By Kanupriya Tewari
13 January 2010. As darkness envelops Haiti’s people, a community’s songs filter through the air. Moving though the capital city, a photographer comes upon a small medical clinic tucked within the shadows. The bodies of the dead are piled outside the health care center. A number of people are trying to sleep in the building’s congested courtyard despite their evident pain—they lack medicine, food, and supplies. Drawing closer, amidst the dirt and debris, a Haitian woman wrapped in a blue bed sheet extends an outstretched hand in a desperate plea for help. Her pain touches the photographer, who immortalizes the scene.
“Great photography demands questioning,” says Sherman Teichman, Director of the Institute of Global Leadership (IGL) at Tufts University.
From the small inquiries—who is this woman? What has she suffered? —to the larger, more thought provoking questions—where are the medical supplies? What can I do to help her? How can I lift her up and onto her feet once again?
This philosophy, one that pushes people to question the causes behind images, guided collaborators from the IGL and de.Mo Design Company as they compiled photographs and words for Haiti: 12 January 2010, a striking sixteen page folio publication. More than six months after the Haitian earthquake, as media attention slowly shifts to new stories, it becomes easier for people to forget about Haiti’s suffering. This folio provides a needed reminder; it compels people to continue to think about Haiti.
Because all proceeds from folio sales are donated to Partners In Health (PIH), people who purchase the work are not only continuing to think about Haiti, they’re committing to action. Get the folio of Haiti: 12 January 2010.
Photographer Ron Haviv, a co-founder of VII Photo Agency humanizes Haiti’s tragedy through images like the woman in blue reaching out for help. “They allow you to absorb the overwhelming aspect of the disaster as well as relate on a one-on-one level,” says Haviv. “Images are potent because they are immediate and urgent, but they also require context,” Teichman adds. Simon Winchester’s introduction, “Catastrophe, Nature, God and Understanding” provides context, shaping the folio’s powerful narrative.
Though this innovative effort was initiated immediately in response to the earthquake in Haiti, the story behind the folio’s production actually precedes the disaster.
Human rights are central to the IGL’s mission. The Institute challenges students to look beyond traditional humanitarian models that focus on giving impoverished people only food, water, and shelter, and instead to explore the broader social frameworks behind poverty. With this focus on global inequities and iniquities, each year the IGL’s EPIIC (Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship) program explores one central global dilemma: a broad theme that provides the intellectual space for students to explore complex issues. In 2004-2005, EPIIC chose the theme of Oil and Water—it was in December 2004 that the earthquake in the Indian Ocean struck, triggering a tsunami that killed around 230,000 in the region. The parallelism between the theme and tragedy were evident, as were the effects of the disaster itself, leading the IGL to leap into action and produce its first collaborative folio. As the Institute was preparing for this year’s 2010 EPIIC program, Haiti was leveled by a devastating earthquake. The collaborators reacted with a similar sense of urgency.
Ron Haviv landed in Haiti less than 24 hours after the quake. The folio offers a visual testimony to Haviv’s experience; it captures the trauma of January 12 in sixteen unbound posters (36 x 54cm each). Its unique format, as designed by Giorgio Baravalle, founder of the de.Mo Design Company, allows the viewer to absorb each page individually or to hang the entire project on the wall, creating a powerful document that spotlights the earthquake’s aftermath. It is ideally suited for galleries, high schools and universities, and people with a strong appreciation for world-class photojournalism or design.
Choosing PIH as the organization to receive all of the folio’s proceeds demonstrates the collaborators’ commitment to maintaining a long-term partnership with PIH—in 2002, the IGL began this partnership by awarding its Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award to PIH co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer. Part of the award entails that the Institute continue to partner with its recipient over the coming years. “We chose PIH because we have tremendous admiration for the fact that PIH works with its sister organization, Zanmi Lasante, in Haiti in such a sustainable way, and has been committed to Haiti for so long,” Teichman adds.
Understanding that the Haitian earthquake is a long-term crisis, the collaborators want to focus their fundraising efforts on an area where less attention might be centered. Folio proceeds support PIH’s mental health and psychosocial services initiatives, which attend to the Haitian people’s inner, invisible wounds.
This unique picture essay ultimately compels us to question, and to remember January 12, even as time elapses. As Teichman says, it is “of-the-moment, yet also timeless.”