Two Haitian students capture the beauty of their country
In Port-au-Prince, Phalonne Pierre Louis and Philomène Joseph learned to photograph their country’s rich culture and aesthetics with the help of the nonprofit, FotoKonbit.
In Philomène Joseph’s hometown of Gwo Mòn — a rural city in northern Haiti — there was a photographer named Mr. Antoine. “He was the only one in the community taking pictures and everyone knew who he was,” Philomène explains. She had an unwavering curiosity about Mr. Antoine and his pictures: “I wanted to document my community and what I see around me.”
Philomène moved to Zoranje, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, but didn’t let go of her fascination for photography. She started attending an after-school programme held by a local nonprofit called FotoKonbit. The organisation teaches Haitian students and adults to use photography to explore and represent their lives, ideas and communities.
Thanks to the FotoKonbit workshops, Philomène is now a published photographer. Philomène uses the money she makes from selling her photographs to pay for her high school tuition, which she says is “really expensive in Haiti.” She credits the organisation with her success: “Fotokonbit has taught me everything I know about photography.”
Through her images, Philomène aims to show the realities of her country while also highlighting its best attributes. “I am proud of my culture and I think it shows in my photographs,” she says. “I want my photographs to convey the pride I have for my country and the strength and uniqueness of my people.”
Philomène’s favourite shoot was for National Geographic Magazine. The piece featured Haiti through the lens of the country’s photographers. “I discovered many places in Haiti for the first time. I got to learn about different regions and meet new people,” Philomène says of that assignment.
Although Philomène loves to take pictures, she does have some worries about security and her equipment being stolen when she’s out in the field. But she has learned to push past those concerns: “I’ve learned from Fotokonbit and from photography in general that it is OK to get out of your comfort zone. You can discover amazing things when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone.”
25-year-old Phalonne Pierre Louis has been interested in photography for as long as she can remember. The only problem was that she could not get her hands on a camera. Born in Port-au-Prince to a single mother, Phalonne’s opportunities were limited.
In high school, Phalonne enrolled in a FotoKonbit course at the Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince where she discovered her passion for photojournalism: “Showing what happens in my community and country is what interests me.” Phalonne continued her work with FotoKonbit throughout high school and now as a university student. She is studying business administration and social work at Faculté des Sciences Humaines, one of the top universities in Haiti. When she graduates, Phalonne hopes to combine her passions and photograph social issues around Haiti. “It is important to have young people telling stories and documenting issues in our society,” she says.
Phalonne’s series about Midwives for Haiti features the organisation’s efforts to support pregnant mothers. She wanted her photographs to highlight the amazing work of these volunteers, while also bring attention to the issue of the lack of resources and skilled care for pregnant Haitian women. Despite the country’s challenges, Phalonne doesn’t like when Haiti is portrayed as downtrodden and ruined: “Haiti is a country rich with great potential. There are many problems as well but what I want to do with my photography is convey to everyone ideas and stories that are useful for my country’s progress.”
Another one of Phalonne’s favourite shoots focused on a young boy named Kenley, a student and football player. Kenley was injured in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He lost his leg when he was trapped under a cement block. Phalonne decided to document his daily life to represent his resilience for Haiti’s news magazine, Challenges.
Phalonne hopes her work will change people’s perceptions of her country: “It's very important for me to communicate something with all my photography because I know — somewhere — there's a person who's waiting for a message that can make them change their ideas or their ways of thinking about everything that happens in Haiti.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Omolara Uthman is a Malala Fund editorial intern and student at Johns Hopkins University. She loves reading, writing and food photography.