Nachtwey in Haiti, revisited
At the VII website, a gallery of Nachtwey’s photos, accompanied by a note from Nachtwey himself.
This time, we get more diversity than in the last one, from Time. The Time gallery showcased Nachtwey’s eye for graphic design: the balance of the silhouetted men and the heap of bodies, the man seen through a gap in the debris, the reaching arms of the man behind the dumpster.
Also, his eye for the symbol: the woman’s outstretched hand below the distant helicopter, for example. Those same reaching arms. Shadows cast on the wall beside a coffin.
Nachtwey’s eye is simply stunning.
But at times, the brilliance of his work threatens to overcome its content, which is why I like the VII gallery better. He gives us heartbreaking shots of child amputees in an MSF field hospital, complete with bright, cheery 101 Dalmations sheets. And here we see also the masked man with a well-worn shotgun protecting a looter in action, putting the lie to the notion that everyone is merely struggling to survive. The murder victim in the street, implying that under the cover of disaster, some people may be solidifying power and settling scores.
Nachtwey is getting past the superficiality of photography here to remind us that reality is more complex than our sentimental fantasies: Haiti is a major drug trans-shipment point, its streets ruled by criminal gangs, its politics irredeemably corrupt. This nation needs more than earthquake aid.
It’s unfortunate that Nachtwey’s accompanying statement is filled with the same sentimental treacle that his photos undercut. Yes, NGOs from around the world have certainly flooded into Haiti with the best of intentions — but let’s not kid ourselves. The sheer number of NGOs, their failure to coordinate, the petty politics of control, have significantly interfered with aid delivery on the ground. This is one aspect of the story that still deserves greater coverage.