As soon as I start down the hill after work a woman approaches in a bold black and white full length skirt, a patterned green blouse and a small tree with the root ball firm on her head. She gives me a grand smile. I itch to whip out my camera and take her photo; she is worthy of a National Geographic cover. I ask the obvious question, ‘what kind of tree is on your head’, to which she replies ‘mango’. Her lips are already moist in anticipation of her future fruit. She has another sapling in her hand and a small boy in tow. I am tempted to ask if I may take her picture, but I refrain. I will be content with the memory.
I keep my camera clipped to my belt, ever ready, but I only take three kinds of pictures in Haiti. Anything goes at the construction sites, where the workers are photographed and videotaped constantly for all manner of publicity. I take still life’s and landscapes. And I take pictures of people who ask me, mostly children. There is a gaggle of them who live along the hill to BLB, and every time I hike by they run out screaming, ‘photo, photo’. I stop and take their picture; they never cease to marvel at the tiny image of themselves I displayed in the view frame.
I do not take photographs of people without their permission and I do not ask for permission. I feel it is an invasion. I am living in the Haitians’ world. That I would like to preserve an image of a woman carrying a tree, or a bucket, or a bushel of bananas on her head makes her an object of curiosity, when she is simply doing her daily business. Strangers don’t take photos of me at my computer, and it would be odd if they did. I would love to document fisherman spooling their nets and women bleaching laundry on rocks and street vendors sitting in front of their paltry wares. But there is a fine line between generous wonder and prurient fascination, as the most compelling images are often the most desperate.
As I continue home I see all kinds of people carrying plants. It turns out that May Day is a holiday in Haiti, celebrated with a tradition of planting trees. Since Haiti can use all the trees it can get, I am a big fan of the idea. You will just have to take my word for it.
The children on the hill in their daily photo.