know that the current thought is that it’s best to leave em wanting to see more, but wish there was more of an opportunity for more long form essays. In a world inundated with half hour sitcoms, one hour crime dramas, and 90 minute summer blockbusters, I just can’t comprehend why so many of us cringe at the idea of a ten minute photo slideshow.

  20. MW…

    well, the work published here comes often from submissions..work the photographer wants us to see…if a photographer has something else on their website that may eventually be viewed as better, there is not much we can do about it…that for sure is the responsibility of the photographer submitting…i mean , we cannot be private detectives and see as a story submitted that we like and then go back through that photogs portfolio and determine they should have submitted something else..that would require another whole team of people and a waste all around…

    we are now obligated to view at least 500 submissions per month…a full time job yielding few yet the occasional morsel..i think we just have to do this….the back and forth with every photog we publish can be daunting…we would love to figure out a way around it, but i do not think it is possible…this is the serious work work work of Burn that has had all of us at one time or another ready to throw in the towel…on the other hand, we have seriously considered eliminating submissions altogether and just going after work we know or discover as we move around through various festivals, from workshops , get recommendations etc…

    even with the system we have, i am sure you cannot find more than about 30% that you have seen prior…and interestingly Michael, you have no doubt noticed that the New York Times and National Geographic have recently taken stories originally published here on Burn and featured them prominently…see the latest issue of NatGeo for Mike Brown’s Libya iPhone shots for example..

    we will definitely be looking for original material as much as is possible…and yes of course if we go to a pay for some material system, it must be original…i.e. Burn 02 will have some essays seen only in print first, for Burn online later…

    cheers, david


    interesting point…tired eyes, cynical eyes…..the bane of our craft and mostly of almost all blog reading….yes democracy of point of view is to be desired of course…yet the crowded room with everyone shouting and with a voice, makes some want to just go walk by the river…not sure what the answer is because one does want everyone to have a chance to speak…i guess this is where traditional arbiters and editors come into play…no perfect system….for me personally, i like to sit down with a good book or magazine that is edited by someone i trust…or a movie directed by a director i like…seeing everyone’s everything is just too time consuming and exhausting…in the next few years , there is no doubt in my mind that a hybrid experience will evolve..people will tire of the open forum….lots of talk, and little action…some high quality open forums will indeed thrive as they should, but i think even now the ranting on some blogs has many going out to chop wood instead….

    alas, before THIS statement gets misinterpreted , i am NOT talking about what seems to happen here on burn and specifically NOT referring to any comments on this story…Burn seems to have in general the most divergent points of view, and yet for the most part comments are written with sophistication and aplomb…we rarely rarely go off the rails here…

    a pleasure to meet you in Paris ….mixing champagne with tequila with red wine was not what i had in mind the night of the Magnum party..but we all make mistakes sometimes…live and not learn is my motto

    cheers, david

  22. Not that I frequent many other blogs, but one reason why Burn works the way it does is because things here HAPPEN, it’s not just talk, it’s FACTS, be it assignments like the one here, meetings, books, online pubblications etc.. if one wants to, here s/he’s got a real chance.. nice place to hang out, makes one work, hard even, but nice :)

  23. Thanks Mike R, and since you’ve expressed interest regarding processing, I use pretty much the same workflow/philosophy as Anton described for you in the other thread. RPP is a powerful developing tool but more difficult to master than most. Best advice is to use the keyboard, not the sliders.

  24. DAH, great quote and very true “great photographers are not factories of production no matter how talented…as a matter of fact, mediocre photographers are way way the better “factory producers” and are frankly the most often employed….

    the mediocre take pretty damn good pictures all of the time……great photographers take great pictures some of the time…whereas mediocre photographers never take a great picture….”

    I do like this piece. And to come away with one or two really outstanding pictures in a few days, well, yeah, that is something indeed.

  25. MW, thanks for the RPP tip. I have looked at RPP: I’d never heard of it until Anton mentioned it yesterday, and after downloading it was rather baffled. This is probably because I’m a “When all else fails, read the instructions” type. I’ll have to read the instructions (groan). I usually use Aperture – but like the Lightroom “Paper White” (Flash) web pages. Does anyone know if it is possible to turn the Lightroom interface all-white i.e the photo background and the data and adjustment boxes? I hate the grey of Lightroom. Aperture allows everything to be white: very slick, very Apple. Aperture photographs look sharper to my eye too: possibly because the photo window is larger?



  26. DAH,

    Yes you are quite right about the limitations of time and assignment. I guess I picked up on the “dedicating another opus” to Haiti part of Gilden’s bio and thought well he’s going to have to do more than this!

    On a second look I quite like most of the photos and the mood of the piece though a few feel like mere warm-ups (ie esp #8) compared to Gilden’s normal work. And no more is not necessarily better (and I wouldn’t expect every image to be a masterpiece) but a longer essay I think might have given us more insight into the subject at hand, which is the really the ultimate purpose is it not?

    Also new rule: never comment when one is sick (nasty earache the last few days!).



  27. I love this — something about Gilden’s shots gets at an emotional core that most photographers can’t seem to access — I’m inspired by that and his commitment to place, going back to Haiti over and over really teasing out a deeper view. The shots of the people read like Gilden’s other shots, and the shots of the houses have a kind of Walker Evans feel — very straight, an unadorned look “this is what it is.” People living in shanties now that the aid agencies and disaster relief efforts have evaporated? It makes me want to go to Haiti to pitch in.

  28. Erica, good points. You are right of course that perhaps we are expecting too much, and being too quick to form an opinion. Sometimes I warm to a series after a few viewings. In this instance, upon viewing this group of photos many times, I still like the same couple of images that I did in the first 20 seconds. My overall impression is still the same. In the end, we respond with our gut, and not with our heads. Pictures speak to us or they don’t.

    DAH, “great photographers are not factories of production no matter how talented…as a matter of fact, mediocre photographers are way way the better “factory producers” and are frankly the most often employed….

    the mediocre take pretty damn good pictures all of the time……great photographers take great pictures some of the time…whereas mediocre photographers never take a great picture….”

    (If we extend that equasion, does it suggest that great photographers take mediocre pictures much of the time? )

    I can identify with your statement. I don’t know that I’ve ever taken a great picture. But I do come back with the goods all the time, every time, which is why folks keep handing over their credit cards.

    Is it better for a photographer have a huge bag of tricks, or just a few great party pieces that can only be pulled off occasionally? Is it possible to have both? Are there photogrpahers who are both prolific and make great pictures? Exactly what is a great picture?

  29. DAH, it seems it’s already happening with open-i.ning and with Flak Photo’s facebook set up.

    Agreed about the champagne, tequila, red wine mix. Lethal.

    Long day with my hip hop work today, bad weather but maybe have something. It’s starting to take shape as I learn more about them. They seem to be getting comfortable with me, I need to channel all energy into committing myself to this. Be there in hear and spirit, as well as by eye, give my all to shaping this. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m excited that it’s getting underway. Thanks for the chatting about it. Brief moments where I “clock off” from work to talk about the work. Funny how comfortable that way of living is.

  30. GORDON…

    yes, of course..great photographers, or great anything, only are able to be great occasionally…which is why very few truly great talents can even do an assignment at all….Koudelka on commission? no way…some super talents can produce on demand, but not all…so yes, that means they too are mediocre or worse maybe even really terrible much of the time…really really on or really really off is what i have seen over and over…there are as always exceptions…during a lifetime of work, i think you will see the super talents will produce a long line of work…but some, like Robert Frank , have very very small bodies of work…even HCB had perhaps 6 great years…yes, both men famous their whole lives, but not really doing the best of the best that whole time…Salgado? very short period of the best…i could go on and on…Davidson on the other hand still doing some of his best work…as is Webb…i could go on and on here too…to excel at any given time requires a complexity of actions and moods and passions and inner connective synapses…rare air as i once wrote…all of us must always be trying for that one little gasp of the precious moment…know when it is in front of us, know when to go all out, and know the difference between a job well done and something with that special spark called great…

    cheers, david

  31. You’re bang on, Erica.

    I find while shooting on various subjects over time that one project can yield a healthy crop of fine images in a relatively short period but that projects running parallel can be very unproductive. And that the goal posts shift regularly. It’s very rare indeed to be “in the zone” simultaneously over several projects. And yet I can’t work on just one project. I have to have a few balls in the air at the same time much like reading a biography while also enjoying a novel.

    How about others?

  32. I’m intrigued by this idea that few people that are really good can do an assignment. Is this related to the very specific and individual look or voice that great photographers tend to have? For example there is a recognizable Gilden look — DAH you mentioned Davidson, again he has a very specific approach — close, emotionally visceral and yet respectful and compassionate. I hate to use labels but Davidson seems like one of the masters of the environmental portrait. There’s a recognizable individual aesthetic that runs through the work of many of these folks in the stratosphere of photography. Alternately when I look at some of the work of some big dog photojournalists I get the impression they have a set repertoire of ways of making anything interesting — whether it is high school track meet or an assignment in a war zone — but the shots, while good, seldom rise to the level of great. These sorts of considerations are important for beginners — maybe working the same kind of approach that is personally compelling — over and over — is as important as learning to carry around a big bag of tricks?

  33. M AVINA…

    yours is one of the best and most useful questions i have seen here for awhile..and much of what i have written above would apply….

    the long and short of it….DO NOT LEARN TO CARRY AROUND A BAG OF TRICKS…i hope that answers your question…sure that works for some short period of time…but the audience i have here is a whole bunch of pretty damned dedicated photographers…not directly interested in “how to get a job” nor “which is the right lens?”…serious are these…so i tell everyone here to do the righteous thing not the right thing…

    so i tell folks to just do their own thing…work from inside….in the mirror…do not give a shit what anybody else thinks, unless you got one helluva lot of respect for them..if you have that mentor, then rejoice…i had none…this is not a new idea and probably everybody says it, but in fact i do it, live it…straight up and clear and with no financial motive for myself…they know that ..they meet me…they can see it…and besides a few pieces of my work, what i have is a rare and heartfelt gift i can pass down to the next generation….

    you are welcomed here…

    cheers, david

  34. Sara, the other thing is whether or not putting ketchup on a hot dog is a sign of psychosexual immaturity or a manifestation of Freud’s thanatos principle, which states that all condiments seek their own destruction, whether or not there is mayonnaise and relish available.


    Yes I do recognize very much Bruce succeeding in his goal in this essay… I think David’s point is a good one, the difference between the two is important… and given that distinction I hold Bruce’s essay here very very high… I mean just look at #10… getting one of that calibre in such short notice?

    Having said that, here’s my ratio which scares me to death every time, but now since this discussion a little less… 3 years, 30,000 shots, 90 good ones, and 3 which I am actually proud of… one good image for one year of photographing… I must be crazy I think sometimes, but that one image gives me a far greater satisfaction than anything else and is what keeps me believe in myself to keep on going

    as david says, if i were to show any random 4-5 day slice, you would see 99 or 100% very very bad stuff :-)

    hugs, a

  36. ANTON..

    another way of looking at it , is that it is not want you did not do , or did not get, but what you did do and did get…you have proven that it is best to forget what did not work..you well know this is my philosophy….a few pieces above the bar is all i ever wanted…working on it..that is the fun part!

    cheers, david

  37. Photography, to me, isn’t really about the photograph.. that’s only the last step of the dance.. hard to explain, easy to understand.. but then, I’m not a photographer so I better shut up..

  38. Eva…
    Please explain :)
    Yes you are a photographer and a very good one and even though you persist on underrating your talents :)))).

  39. Re; assignments versus personal work etc.

    I found that shooting and writing “regular” articles for mainstream magazines (basically newspaper style photography/writing; not Nat Geo and Time etc!) actually dulled both my writing and photography (especially the latter). Had heaps of good comments from people; but the pieces were descriptive generic articles.

    I eventually stopped and looked at where I had got to and decided I must have taken the wrong fork in the road somewhere! I loved meeting the people I was writing about; loved most of the stories; but you had to deliver what the magazines expected. And that expectation was generic newspaper style stuff.

    The work I was producing was “good” (but not great); not at the level I want to get to; I never had the time to work on stories for long enough. So I decided to risk chucking the mag work for 12-24 months to see if I could indeed move the work to another level.

    Now; I’ve spent close on 12-months shooting personal work with only the very occasional magazine piece. It’s been the hardest (photographically and financially) 12-months of my short photographic “career”, but artistically it has been the most satisfying. That is because I have been able to concentrate solely on the work and stories I want to produce.

    I do feel that if I was still on the magazine treadmill my work would have stayed in a rut. Have I financially “made it”? Nope. Artistically “made it”? Nope but still trying. The one thing I have found though is that when you put your balls completely on the line it clarifies your vision. Having no fall-back plan can actually be more of a help than a hindrance!

    A deciding factor in my chucking in the magazine work happened after I re-read Bill Allard’s “Hutterite Sojourn” article in Nat Geo. To me that piece was a perfect amalgam of words and images; the sort of work I wanted to pursue (and what I left the supermarket to work on)

    I don’t know how this will all end up, I do have a sort of plan but it’s a moveable feast so I just put the nose to the ground and follow the trail wherever it leads; for better or worse.

    It has been incredibly frustrating; forever shadow boxing and chasing your tail (sometimes simultaneously I think) pursuing the end goal of better work; which often ends up in a continuous bout of navel gazing (see; males can multi-task!). But; I’m glad I took on the challenge. Sorry for rambling on a bit there… :-)

  40. Gordon asks “Exactly what is a great picture?”

    It is the one that socks you in the stomach, that causes a sharp intake of breath, that has you shaking your head and saying “How in the hell did he/she do THAT?’, or simply makes you grateful to have seen it. And months/years later you are still seeing it in your mind’s eye. You never forget the great pics. They stay with you and inspire you. It is why we do what we do even if we never take a great shot ourselves. Just the fact that someone else has is enough.


  41. GORDON…

    well you shifted a bit to great pictures when i was talking about great photographers…a different discussion entirely..i was referring to photographers who had made a mark so to speak and the nature of being prolific…just remember we can all see that many a great picture can be taken by anyone and not necessarily ascribed to a great photographer

  42. Anton wrote, “if i were to show any random 4-5 day slice, you would see 99 or 100% very very bad stuff :-)”

    Then,based on portions of the definition being discussed here you are already ‘iconic’ :))

    DAH wrote,
    “very hard for me to imagine how you, a regular observer here, could make such a comment when in fact Gilden has 10 pictures now published here on Burn and Panos has had at least three essays and dozens of pictures from L.A. from Greek riots, from his motel room, lead shot of Alec Soth (all Burn assignments)”

    Then I apologize and stand, obviously,corrected.
    I was not aware these were commissions.

    DAH wrote,
    “now Mark, what is your idea for an essay? ready to let you cut loose…let’s see for real what Tomalty is all about….go for it my friend…”

    I’m thinking kittens. Or chickens. But Greek ones. With attitude :)

    Seriously, there are legions of more deserving people who could benefit from the exposure than I.
    Plus, I’ve long since ’emerged’. Just not, excactly, where I planned.
    I have to initiate the ‘re-emerging’ process before I step up to the plate.

  43. Geez I am glad I never became a photographer and took up putting books together, did the same when my sculptures/installations became books ………………no need to search for that non existing holy grail one can “just do!”

  44. “Defenestrate your Nikon?!”

    Michael, we’ll thank you to keep your loathsome personal habits to yourself. The idea that an innocent Nikon can be defenestrated in public in this country without the police stepping in and putting a halt to that sort of thing only shows how pervasive the moral rot has gone.

  45. I guess that I am one of the few that thinks that Bruce got it right with his presentation, it’s awkward, disconnected just as Haiti must be at the present time ……………and hopefully it will be so for a short time

  46. From AKAKY – Sara, the other thing is whether or not putting ketchup on a hot dog is a sign of psychosexual immaturity or a manifestation of Freud’s thanatos principle, which states that all condiments seek their own destruction, whether or not there is mayonnaise and relish available.

    I only hope that (a) this is directed at me, (b) it makes even less sense to others than it does to my tired head right now and (c) I can one day write something half as brilliant as Akaky. Or Akaky IRL. I’m not sure which/who/what/where/when/why/wah

    I like hot dogs.

  47. I have just spent about an hour, composing a long brilliant post here, only to see it dissapear when I clicked to the previous comments to reference something. Suffice to say it was absolutely profound and would have been life-changing for all of you. Ah well.

    I’ll try to pull myself together now and come up with something even more brilliant later. Meanwhile, spagetti for dinner tonight. Yum.

  48. While a great photographer may only present us with a few images of stature over his career, it is maybe a better contemplation to open ourselves to the ability in which he may actually change our way of viewing an image, or of seeing in general. Such a case could be made for those visual artists – or photographers – whose output doesn’t necessarily match his reputation. We can re-think David’s examples of Cartier-Bresson, Salgado, and Frank in these terms. I would also add Wall…and Gilden.

    In this essay edit Gilden gives humans and huts equal status. What is so striking is the lack of lumber in the encampments. Little wonder, since Haiti has all but been denuded of its forests for firewood; the largest industry in the countryside is wood-gathering for cooking. As the fields eroded from deforestation, farming suffered with the result that many in the country migrated to Port-au-Prince, and their eventual fates. Photograph #4 shows a sliver of nature between two sheets of plastic, an exact repeat of the form of the man in shadows, giving us a foreshadowing of this eventful transition.

    What we see is a patchwork of plywood – no doubt imported – and hardly any lumber in the constructions. U.S aid is seen by means of a tarpaulin used as an exterior wall. Signage becomes a tattoo, a needed mark of individuality in camps where there are no addresses. Gilden uses iconography as iconography, a metaphor for the patchwork of the Haitian experience, and the aid it needs.

    For Gilden, two important approaches fuel his work: the idea of shooting closer, and the need to shoot himself. It cannot be argued that no one gets closer to their subject than Gilden, and to me this how he shoots to find his soul. (David has also, often, told us to look in the mirror.) The two facets are combined, and for me, is the fascination of photography. In the final image a hut is sitting on a floor of concrete, with a sea of darkness behind it. It brings to me the association of Gericault’s “The Raft of Medusa”, and the hell the people on it went through – not unlike that which the people of Haiti are undergoing now. That Gericault’s painting begat Rodin’s “Gates of Hell” brings me full circle back to Gilden’s image, leaving open-ended the potential or failure that awaits this country. Judging from the discussion under this essay, it may also be a question Gilden is asking of himself.

    But for me, he is first among equals.

  49. In my experience, doing significant work demands extended periods of time where you are able to devote all of your time just to photographing. This also demands chunks of money to fund it. The work that I did 8 years ago at age 25 when I spent a year in a village in Romania is still my best work. I still have yet to get much of that work out there since I turned to trying to make a living before I had time to bring the project full circle and get it published as a book. I realized recently that I was actually keeping myself from moving forward in my life and career as along as I delayed bringing the project to fruition. So, I have stepped out and am devoting all of my time to getting the work in book form. Koudelka always said he shot 1000 roles of 35mm film a year. . . year after year. That’s a lot of images for just 65 shots in “Exiles”!

  50. Although I looked at it right away, I just now get into this one late and reluctantly. Like everyone else, I stopped clicking when I reached number 10 and just stopped and stared. To me, every picture was excellent. Did it advance my understanding of what is going on in Haiti, beyond what I already know? I don’t know for certain, but I think so. If so, it was the interspersing of the shacks that advanced that understanding for me.

    As to the rest of the discussion, it both encourages and depresses me. I could elaborate, but then I would have to focus too much on myself. In fact, I did elaborate, but when I read back through it, I saw that I had focused too much on myself and that seemed pretty silly, since I was looking at the work of Bruce Gilden.

    So, my take on it: every shot was good to excellent. Ten was great.

    And that’s pretty damn good.

    Now I need to find a taco somewhere.

  51. “do not give a shit what anybody else thinks, unless you got one helluva lot of respect for them..if you have that mentor, then rejoice…”


    Very good words, indeed. I have been lucky enough to have a mentor, and it has helped me tremendously. Just as great, I have had the opportunity to meet (online and in person) other photographers that have given me so much information, motivation and perspective. Taking all that together makes shooting kind of like treasure hunting. Mentors/advisors/self evaluations all act like clues to your destination.

    Lift a glass to all those photographers who have helped others find their way.

  52. OK, spagetti eaten, reader’s digest non-life changing version.

    Patricia. Yes, photographs that stay with you. I carry a lot of great photographs around in my head with me, some by great photographers, some of my own, and some old family snaps.

    DAH, yes, Bruce Davidson came to mind early in this discussion as someone who’s prolific and consistent. I bought Inside Outside last year. These books are far and away my favourites of all the photo books I own. I’m astounded by them. Interestingly, he has also been a commercial shooter, which will have had a role in building his discipline and chops.

    Much amazing work over the years is the result of commissions for money. Work on demand, discipline and chops. Think Sistine Chapel and Rembrandt, or Bach. Some of my photographic heroes are people who did their own thing, but also could produce on demand, and produced large bodies of work. Steichen, Penn, Avedon, Art Kane, Meyerowitz, Neil Slavin, Sam Haskins, and many others. Amazing skills, amazing imagry all. There is a contemporary list of photographers I admire as well.

    We all have bags of tricks. Every photograph is a trick. Technical skills, or visual tricks, include knowing how to mix flash with ambient light, using slow shutter speeds to make creative use of blur, using exposure controls to place a subject in silhouette, high key or low key, photoshop skills, film developement tricks, etc etc etc. Other skills or trick include cultivating that HBC eye, unusual angles, awkward or otherwise moments, compositional cliche’s on and on, etc etc etc. Sometimes..maybe too often for us older folks, we rely too readily on our bags of tricks. This is the advantage of the young and in-experienced.

    Love ya all. Let’s fill our canvas’s

  53. David.. Paul..

    Sorry, crashed earlier.. now out shooting.. explain, how do you explain the urge, that bug sitting in not only your brain, but your soul too, the MUST go out looking for someting you don’t know if you’ll get it, see it, FEEL it most of all.. not for others.. the thing that is the answer to the ‘what and why do I do it’.. yet if looking at others work there comes that YES… uhmm, sorry, it feels so clearly in my mind, words are just words..

    (Paul, not underrating anything, just knowing where I stand, that’s healthy)

  54. On the subject of iconic images…
    After a couple of days in Paris…
    Close to Magnum and a couple of astonishing Burn photographers…
    Start with…
    Just producing work, shooting and letting the images talk/blog…
    Looking in the mirror and maybe it’s what you’re avoiding which could be a good subject…
    It helps if you’re invested personally with the subject…
    Because it’s all very well to choose a subject/essay because it’s a popular subject for the audience…
    But if you’re not infused with a love for the work at hand you may create a good essay but…
    Weren’t we talking about the iconic, rare air…?
    Leaving a mark…
    There’s fun involved but there’s a hell of a lot of bad hard work…
    But if your subject is infatuation to the highest degree the good times will be so high…
    It ain’t about money…
    It’s a compulsion…
    Photography should be a prerequisite to living if you’re to jump the chasm…
    Many fall in the chasm…
    And never want to try it again…
    You will fall…
    Oh yes…
    But it’s your obligation to try again and again…
    If you’re after that rare air…
    But wait a minute…
    No, it’s a compulsion…
    You must go that extra step closer…
    It may mean intensity, love, being hellishly uncomfortable…
    The average air is always snug, secure…
    But the good work is always on the edge…
    Those round you or love you may not like the edge…
    Be prepared for a couple of goodbyes and tears…
    This is a solitary journey on the fringe…
    Not the average crowd or congregation…
    You must be free…
    Deep down it’s about allegiance to your voice…
    I’ve heard the other side of the chasm is so sweet…

  55. “A good image (Iconic image) can’t be analysed, this isn’t mathematics. You won’t find the secret, it’s just brilliant and that’s it.”
    John Gladdy 23/06/2011 at the Magnum party


    just to be 100% clear, Panos’ Venice work came in before we started paying commissions, but the work was a mentored and edited assignment from me from Burn, as were the Greek riots and Alec Soth…the discussion was not about money though was it, but more about having a chance to produce on demand??

    if you were talking about who got paid to go on original assignment here from Burn, then yes you are right, and Gilden got paid and Panos did not…if this is specifically the case in question, then i stand corrected on your very specific comment…IF tomorrow i sent Panos out to shoot Venice, then he would be compensated as well…that was then and this is now, and also remember that when Panos shot Venice, i had no clue if Panos actually could pull it off….as it turns out he did…and was duly published here as well as in Burn 01 and on the big screen presentation at Look3..so i feel Panos rewarded and now on deck for whatever he comes up with next…

    in the time that Burn has existed i have watched photographers grow…some who were totally unknown as photographers have now picked up a following..like Panos, like Laura, like Anton, like Patricia, like Erica,like Mike Y, like Kyunghee Lee, like Audrey, etc etc…this is my stated and only goal here..to give the worthy a break…i have taken my time, and sometimes funding if possible, and given it to these photographers so they may make a mark if so deserved…

    i think, but not 100% sure , the first paid assignment here was to Laura for her original work on Egypt…next was to Paulo Pellegrin whose original work you will see upcoming in Burn02…please go back a few dialogue posts and all is revealed…

    so the payments for original new on demand work are skewed so far in favor of the iconic yet the funds overall are skewed in favor of the emerging…

    actually stands to reason…as an editor the iconic are iconic for a reason..most likely to come back with the work…however, ready to give a newcomer a chance at any point IF i think they can do it…

    again, 95% of whatever funds we have here to give photographers still goes to the emerging photogs…i think what happened here Mark is that you were giving a specific case, and i was generalizing…

    if Panos had an essay publishing tomorrow, he too would receive compensation…things have evolved here over time…by the way, and i have written this a few times here, Panos does deliver on demand….he is very very good at taking a fast assignment here and delivering….Panos is dependable and fast and makes very interesting work and would actually, perhaps ironically, make a good day in and day out working photographer with a real flair…

    in general what we want to set up here is a venue for young emerging photographers to perhaps at least get a break..get some exposure…get known for either being able to produce on demand or be funded even if the photographer has no interest or ability to shoot on demand…the on demand component is not a prerequisite, just something to be noted..many assume a good photographer can automatically “do it” anytime, which is of course not the case…the financial comp is token at best no matter what except for the EPF grant which really allows some new work to be done…

    again, so so sorry if i misunderstood you Mark…transparency is always my intent here…occasionally i literally forget what i did in sequence..that is why my whole biz plan here is HERE..we can always go back and see that everything is a matter of record…

    in any case, would welcome any ideas you may have for original independent work ..for you…from you…we do not have a budget here to just throw money here and there, so we must be judicious, but if you have a truly brilliant idea, then we would be likely to go for it…

    cheers, david

    It is nice to see you responding to my work by posting comments. I just want to answer Mtomalty’s question:
    No, I did not travel outside Port-au-Prince this time. Last year when I returned to Haiti five weeks after the earthquake, I went to Leogane, the epicenter of the quake and the devastation was massive. Sadly, the quake has worsened the general situation that has been dire for many, many years. When I went back home last year and people asked me how different Haiti was after the earthquake, it was sad to me to acknowledge that the only difference was that many buildings were down and there were more physically injured people. Unfortunately, last time at the end of March 2011 when I went back, people weren’t sleeping in their cars or in the street like one year before, but for many people the squalid living conditions had not improved. Bruce

  58. “this is my stated and only goal here..to give the worthy a break…i have taken my time, and sometimes funding if possible, and given it to these photographers so they may make a mark if so deserved” – DAH


  59. Hi Bruce! :))

    First of all, CONGRATULATIONS on being published in BURN! I say this without the slightest bit of irony because i think it is not only a great magazine but also a great outlet for a photographers work. I say that as both a photographer/writer who has had the honor of being published by BURN but also as a friend and supporter of this great place and of david. You may not remember me, but i’m the friend of David’s who told you, at the Drake, (after wine but before the Patron) that: ‘you have beautiful eyes, they are like my grandmother’s’…..so, i hope you still don’t think i’m totally insane ;))

    More importantly, not all members of Magnum (or others) have had the opportunity to showcase their work, so I think it is fantasitic that both you choose and were chosen to share your long-term project here.

    Anyway, about the work:

    To begin with, it is very interesting to read the comments. I think the HARDEST thing for a photographer (or any artist, writer, musician, barber, etc) is to fight with EXPECTATION. As a photographer, I struggle with this all the time, fight with it really. What i expect my work to look like and result in, but also what other’s expect and i am, nor my work, is anywhere the calibre of Gilden’s. Bruce as such an inimitable style and for street photography is really sui generis, that anything, i am anything Gilden does is going to conflict with what others expect a Gilden photo/series to look like. For that alone, i celebrate this work, just as i celebrated Bruce’s work in Fort Myers (i city i know well) and detroit, as very much defying my own expectations. Actually, there is something much more subtle that is going on here than might be snatched at first glance. This is NOT the Gilden of Go or the Gilden of NYStreet face/flash/crash…..this is a gilden that is much more ‘distant’…in other words, a gilden that i met (in person) that is trying to pull the lives of these people to the fore, rather than the life of the ‘photograph’….

    I love that he moves from ‘home’ and architecture (the shacks) to portrait and back and forth so that over time the viewer actually begins to SEE not poverty and blight and squalor (although it is there) but humanity. The homes begin to look loving and tender, built with idosyncratic tenderness. This happens after looking at it a number of times and seeing that in almost every face, even the sleeping ones, there is a smile, a laugh, a gentleness…these people are incredibly loving and warm to the viewer…and that is what Bruce has captured…and the misery comes from knowing that these people sill suffer so much…it is an incredibly nuanced and subtle approach….

    i dare anyone to keep looking…click house, click portrait, click house, click portrait…you’ll see it after a number a viewings….

    the portraits are both soulful and simple…no photographic pyrotechnics…just expression and moment. a sharing….and those boxes and homes…i too love to photogrpah houses/boxes (actually they make up a large part of Loomings) for the visual design…the painterly element…but also a house, built, always reminds me of humanity, of us….what matter way to udnerstand people, a nation then to look at their homes……what do all our mcmansions tell us about ourselves….

    so, congratulations Bruce for a beautiful and sublte and tender and PAST-EXPECTATIONS essay….this is in direct relationship to the work you did in Fort Myers…and the funny thing: you seemed to have found more openness, more love, more caring in these faces, in these lives than in the golf course homes in Lee County……

    powerful, subtle work….i would ask viewers to not think ‘gilden’ and look at this series a number of times again….

    all the best

  60. ALL:

    a quick note about having Bruce here (paid) and the other Iconic photographers published/being published.

    I shout out: GREAT! :)))

    i will be blunt. I want to have my photography shown, exhibited, published, looked at with any other photogrpaher. I want my own work to be seen with the greats of photography and with the unknowns. I want it all to be even. in fact, i HATE this whole thing about ’emerging’. what does that mean. I never became a photographer thinking, ‘someday i want to be like david harvey or moriyama or frank or giacomelli or ackerman or d’agata or sally mann or witken or marker, etc’ I just wanted to make photographs.

    I think photography is NOT/NEVER about verticality. There is no ‘moving up’ in the world of photography. of course we learn and develop and mature, but all great photography moves me no matter who does it. And i think having iconic photogrpahers here only enhances the work of those ‘unknown’ because it proves that there are no real divisions, that it is all equal, that what matters is the work, not the name.

    I once was lucky and honored to have been asked to exhibit a photograph in a group exhibition in Hong Kong with some of my hero’s: moriyama and araki, as well as with a number of chinese photographers who are no rich and famous (rong rong and danwen) and at the time, i was really really humbled, but also i thought, what better way to show that photography is about communication and expression, not about name and glory. suffice it to say, i’ve never been as happy with my own solo exhibitions then i was that time, with the exception of an exhibition i had with marina and dima and then the BURN exhibition in NYC and Washington. because those exhibitions were about community and celebrating the role of all photogrpahy, all styles and ages and experiences.

    I was not paid for Bones of Time and if I am fortunate enough to have Loomings published (something i’ve made exclusively for david and anton), i don’t care either if i get paid, vis-a-vis bruce/alec/paolo/laura etc. What i care about is that this magazine celebrates photogrpahy…..celebrates each other…

    what great promotion of young/emerging photogrpahers than to be in the same edition as harvey/gilden/anderson/parr/nachtwey/mann/ballen etc…..

    i say BRING IT ON….the known the iconic and the unknow…it is all good….

    i’m with Erica: i think it is BRILLIANT that this magazine that began on Road Trips has turned into a magazine and a publisher of stories and books and other things…and I’m thankful, every fucking day for DAvid’s belief in all of us….

    meaning: david’s belief in all of YOU!….

    raise high the roofbeems…


  61. These are righteous images. I am drawn primarily to the dwellings, and like the way they work with the portraits. They beg the question, ‘what is habitat?’. And then, ‘who lives here?’ I think it important also, as Bob Black mentioned, to look at this work as part of a continuum. Fort Meyers, Detroit and Haiti. And to be aware of the photographer’s intention. “My work on foreclosed homes in Detroit has actually been a continuation of a project that started in Fort Myers, Florida in September 2008. For me the major concentration of the work is on the houses or what’s left of the houses. I chose to photograph them mostly straight on like my street work in a very blunt fashion. To let the houses speak for themselves.” (http://blog.magnumphotos.com/2009/05/detroit_the_troubled_city.html). Exactly. And to me the houses here in Haiti speak volumes. Yes, they are shacks. Yes they are the size of what most of us would deem a good-sized closet. Nevertheless, they declare that hope is alive with the people who built them. There is an almost religious efficiency in the use of materials, mostly recycled, it seems, and a lively,jovial functional Dadaist use of words and images from the found stuff. Compare and contrast the façades here to those of the homes of Detroit. The straightforward, unadorned manner of the photos invites scrutiny and engenders a narrative that fits like a hand in a glove with the portraits. Wonderfully evocative images.

  62. Pingback: Gilden in Haiti: The Man Behind the Camera, In Front of those Other Men With their Cameras « Prison Photography

  63. And to follow up on mtomalty’s question about Haiti, no most of the country was not directly effected. Leogane, the epicenter lies between Port-au_Prince and Jacmel and everywhere in that area (the center through the south) was pretty much destroyed. The rest of the major cities like Aux Cayes and Cap Haiten weren’t hit at all, though you can imagine that the destruction in the capital has made what was a barely functioning country break down even more no matter where you live…

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