One of the great causalities of colonialism in the Caribbean has been the reporting of news from the region, particularly as it relates to our neighbours to the northeast on the island of Haiti. To those who know better, the constant mistreatment of Haiti and Haitians in the local and international media is something to be abhorred if one considers (for just a moment) the reasons and causes behind Haiti’s punishment by the west.
As such, it is often difficult to disseminate truth from fact in relation to Haiti as it is typical of the foreign press to get their facts in reverse about arguably the richest island in the Caribbean. So when I happened across a photo essay entitled ‘Las Pajas and the Lucky Haitians’ on JPG Magazine, I was at once drawn in by the atypical photographs of Haitian Sugar Cane workers in the Dominican Republic by photographer Reed Young, and pleasantly surprised to discover not even one picture of a garbage dump.
I decided to ask Young a few questions and he responded with enthusiasm.
Q. Tell us a some more about your experiences in Las Pajas. You said that a good friend of yours had invited you there. Can you tell us a little about her work and perhaps what were you expecting to find?
Las Pajas was nothing like I expected. My friend Rachel is doing volunteer work for the United States Peace Corps, so she had been living in this village for months. She told me a few different things about it, but for some reason it didn’t prepare me for what I would experience.
One thing I wont forget was all of the children. After the first day we had 35 kids following us everywhere we went. There we’re moments that made it very hard because the kids were so excited and they created such a different atmosphere. But it wouldn’t have been the same experience without them. On the second morning, they we’re all waiting outside of the house when we left for the day. So it was obvious they we’re planning to spend the entire week acting as our shadows.
Another one of my fondest memories was the power situation. The residents have power, but for only an average of three hours per day. Usually the lights come on at dusk and last until most everyone is in bed, but residents never know when the power will come on – or go off. On the night we arrived the power had not come on yet, so we ate dinner by candlelight. Then half way through dinner, the lights came on and the whole family screamed “Luce!”(light) at the same time. So on the second night as we we’re walking back to our shack, the power came on and we could hear “Luce!” being screamed from every single home that was near. This was obviously one of the many traditions of Las Pajas.
Q. Have you ever been to Haiti?
No, It would be an interesting experience, but I think it would be very difficult. Haiti has so many problems right now and I feel terrible for the country’s people.
Q. The photograph of the little girl titled Gris Luis is particularly striking. Can you tell us a little about how this photograph came about?
This was the end of the second day of shooting and I was very tired. Rachel and I we’re walking home when we saw her with the white dress and a green purse – it was just too hard to resist photographing her. It was getting dark so we had to work fast, but this was very difficult because we had so many children following us. To divert the attention of the children, Rachel invented a game that kept them occupied for most of the 10 minutes it took me to set up the lighting. Here is a photo I snapped of them as I was finishing my setup: http://www.reedsftp.com/rachel_game.jpg
After setting up my lights it was time to shoot. So Rachel attempted to keep the kids interested in the game but it just didn’t work. So every time I took the photograph and the flashes went off, the kids screamed with excitement and ran into the photo to try and be a part of it. Out of 30 pictures, 25 of them have naked babies running through the shot. It was an experience I will never forget.
Q. What was the best thing about your travels to Las Pajas. What was the worst?
The best was the people I met. They we’re so warm and welcoming and genuinely happy that I was there. The worst thing was the stomach problems that I got from the food. I was basically told to work as much as I could the minute I got to Las Pajas because it wasn’t a matter of if, but when I would be too ill to work. We planned to shoot for four days, and after the middle of the third day I was very sick and we had to end it there.
Q. Have you photographed anywhere else in the Caribbean? If so where? If not, did this journey pique your interest in looking further into other countries of the region? Which countries interest you most and why?
I’d love to do a story in Cuba before Castro dies. I know his brother is running the show now, but I think that when Fidel dies a lot of interesting things will change in Cuba.
Q. Are you someone who uses natural light more than artificial light or vice versa? How did you find the behaviour of natural light in the Dominican?
I almost always use a mixture of natural and artificial light. It was very difficult to control the light in Las Pajas because of the clouds. On average it rained for two hours each day, and the rest of the time it was sunny on and off. I spent a lot of time waiting for the clouds to come and go to get the light that I wanted.
See more of Reed Young’s work on his website here: http://www.reedyoung.com/