The NY Times had an excellent article and slideshow yesterday called A Haitian State of Mind. In it, they profile the work of Paolo Woods, a photographer who grew up in Italy with a Dutch mom and Canadian dad. He attributes his unusual upbringing to his fascination with questions of national identity and statehood.
He moved to Haiti to try to understand what it means to live in a “failed state.” In his words: “How does a failed state live? Who takes the place of the state? How is society organized and how does it reorganize on the corpse of a failed state?”
Woods has some interesting things to say about the effect of NGOs on the island:
“I am convinced the NGOs do not do development. If you go through Haiti, it is littered with the projects of NGOs — mills, canals, thousands of different projects that were built and inaugurated with beautiful pictures that ended up in glossy brochures and that no longer exist. They come to Haiti without a knowledge of the place, and when they leave, everything they constructed falls because they did not create a structure to keep it up.”
He also finds evidence of hope, that people want a functioning government that would provide law and order. He points to an illegal housing development where the people had named the streets and left lots open for a future town hall and police department. He notes that “This is a completely illegal settlement, yet they desire the presence of elements that represent the state. The whole idea of anarchy and that they are people who do not want a functioning government is completely contradicted by that.”
Here is one of his photos in the show. It is of Michel Martelly, the current president, in front of a crumbling presidential palace: