Life, Death Converge Through Photographer’s Lens

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Haiti is a paradox; a place where dueling forces of life and death exist at an impasse – a reality made even starker by the 7.0-magitude earthquake that shook the nation’s core and destroyed its capital.

AFRO freelance photographer J.D. Howard said he felt compelled to capture the Caribbean nation’s story on camera.

“I wanted the readers of the AFRO … the preachers, school children and the politicians to have a very close look at Haiti,” said the 68-year-old, who spent five days in Haiti from May 14-18.

Through his lens Howard depicts a Haiti that is a study in opposites.

Death.

“A man showed me where he cremated his mother – he couldn’t call the undertaker; there were so many bodies all over the place that they had to have mass burials …,” Howard recalled. “Another man took me to the graveyard to show me where his daughter [was buried] and headstones were sideways or upside down, caskets were smashed together and came from the bottom [of the grave] up to the top.”

Life.

“And yet there are people walking around collecting water, cleaning the children up and going about their daily life. It’s amazing how resilient they are,” Howard said.
Destruction.

“I was looking for [scenic] beauty, but I couldn’t find it,” said the longtime photographer. He added, “The post office is gone, the largest Catholic church in Haiti is gone, the grocery stores are gone, the department stores are gone, the hospitals are gone, the jail house is gone …. The city has been completely demolished and you have millions of tons of concrete all around so you can’t even tell what street you’re on.”

Beauty.

Found in the hospitality of the people who proudly invited him into their homes, shanties no larger than his SUV; in the work of a local artist from whom he purchased several paintings; the bright eagerness of the students gathered at a makeshift school; and his moving experience at a Sunday church service that, though conducted in French, resonated with his own spiritual experience.

“It was a very moving experience because they were talking about God, and praying and singing and crying just like they do in my church,” he said.

In all, the experience reminded him of how blessed he is, especially in his ability to live out his dream, Howard said.

“When I was growing up my uncles told me all these stories about the beauty of the world [based on their experiences] and I wanted to develop my own stories,” he said. Now, 50 years after he became a professional photographer, “through the lens of my camera, I’ve seen the world.”