(Re)Building the State of Haiti

Paolo Woods photographs the long term, beyond current affairs; he touches on the crux, the raw edge, of human stories. After investigating the oil industry, the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, the Chinese in Africa, and Iran, he decided to settle in Haiti. It was in 2010, a few months after the earthquake ravaged Port-au-Prince and the cities in the south of the island. At a time when the small republic, independent since 1804, was described only through the prism of tragedy, Woods was looking for something else: how a national identity can be forged in spite of the State. 

With journalist Arnaud Robert, he tracked down Haitian society’s invisibles, its absurd flaws and hidden aspects. He investigated the economic elites, NGOs, the profusion of FM radios, American evangelists. Month after month, he came to realize that all the substitution powers that had come to save Haiti were actually replacing Haitian authorities. And yet, in a country whose leaders have failed ever since it was founded, the population’s desire for a State remains unaltered. 

STATE shows Haiti like never before. While not ignoring the huge difficulties of a land where two thirds of the inhabitants don't have enough to eat, the exhibition tells how a country presented as “cursed” is, above all, a place where resistance, humor, creation and culture live side by side. It tells how the idea of a nation articulates itself around an absent State. It tells how Haiti concentrates all the issues of a Southern nation submitted to the winds of globalization, which the combined efforts of the international community are not capable of addressing. 

Rather than the after effects of the drama, Paolo Woods wanted to understand what constitutes the everyday life of a country, and even its normalcy. Because this fraction of an island tells more than its own history and represents more than a singular destiny, STATE questions processes that extend far beyond Haiti. 


STATE opened as an exhibition at the Musee de l'Elysee in Lausanne (Switzerland) on the 20th of September 2013. The series has also been published as a book, which accompanies the exhibition.