Perpetual Liberation: Documenting Haiti

Photographer Thomas Kern (b.1965) has for many years visited the island of Haiti to document its turbulent history. Reserved yet intimate, Kern’s images capture scenes of everyday life in one of the world’s poorest countries; his work a testament to the individual efforts and moments of happiness that glimmer within a nation marked by natural catastrophes, political instability and ecological disaster. Looking to the past, his pictures also hint at Haiti’s history of slavery and its connection with the spiritual world. Fotostiftung Schweiz‘s upcoming presentation showcases 15 years of the photographer’s work, highlighting his most extensive project to date.

Co-founder of Swiss Photo Agency Lookat Photos, Kern made a name for himself in the 1990s with reportages on the impacts of war and conflict in locations across Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia. Following his first encounter with Haiti in 1997, his relationship with the Caribbean island has provided Kern with an expansive oeuvre of documentary works; all of which remain sensitive to the common cliché that he too is an outsider who can never really do justice to the country’s complexities.

By utilising basic equipment – a Rolleiflex and analogue black-and-white film – Kern’s images radiate an instantaneous and spontaneous effect, whilst maintaining a stable and carefully composed façade. The interrelationship between standstill and dynamism becomes a central theme, and effortlessly draws viewers into the everyday events occurring in Haiti. The Haitian writer Yanick Lahens comments on Kern’s photographs: “In Haiti you have to accept it all: the shade and the extremely beautiful lights. They continually guide us back again to the shadow and light in ourselves. The creativity keeps us alive; it is our oxygen.”

Thomas Kern, Haiti. The Perpetual Liberation, 17 September 2016 – 29 January 2017, Fotostiftung Schweiz, Winterthur.

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1. Thomas Kern, Vor der Eisfabrik, Rue des Ramparts, Port-au-Prince, 1997 © Thomas Kern.