Haiti: Look Back to Look Ahead

On January 12, 2010 Haiti was changed forever by a devastating earthquake that took the lives of thousands and left a huge portion of the country in ruins. SAFE recognizes that in times of mass destruction, human lives must always be first priority. At the same time, Haiti stands to lose its heritage, which has been a source of great pride throughout the country’s troubled history. Historic neighborhoods and landmarks like the National Palace, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, and the Supreme Court have been leveled by the earthquake. Artists, art dealers, foreign envoys, and others are scrambling to assess the cultural loss and to ensure the safety of portable cultural objects like books, paintings, documents, and artifacts.

To join these efforts to preserve Haiti’s heritage, SAFE has initiated a Flickr project, “Haiti: Look Back to Look Ahead,” to collect pictures and videos of what has now become intangible, that is, life in Haiti before January 12, 2010. We are looking for images of Haiti’s built environment before it was reduced to rubble and of the people whose lifestyles defined these places. After the wreckage is removed and discussions about rebuilding begin, Haiti’s past—both its most fatal historic problems and its rich cultural legacy—must be kept at the forefront of our imaginations. SAFE hopes to create a place for visual remembering as well as visual reckoning of what should be changed, restored, or recreated as Haiti looks to its future.

Nearly 1,400 photos have already been gathered on our Flickr page. If you would like to share your own photos of Haiti, please e-mail them to us at the21tin@photos.flickr.com.

"Cultural heritage is a necessity, it is your past. … One needs the past in order to move on to one’s future and therefore you cannot cut off people’s roots. Haiti has a history with very important moments."

Elke Selter, UNESCO Programme Specialist for Culture in Port au Prince, Haiti