Pa Bouje Ankò: Dont Move Again
Pa Bouje Ankò: Dont Move Again began with the following question; “Can someone from the first world see/photograph within the third world without voyeurism or objectification?” In November 2009, I began to test this query by opening a formal portrait studio in the Grand Rue neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, and inviting members of the local community to have their portraits made. Shot with an 810 camera, the photographs follow the example of artists like Mike Disfarmer, James VanDer Zee and Seydou Keita, who used the commercial and utilitarian aspects of their practice to portray their subjects with a consideration and respect that is both clear-eyed and beautiful.
I was highly conscious of everything that stood in the way of a real exchange between myself and those who sat for a portrait; race, class, opportunity and lack of opportunity, the ability to move freely through the world. These things make communication difficult, as they are ever present, but rarely discussed. Because I was aware of the current and past difficulties between Haiti and the United States, I felt compelled to control the context of the images, not show them beyond Haiti, and leave their circulation in the hands of their subjects. I was afraid the images would be misconstrued or changed once they were removed from their original environment, and wanted to avoid enacting the familiar and problematic situation wherein the first world artist takes home a photograph of “the other” as souvenir. What I did not realize at the time was that this very idea that the context of the images was something I could designate or control was exactly what I sought to avoid. It was, in fact, both colonial and paternalistic. The context of any artwork is constantly shifting, and the context of these particular images has now shifted again. In addition to whatever they were initially, after the earthquake, the images have become both record and memorial. That event has also shifted the focus of the project, which has evolved to include various rapidly expanding communities in Port-Au-Prince. Reconstruction has introduced a new population: United Nations officials, NGO employees, volunteers, business investors, and local politicians. The first of these non-Haitian subjects I photographed was the U.S. Infantry, in May 2010. Pa Bouje Ankò is at once a request for stillness and an acknowledgement of the impossibility of that request, both for the work and its subjects. The project demands conceptual flexibility, an open mind, and an ability to function in a constant state of flux.
Laura Heyman is an artist and curator who has exhibited at The Deutsch Polen Institute, Darmstadt, Germany, Ampersand International Arts, San Francisco, California, Light Work Gallery, Syracuse, New York, P.S. 122, New York, NY, Senko Studio, Viborg, Denmark, and The National Portrait Gallery, London, UK. Her work has been published in Contact Sheet, The Photo Review and Frontiers. She is the recipient of a NYFA Strategic Opportunity Stipend and a Light Work Artist Grant. Her most recent curatorial project, “Who’s Afraid of America” featuring the work of Justyna Badach, Larry Clark, Cheryl Dunn, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Zoe Strauss and and Tobin Yelland, was exhibited at Wonderland Art Space, in Copenhagen, Denmark.