Photography Book Shows Life in Haiti After the Earthquake

Nou La - We Are Here, by photographic artist John Baucher, documents life in the Iron Market in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince one year after the earthquake

On January 12, 2010 at 4:53 pm, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck Haiti.

As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti was ill prepared for a natural disaster of such a scale. Homes, businesses and many buildings of historical importance collapsed, killing an estimated 220,000 people. A huge international relief effort sprung into action to help the survivors.

A year to the day from the earthquake, the historic Iron Market, which had been destroyed in the ‘Grand Tremblement’, was re-opened by former US President, Bill Clinton.

The building has been at the centre of domestic retail in downtown Port-au-Prince since it first opened in 1891, and as the first public building to be rebuilt following the earthquake, it was a significant event sending a message of hope for the future to millions of Haitians.

The rebuilding and regeneration of the Iron Market was funded in a personal capacity by Denis O’Brien, the Irish entrepreneur who is the single largest foreign investor in Haiti.

In April 2011, I was commissioned by Denis to produce a book telling the story of the market and, in turn, showing the impact that the remarkable regeneration project had on the traders who work there.

My main issue when I arrived in Haiti soon after was to be the language barrier, and whilst I have a smattering of French I had to rely on a translator to get the traders' stories across.

The market itself is made up of two halls similar to St George's Market in Belfast, though slightly smaller. They are joined by a central pavilion vaguely Islamic in styling. In fact the building was originally destined to be a railway station in Cairo, but when that deal fell through, the then President of the country, Florvil Hypolite, bought it and had it shipped over flat packed and ready for assembly.

Travelling through Port-au-Prince the building stands out amongst the rubble and partially destroyed buildings surrounding it. Whilst the original design and layout was faithfully followed, new and important upgrades were also included in the $22m regeneration project. For example, a well was dug to supply fresh water to traders and customers.

Nestling in the roof of the building is the largest solar panel farm in the Caribbean. The 533 photovoltaic panels supply the market with electricity to power over head fans along with the pump for the water well. As part of a wider regeneration project in the surrounding area, the market will also supply electricity to nearby businesses in the years ahead.

My first impression of the market was that the traders were still trying to find their feet after the disaster. They had only been back trading in the market for a couple of months, and there was still a reluctance for people to travel to the area.

It became very apparent to me during several weeks spent in the country that the rebuilding of Haiti is not a short term project. It will take many years to achieve. Yet the traders are optimistic in their outlook and more than happy to have a safe and secure building to trade in. Their generosity of spirit and easy manner was a constant source of inspiration to me.

The initial (and understandable) scepticism of my motive for taking photographs eventually disappeared, and I had daily banter with the traders once they knew that I was not a blanco (foreigner) taking and selling their photographs to newspapers.

One of the things that I did to ease my way through the project was to produce a series of 6x4 prints, which I then handed out to traders for free from a temporary stall I had set up within the market. This certainly facilitated the project; as many of the traders had lost their possessions in the earthquake, it felt right to be giving them something back.

My book, Nou La - We Are Here is a mix of formal portraits of the traders, candid photographs of the market and surrounding area coupled with architectural shots of the building itself. The book also features illustrations by Belfast artist Kev Largey, which are based on prevalent architectural details featured in the building.

There are a limited number of books available for sale to the general public, and signed copies can be purchased at No Alibis Bookstore on Botanic Avenue in Belfast, the Golden Thread Gallery and the Red Barn Gallery, or via my personal website.

I’m proud and pleased with the book, which shows the positive impact of investment and regeneration, and I trust that it will go some way in encouraging further investment in a country beset by problems and deserving of our help.

There is a Haitian proverb that reads, 'Behind the mountains there are more mountains', and this, I think, best sums up the struggle facing Haiti today. People can learn more about Haiti, donate money and get involved with the rebuilding effort, via the Haven Partnership website.