Photo Konbit is a non-profit initiative intended to empower Haitians to take control of the representation of their country through photography. The word Konbit itself is a creole term meaning to come together to achieve a goal. Attendees at Photo Konbit workshops are loaned donated photographic equipment, taught how to use it and encouraged to document the rapidly changing environments in which they live.
Insofar as it brings together images of Haiti produced by non-professional photographers and is aimed at producing a “local” vision of a country, the project is similar to Featured Collectives, the Burmese blog we blogged about a couple of weeks ago. Moreover, in the same way as Featured Collectives is run by a Burmese expatriate now residing in Singapore, Photo Konbit is run by Haitian expatriates in the USA rather than from Haiti itself.
Yet there are also important differences between the two projects. The first, and perhaps most important, is the very different contexts in which they emerged. Myanmar is a country that has been depicted very little in the West over recent decades due to being largely inaccessible to Western photographers. Haiti, on the other hand, has received extensive media coverage and interest from professional photographers, particularly after the 2010 earthquake which led to the deaths of an estimated 150,000 people. In this coverage, representation of Haiti has been controlled overwhelmingly by non-Haitians and dominated by images of disaster and suffering. The voices of local Haitians have been notably absent. The citizen photographers involved in the Photo Konbit project are therefore producing images in a very different context to those of Featured Collectives: where Featured Collectives contributors are filling an absense, Photo Konbit’s participants are attempting to change an existing impression of the country widely accepted as “true”. In so doing, the project aims to “give voice to Haitians through photography“, and restore the power of representation and agency to a group that have generally been relegated to the status of the passive objects representated by others.
A second important point is that where Featured Collectives simply collects together images sent in by contributors, Photo Konbit provides participants with the equipment and training needed to produce images. This both broadens and narrows the range of its possible contributors. On the one hand, it allows and facilitates the participation of members of poorer communities who are otherwise unlikely to have either the equipment or knowledge necessary to produce aesthetically oriented photography of this kind. On the other hand, only images produced by those who participate in the project’s workshops are featured on the website’s image galleries. This means excluding other Haitian amateur photographers.
None of the above discussion is intended to be read as an argument for the superiority of either Featured Collectives or Photo Konbit. Rather, the key point is that despite their similarities, there are important differences between the two projects, arising from the contexts in which they operate, their modes of working and goals.