The town of Cite Soleil has the biggest garbage dumping grounds in the city of Port au Prince and possibly the country of Haiti. It is a vast wasteland that stretches to the horizon, always expanding as peoples’ waste is dumped there. On and around this massive wasteland a community has grown. People erect makeshift homes and raise families among the fields of garbage where they scavenge the refuse for food, scrap metal and other recyclable items so they can survive. There are no jobs, health care or education. A good day is when garbage trucks deliver batches of spoiled meat that are free for eating. Following the tragic earthquake on January 10th, 2010, the international community poured financial assistance into the country. Since that day, not a single penny has been received by the community of Cite Soleil. As I watched people fight for their survival, I would always think to myself, “What do these people need to sacrifice in order to live like this? Do these people have to relinquish some part of their humanity in order to survive? Or does this kind of hardship define a part of what humanity is in the 21st century?”
I am shocked that this level of poverty and base survival still exists in 2013.
This is the dirtiest place I have ever been. The wind would blow smoke, ash, dried feces and garbage into my eyes, ears, nose, mouth and get caught in the small crevices of my body, clothes and gear. Unlike the community living in Cite Soleil, I had the luxury of going back to the hotel to shower. As I walked though the fields of trash, the smoke from the fires created a vast haze that the Caribbean light permeated. There was a sense of tranquility and peace, of beauty and timelessness. The beauty of the environment was clearly at odds with the horrors that were unfolding before my eyes and this juxtaposition filled me with guilt.
How can something that is so terrible be so beautiful? How did these people manage to laugh while living in such hard conditions? How was it that children were running around playing? These people seem very proud, and it destroys them to chase garbage trucks and fight over spoiled food. Despite their desperate, horrendous living conditions, life for these people goes on and they refuse
to let their spirits be broken. As a photographer, I wasn’t sure how to balance
these contradicting elements. I like getting close to my subjects, both
emotionally and physically. But the more I photographed up-close, the
more I could feel their pride and dignity turn to shame and embarrassment.
They do not want others to know that they are living like this. I could tell I
would have to approach this subject differently. I decided to keep my distance, and focus on a wider, environmental portrait of the community.
From the start, I knew this story was not likely to be widely published. The main motivation for me was to tell this story and bring attention to Cite Soleil. None of the NGOs that I spoke to knew about this place, and I decided that I could actually make a difference in these people’s lives by making a photo essay and distributing it to aid organizations. Convincing the government to help the people of Cite Soleil would be a steep uphill battle. I hoped that at least I could get an aid clinic to bring in some health care. Reality sunk in very quickly when organization after organization refused to send any staff to the location. So the problem continues to go unnoticed. With the exception of one magazine, no one was interested in publishing this work. I am grateful that Pictura is willing to put the images on their walls so that a few more people can be made aware of the issue. For me, it remains an uneasy juxtaposition to display such suffering through aesthetic value in a venue that represents art. But it’s really the only way I know how to do things. My hope is that this exhibition can be a step towards a better solution for the people of Cite Soleil.
- Antonio Bolfo
About Antonio Bolfo
Antonio Bolfo’s path to photography was unconventional. After formally training and working as a video game designer, Bolfo joined the New York Police Department, where he was assigned to a domestic unit in the South Bronx. To cope with the emotional pressures of his job, Bolfo turned to photography, documenting his experiences at work. Photography “started to feel more important and useful, and it was a fusion of everything that I had come to love,” Bolfo has said. His photographs reveal the sometimes-traumatic nature of police work in fraught neighborhoods, recording everything from arrests to informal street interactions and officers trying to unwind on breaks. Bolfo ultimately left police work to pursue photojournalism. After joining Getty Images, Bolfo went on to capture images of poverty in Haiti, the war in Syria, Vietnam, and American political figures.
American, b. 1981, New York, New York, based in New York, New York