Jeff Antebi’s photography appears in the summer issue of The Paris Review. Below, he describes his time in Cité Soleil, Haiti.
I went to Haiti for the elections in April, 2009. When I got back home and started showing my work, people were most gripped by the photographs from Cité Soleil. People kept asking me what they could do to help improve the lives of people there. I think it was a profound awakening for Americans to know that only an hour and a half from Miami, people were existing in deplorable conditions. It was the proximity that drew people in. It’s one thing to say “the largest slum in the Western hemisphere.” It’s quite another to show people what it’s like to live on top of eight feet of garbage, where during the day, toxic fumes burn off the plastic bottles and waste. That was really the first time I had ever experienced that kind of reaction from one of my essays—people specifically asking what they could do. I immediately started making plans to go back and focus exclusively on Cité Soleil. I returned three months later.
I had put a lot of my photos from my April trip on to my phone. Once I was back in Cité Soleil, I was able to track down a lot of the kids and show them the portraits I’d taken of them. The kids went nuts. I mean, these are kids who are so funny to begin with—animated, humorous, curious, engaging kids. They had a lot of fun scrolling through photos and recognizing their friends.