Roughly 9 months ago, Haiti was hit by an earthquake. A lot of money was raised and promises were made: “You will not be forsaken. You will not be forgotten.” said Obama, days after the natural disaster.
A journalist friend of mine, Jonathan Montpetit, was part of the passengers leaving on the first plane heading for Haiti to report on the unfolding events. When he returned to Montreal, he had a few stories to tell about the state of things – what he saw. He talked about things in precise and direct words, yet his stories remained somewhat distant and the details hard to imagine. He told of destruction, panic, tears of loss, bodies, and above all the smell of death. Listening to him, I did my best to understand, through my mind’s eye, what it was to live in that time and place as a Haitian or as a journalist witnessing the scene. Despite the blanket coverage Haiti received in the weeks after the quake, I have to admit it was difficult to put myself in his shoes.
A photo exhibit recently brought me closer to Jon’s stories. As part of the World Press Photo Exhibit 2010, “Haiti Exposed” presents the work of 15 Quebec Photo-reporters. Through XL prints, the reality of a post apocalyptic world could be discovered. In this 5th floor room off St-Laurent blvd, I was surprised to see how the different photographers interpreted the events and what themes they ended up pursuing. Some went after the shear destruction of the cities (Benoit Aquin), others focused on the human tragedy (Patrick Sanfaçon), others still chose to look at the political events, such as the visit of Michaelle Jean to Haiti (John Kenney).
While I was walking through the aisles, discovering the different facets of disaster coverage, a reoccurring idea followed me from snapshot to snapshot. I was standing in front of these large photos, here and now. Through a metaphysical mind bender, I could picture the photographer looking through the view finder while Jon stood next to him, then and there, taking it all in with his own two eyes. The images of death and destruction tightened my heart with sadness and despair, but they presented an opportunity for me to understand a little more what it is like to walk through the ruins of history.
Jon is leaving for Afghanistan on Monday. Godspeed brother.