The Self-Portrait Project is a visual archive project. It uses a two-way mirror and a remote trigger to enable the user to take photos of him/herself when and how he/she chooses. I built the first one in 2009, and since then, itâs become well-known in parts of Brooklyn and beyond.
I just posted Self-Portraits from a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince called Solino, which has an undeserved reputation for being one of the most dangerous in the country. This neighborhood shows another side of the housing crisis in Haiti, as residents from encampments - usually encampments close to some of the more wealthy areas of Port-au-Prince - were paid to move to Solino and other places, leading government officials to proffer that tent camps no longer exist. The reality is that many were simply shifted or pushed to less visible parts of the country, essentially just removing the face of the encampments from view, but not the underlying fact of the matter.
Today, as we head home to Brooklyn, it occurs to me that what has happened in the media in the U.S. over the last four years has been in essence a similar facelift of the issue. There was a great outpouring of sympathy and wealth towards Haiti after the earthquake, but many have simply forgotten since. It is the hope of this project to bring face to the Haitians once again.
Sunday. From our early morning perch at the Hotel Oloffson, we can hear the sound of congregations singing across churches in Port-au-Prince, a soft melancholic drone, punctuated with certain swells of uplifting emotion, a sonic sea just hanging out over our balcony. This hotel is famous for having housed some very well-known people, and in fact many of their names grace the rooms here: Ernest Hemmingway, Jimmy Buffett, Barry Goldwater, Graham Greene …Jean-Claude Van Damme. And last night, the Self-Portrait Project team sat at the hotel bar just a few steps away from where another (in)famous person, Michel Martelly - the current president of Haiti - chose to recline, drinking and carousing with his personal squad of armed guards.
More than halfway through our trip, and with a privileged perspective, it occurs to me that the Haitian people share a quality many U.S. Americans associate with themselves: resiliency. It is something anyone in post-9-11 New York or post-Katrina New Orleans could relate to. In Haiti’s case, hundreds of thousands still live as refugees in their own country. Having no viable alternative, they build encampments in which to live. Having no viable housing policy, the government tears them down. Still having no place to live, Haitians rebuild. Many have been punished twice here: they were punished by the earthquake, and then, punished for surviving it. And still they stand strong, and survive, and rebuild, and rebuild. It is enough to make one feel a devout reverence for the people of Haiti.
Today we will set up shop in the Mozayik encampment, which, after a forced eviction earlier, was able to relocate to a “promised land” in the mountains. Now, they are being threatened with forced eviction again. The filmmaker Jon Bougher made on a documentary on the encampment; we will be screening it later today, luckily enough.
With 4 out of 5 of the team sidelined by a super fun stomach bug the last couple of days, we should be back on track tomorrow to visit encampments with the project.
Encampment residents have by and large been suspect of Westerners coming to “help”, as most of them have been in their situations since January 2010 and nothing at all has changed, except for some of them being forcibly evicted from what little they have.
We are lucky enough to be working with FRAKKA (The Force for Reflection and Action on Housing), a coalition of Haitian community groups working on housing rights, as well as Under Tents; they have the community ties and have built the trust over the years which has allowed the Self-Portrait Project gateway into these encampments.
Looking forward to what’s ahead for the rest of the trip.
Arrived safely in Haiti & met with housing activists FRAKKA & Under Tents. In the morning we visit our first encampment w SPP to see how we can help with advocacy for some of the 300,000+ internally displaced Haitians