'Mountains Beyond Mountains'

Local Arts Reviews

"Mountains Beyond Mountains"

Texas Center for Documentary Photography, through Aug. 31

With all the uproar in the media exploiting Haitian politics, it's important to wonder: What is everyday life like for the impoverished Haitian majority? Documentary photographer Alan Pogue shows us in this exhibition featuring images of the people of Haiti, with a focus on the sociopolitical climate of this "poorest country in the Western hemisphere" over the past decade. A photograph from 1996 captures the black-and-white image of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide speaking at a podium, behind him an ominous banner displaying in French the words: "The New World Order and the Health of the Poor." Adjacent to it is a photo of three young women peeking behind a doorway. One seems enraged, another elated, and another confused. These faces depict the emotional turbulence in the nation over the last century, with its constant dictatorial impasses and overthrows.

In another photograph, a river is banked with piles of random debris and garbage as two men pose for the camera. Behind them is a lone palm tree – a whimsical reminder of Caribbean fantasies. A boy wearing tattered clothes hugs an enormous tree that has been uprooted by erosion or excessive logging. Due to extreme poverty and the need for income from lumber sales, forests are cut down, leaving abnormal deserts by the ocean. A group of young people are huddled in a street alley. One man is solving a long algebra problem on a makeshift board. This is a classroom. With a Texaco station in the background, a man on a motorbike holds up his reading material: Private Financing of Public Infrastructure – The French Experience. Funny, it's not the Haitian experience. All of this is quite disturbing. But leave it to the classic picture of Madonna and Child to calm morbid thoughts. A mother in a remote village wears white with a typical Haitian head scarf. She leans her head slightly to the side, looks directly at the camera, and smiles gently with eyes wide and forgiving.

From the presidential palace with a foreground of a freed slave statue, missing its sword, to the outstretched, ecstatic arms of a hougan (a voodoo priest), to the rebel militiamen with fingers on triggers ready to fire, next to the man hauling the burden of 30 bags of charcoal with a homemade cart, Pogue captures more than images in this exhibit. It is a brief survey of what we don't see on mainstream news. These photographs are closer to truth than assumptions.

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Mountains Beyond Mountains, Alan Pogue, Haiti

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