To much of the outside world, the image of Haiti — when it pops up at all — is one of catastrophes, both natural and man-made. Violence, grinding poverty, flood, earthquakes all leave a lingering image of a benighted nation bereft of tender moments.
Maggie Steber thinks that’s nonsense — and she has the pictures to prove it.
Ms. Steber has made more than 80 trips to Haiti since 1986, venturing far and wide from the slums of Port-au-Prince, through the Artibonite Valley and up to Cap Haitien. She did this at great personal risk — not that she would brag about that. For much of this time, she covered a lot of the breaking stories and chaotic events favored by editors. But there came a point when she felt that was only half the story, and not even the most interesting one.
“Some years ago when I first started working in Haiti, I realized I had to go when it was quiet, when there were moments of peace, not danger and violence,” she said. “We don’t take the time to see it because, mainly, people are not interested. But you see glimpses of beautiful things in the countryside and the slums. There are moments of beauty that are exquisite. They are profound. But you have to be in tune with things when you see them. Those are the moments where pride lives, where life is lived.”
Those sentiments inform “The Audacity of Beauty,” a Web site that showcases 25 years of her Haiti work. The title itself is a provocative spin on how she now looks at Haiti — where I worked alongside her in the 1980s when I was a correspondent for Newsweek, receiving a crash course on how to understand a very complicated and misunderstood place.
“The idea came about in the last couple of years,” said Ms. Steber, who lives in Miami. “This idea of the audacity of these people to have anything beautiful in their lives.”