Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Lucid Cameras: Imaging Haiti after the Earthquake of 2010

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Lucid Cameras: Imaging Haiti after the Earthquake of 2010

Article excerpt

Colonial power produces the colonized as a fixed reality which is at once an "other" and yet entirely knowable and visible.

-Homi K. Bhabha

Immediately following the 35 seconds of violent tectonic upheaval that Haitians euphemistically call "the event" or goudougoudou (the onomatopoeic approximation of the sound the earth made when it shifted so violently) journalists, military personnel, aid workers and laypeople descended on the island nation. Until those fateful moments, Haiti was in many ways invisible to the world even though it is just 681 miles off the coast of Miami, Florida. Haiti's obscurity is the result of what the Dominican writer, Junot Diaz calls the expenditure of colossal denial energies to keep it, as a third world country, (and its problems) out of global sightlines. Thus, for most people, Haiti has never been more than a blip on the map, a faint disturbance in the force so far removed that what happened there might have happened on another planet (Diaz par. 11). However, at least for a short time, what we all saw on TV, on the Internet, or in the newspapers changed all that.

This paper explores how the visual depiction of the island and its 95% black population (as the ticker on the bottom of the TV screen repeatedly informed its viewers during CNN's reportage) in the current moment is intricately tied to the historical Othering of the African body via the colonial gaze. I explore the work of contemporary western journalists who have taken up their cameras (and laptops) to continue the work that colonizing nations began centuries ago. The essay begins by focusing on three photographs that were circulated on the Internet immediately following the quake. I discuss the photos in connection with the move by Mother Jones journalist, Mac McClelland, to tweet about a rape victim with whom she was allowed to ride to and from the hospital one year later. I do so to highlight what I see as the perpetuation of the profoundly imbalanced relationship between the first world journalist and the third world subject/object of her story who is repeatedly subjected to the first world gaze. This contemporary relationship is the latest incarnation ofthat which has existed historically between the colonizer and the colonized in which the two became fixed through processes of affirmation/negation, respectively and which "precludes mutual recognition as equals" (Yancy 1). Furthermore, the two elements in this relationship are "at once mutually exclusive and yet mutually dependent" (ibid.). Haiti represents what Mary Louise Pratt calls a "contact zone," a space where "disparate cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination - like colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out across the globe today" (4). Until there is a radical intervention to disrupt this dysfunctional relationship then the same colonial ideology that put them in place will continue to be perpetuated, !"his paper then seeks to explore the way that cultural domination continues to operate. I write with the hope of stimulating a different kind of dealing with "Othered nations" as a way of advancing a little in the process of what Raymond Williams has called the "unlearning" of "the inherent dominant mode."1

I want to propose a possible avenue of intervention by turning to what I see as recent acts of agency by a segment of the Haitian population. Through the use of images and narratives a group of young men who call themselves Tele-Geto reclaim their subjectivity. They wrest the gaze and voice away from those who would define them and fix them in a dialectic that silences them. They take back their stories and project them out into the world. I see these as acts of resistance whereby the object of the gaze looks back. These acts empower the objectified subject to re-envision herself beyond the gaze and potentially undermine the work of meaningmaking that is part and parcel of the imperial project. …

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