By Heike Wollenweber
“My Heart Won’t Let you Go – A Photographer’s View of Haiti” was the title of an outstanding exhibition that ran at the AE District Gallery in Miami until May 28th, 2011.
My first encounter with the images by photographer Patrick Farrell at a special event at the gallery was quite overwhelming. I felt sad, pensive, impressed, touched, captivated….lonely even in a space full of people who were at the gallery to see the images, mingle and meet the photographer. These images for some reason draw you in and you feel alone in the room with the faces and people in the photos, telling you a story. Patrick Farrell is the photographer who captured those images and Max Pierre is the curator and gallery owner who put this exhibition together for charity and for the people of Haiti.
Patrick Farrell has worked successfully for 30 years as a photo journalist and has seen many tragedies, yet nothing could prepare him for the terrible things in Haiti that became part of his life. Farrell was in Haiti immediately after Hurricane Ike and a year later the earthquake struck Haiti, a struggling nation ever since it gained independence in 1804. Farrell is very direct and he expresses his emotions asking “How do people get f****** up like that? It makes you question a whole lot of things and faith is one of them.” This is not just a random statement, it is heartfelt and Patrick’s face shows the sincerity and the struggle of him coming to terms with his experience in Haiti. He has tears in his eyes.
Farrell was in Haiti within 24 hours of the initial earthquake and spent 9 days in the devastated country, sleeping outside due to the very real dangers posed by aftershocks. The genius of Farrell’s work is that he was able to captures not only the tragedy and death wrought by the catastrophe, but also the resilience and strength of the people in the images. One of the most powerful image was the first picture he took of a man carrying a dead girl, covered in dust (-f1-).
The exhibition consists primarily of photographs chronicling the aftermaths of Hurricane Ike and the 2010 earthquake. Max Pierre, curator of the exhibition and owner of the gallery, chose the final images and arranged them to tell a story showing the realities but at the same time “the hope and the perseverance.” Max Pierre says about the exhibition, “I am a Haitian. These are my people, I wish there was a lot more that I could do. This was an opportunity to really give back. As far as how I displayed the pictures, you kind of do that with your heart.”
Walking through the exhibit touches your heart. Patrick Farrell seems almost relieved of a burden as he discusses the exhibition. Farrell and his wife chose the title “My Heart Won’t Let You Go” because as he says, “Haiti became this place I gone to and could not forget. I feel this responsibility. Once you are touched by Haiti it won’t let you go. I heard someone say this before and it is true.” Farrell admits to how he has struggled with coming to terms with his experiences in Haiti.
Patrick’s most touching story is the one behind the image that made the front page of the Miami Herald, part of the collection of photographs taken in 2008 to document the devastation of Hurricane Ike. The image depicts men loading a dead girl onto a truck. The image, entitled “Angel” depicts Tamasha Jean, daughter of Frantz Samedi, nude and with her arms spread like wings… (-hi)
It was on the morning after hurricane Ike in Port au Prince. The driver heard on the radio about people who died in a town about an hour outside of the capital but the roads were so bad it took hours to get there. There was a body on the side of the road, and another and another, several bodies. Water rushed up from the canal and people drowned. Someone told us about all those babies. All those dead babies. The father of one of them pushed his way through to wash her body and he kept saying “this is my baby, this is my baby give me a picture!” He wants to put her in a pretty dress for a proper burial. The truck from the morgue shows up to load the bodies. He would not let them take her. He had already tried to leave to get the dress and had asked Patrick to wait. He freaks because he doesn’t want people to take her before he gets the dress. The police convince him that they have to take her, without the dress. No proper burial.
Patrick says the “picture epitomizes this whole horrible morning”. He felt compelled to publish the picture for the girl‘s father, Frantz, who saw the newspaper with his daughter’s photo when Farrell went back for a brief visit. The “Angel” is one of the images submitted by the Miami Herald for the Pulitzer Prize, which Farrell was awarded with in April 2009 for his coverage of Haiti after hurricane Ike. The good thing about it, as Farrell recalls, is that it “refocused the spotlight on Haiti, getting attention from all over the world.” Winning the esteemed Pulitzer Prize threw Farrell into a phase of questioning his work and its importance. “I still to this day feel like, is photography all I could have done? And I get all this success from it? That’s a weird feeling, it’s a horrible feeling and it keeps you awake at night.”
Together with Max Pierre, Patrick Farrell has found another way to make a difference. Max is a forerunner and visionary when it comes to art, entertainment and fashion in Miami. Max Pierre’s and Patrick Farrell’s respective visions created “My Heart Won’t let You Go”, showing photojournalism as art. More than just art. The work shows the truth and reality of Haiti, the destiny of people like Frantz Samedi and many others. Farrell and Pierre do not want Haiti to be forgotten over the next news story. “We wanted to let them know that Haiti is still in turmoil. It is still really bad out there and people still need help.”
The images are now for sale to benefit charity and 100% of the sale proceeds go back to Ayikodans. Donations can also be made at AE District Gallery and at Ayikodans performances at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
This article was published in Nu Woman’s summer 2011 issue. ©Nu Woman Magazine 2011. All rights reserved.
For more on the writer Heike Wollenweber (now married, Heike Dempster) send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.