Photographer Marie Arago is attempting to show the heart of a place that is often under a lot of international scrutiny — Haiti. It all began in a Haitian neighborhood in Brooklyn. Arago says “I used to walk or ride my bike around Flatbush Avenue, go into Haitian music stores and restaurants and sit on benches next to groups of Haitian men who were engaged in intense conversations and listen, wishing I could understand what they were saying.” After seven years of living in New York, Arago moved to Miami and once again got involved with the Haitian community. She traveled to Haiti often from Miami and decided to move there to immerse herself in Haitian culture. She has now lived in Haiti for two and a half years.
Arago says that “Haiti is viewed as a place that is frequently hit by natural or political disasters and a place where the majority of the population lives in poverty.” But what draws Arago to Haiti is its culture, which is rooted in its music, art, history and Voodoo, among other things. Her impression of the culture of Haiti is that it “radiates strength” in a compelling way. At the same time, Arago is careful not to project her own opinions on Haiti, preferring to see her photographs as documenting her own experience of Haiti, not the experience of Haitians. She doesn’t have to go far to find inspiring or interesting things. She says “It’s a very visually rich place in general; these moments I’m showing you are just what I see every day.” Arago sees her Instagram feed as a kind of “show and tell” where she can journal her experiences in Haiti.
Arago admits that it’s hard to avoid falling into the trap of telling a story that is filtered through the lens of a foreigner, but to combat one-sided storytelling she has started a non-profit organization called FotoKonbit with some of her Haitian friends. Arago says the “goal of the organization is to show Haiti through Haitian eyes using the power of photography.” Her approach is multifaceted because they “teach photography to both youth and adults throughout Haiti. With both the children and adults we encourage the participants to document their communities and express themselves visually.” Whether it’s her own photography or the images created through FotoKonbit, she hopes to show a high level of respect for Haitian culture and history. In times when many foreigners are entering and exiting Haiti at a rapid pace, Arago is there to stay, indefinitely.