In 1997, Thomas Kern traveled to Haiti for the first time, on a commission from the Swiss cultural magazine du. In the close to 20 years since then, Kern, a co-founder of the Swiss photo agency Lookat Photos, has been back many times to photograph the island and its inhabitants, using black and white film and a Rolleiflex to make pictures that depict the grace and struggle of everyday life there. An exhibition of the images, “Haiti. The Perpetual Liberation,” is on view at Fotostiftung Schweiz, in Winterthur, until January 29. A book of the work was published recently by Scheidegger & Spiess.
In more than a hundred images, Kern shows crowded markets and desolate beaches, workers cleaning up after the 2010 earthquake, and people on pilgrimage to Saut d’Eau, where believers say the Virgin Mary once appeared at the foot of a waterfall. The Haitian writer Yanick Lahens writes of Kern’s photographs: “In Haiti you have to accept it all: the shade and the extremely beautiful lights. They continually guide us back again to the shadow and light in ourselves. The creativity keeps us alive; it is our oxygen. We turn the world upside down, like at Carneval. Through mockery, beauty, and grandeur. Some photos say that in their own special way. We open up unexpected brackets and thumb our noses at the misfortune.”