Photographer Jeane LaRance’s exhibition, “Haiti: A photographic exhibition of life and culture in LaVallée de Jacmel” is much more than its humble description claims. The show, currently on display at the Indigo Sky Community Gallery in Savannah, Georgia, is more than photographs — it is a window into another world, both remarkably different and strangely similar to this one, Reilly Mesco writes.
A photographer for most of her life, LaRance has gone to Haiti once every three months since 2005. She is a member of the Haitian Association for Human Development, a non-governmental organization aimed at promoting the well-being of Haitians.
LaRance travels alongside volunteers and doctors when she goes to Haiti, documenting her surroundings as the volunteers complete their work.
“We have top-notch doctors. We have not only general practitioners but dentists and eye surgeons,” LaRance said. “We have everything you really need. The biggest difficulty is the lack of electricity.”
She got involved with the HAHD through a friend who knew the organization’s head doctor. When LaRance heard about the work, she wanted to be a part of it, despite concerns about what role she could play.
“I flew to New Orleans to meet with him and explained that I was better than a nurse,” LaRance said. “I’m a photographer, and I could take pictures for them. The rest is history.”
Facing the obstacle of connecting with the people of Haiti, LaRance was at first unsure of what to do.
“I tried to think of ways to win the trust of these people, to make them understand that I wasn’t just there to ‘take’ their photographs,” she said. “So I bought a small portable printer and printed photographs of as many people as I could until I ran out of paper and ink.”
On the first day of her trip — as her photographs were received with enthusiasm and curiosity — LaRance realized some of the residents had probably never seen a photograph of themselves, a fact that struck her deeply. She now teaches photography to high school students in LaVallee in order to help them further preserve their history, on their terms.
LaRance’s photographs range from the almost whimsical to serious. Close-up portraits of weather-beaten faces next to airy photos of schoolchildren in crisp white-and-blue uniforms creates a startling contrast for viewers.
The varying subjects don’t seem cohesive at first, but it all sends a clear message and a united representation of what the community of LaVallee de Jacmel is truly like.
Jerome Meadows, the director of the Indigo Sky Community Gallery, considered the decision to show LaRance’s work an easy one.
“It seemed very in keeping with what we show here, in terms of global subject matter and also because of the professional quality of her work,” Meadows said.
Meadows founded the gallery in 2004 with the intention of showing artwork that would not normally be seen. Getting people to see it has been as challenge, however. The gallery, located on Waters Avenue, does not provide a lot of foot traffic.
“Unfortunately, this area has earned a reputation as not so good,” Meadows said.
Luckily, the gallery’s subject matter — LaRance’s work included — has managed to attract crowds from all over Savannah.
“There have been lots of fits and starts, but for the last three years, we’ve been going strong,” Meadows said.
The simplicity of the gallery partially lends to the overall success of the exhibition. Built as an icehouse in 1901, the walls of the gallery are a clean white, and the floors are deep blue — cracked and worn with years of use — all of which makes the photographs stand out. The photos are also displayed without frames, jutting off the wall slightly to more fully engross viewers.
According to Meadows, the set up and display evolved from LaRance’s desire to have more than a typical glass-framed picture.
“I’ve never had a straight exhibit. My last exhibit, in New Mexico, included Haitian food and Haitian drummers,” LaRance said. “It’s got to be more than just flat photos on the wall.”
Angel Chiriboga, a classmate of LaRance’s at Savannah College of Art and Design, describes the overall feel of the show as cheerful.
“Happiness, for the most part, is what I see, even though they live in hard conditions,” Chiriboga said. “I think about Haiti, and there’s a lot of suffering. People are probably angry or sad, but these photos show a different side. They’re living in a positive way.”
LaRance doesn’t have a formula for the subjects she photographs. She just takes pictures as she sees fit, describing it as often being in the right place at the right time.
“I’m trying to help the people of Haiti preserve their culture, but I get to keep little tidbits for myself,” she said.
LaRance, who is part French herself, loves the similar nature between Haitian culture and her own.
“It’s so much like my own culture. Some of the older women remind me of my grandmother,” she said. “It’s more than just a trip to another country. At this point, it’s almost like going home.”
For the original report go to http://www.theinkwellonline.com/a-e/photographer-highlights-haitian-life-culture-1.2772782