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17 August 2008

Jane Evelyn Atwood, Haïti

  In the gripping text introducing the book of this exhibition, Haitian writer Lyonel Trouillot warns that ‘You can’t photograph a country. But looking through the photos on show here you come to the instructive conclusion that Haiti, a little like all countries, really is an impossible entity. It is this impossibility that Jane Evelyn Atwood has captured. Each photo points to something irreducible, each photo embodies a moment of something whose meaning cannot readily be drawn out. Something that challenges the fakery of the obvious’.

Very favourably received at the Visa 2007 festival in Perpignan, American photographer Jane Evelyn Atwood’s work on Haiti is radically at odds with the images of violence and poverty regularly used to illustrate the situation in this Caribbean country; and at odds with the prior practice of the artist, who shifts to colour to express her fascination with the ‘incredibly alive and amazing’ Haitian people. With long-term black-and-white projects to her credit on prostitution, prisons and victims of antipersonnel mines and Aids, Atwood – Paris Match Journalism Prize, Grand Prix SCAM, W. Eugene Smith Foundation Prize – approaches Haiti without preconceptions and with an eye she attempts to free of all influences. Discreetly she shows us women, children and men, observing the diversity of individual lives marked by the driven resourcefulness poverty and inequality demand. She reveals, too, the intact beauty of a people unresigned to the dark sun of fatalism and endlessly shaping fresh possibilities for the future. The distinctive technique of these pictures, especially the portraits, seems to generate a play of light and shade in broad daylight; here colour is used not to stress the rich chromatic range already present in the viewfinder, but to heighten shadows, contrasts and light in a way that sets up a subtle kind of intimacy with the subject-matter. As Lyonel Trouillot puts it, ‘Everything’s there; everything underlying the contradictions of living and barely surviving in Haiti. Yet nothing is shown as typical or representative You can’t photograph a country, but photos can give access to a country in the form of fragments. Can reveal that we only see tiny pieces of all the life there is to see’.

Exhibition venue: Capitole, Rencontres d’Arles 2008.