The most stunning and riveting photographs in Bruce Weber’s series on Haitian Miami, which just opened at North Miami’s MoCA, are the black-and-white portraits. The expressions captured on the faces, especially of the young girls, form the storyline of “Haiti/Little Haiti,” revealing so much
of the life of this community. Those faces are at times smiling, troubled, calm or pensive, but the famed fashion photographer lets them all tell an individual tale.
For instance there’s Jessica Osme, a girl snapped in Little Haiti in 2003. In tight pigtails and glancing off to the side, she’s slightly smiling but maybe not exuberant. She’s at a religious or celebratory ceremony and, in beautiful contrast with her skin, is wearing a bright, white dress — many of the subjects are wearing formal white throughout the series, suggesting a deep religiosity of the community. Skip ahead to 2010, with a photo of Amenise Jean-Baptist putting her hand on the top of the head of her son. He seems comforted but hesitant, not about his mother’s care but about the world that he is captured looking out at.
Compared to Weber’s acclaimed fashion photos, the work here has its roots in photojournalism, reminiscent especially of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who had a big retrospective this summer at MOMA. Along with shots in churches, Weber took his camera to the streets, to the eclectic storefronts of Little Haiti (when he switches to color). Weber starting photographing the neighborhood in 2003, in response to the inequality of the U.S. immigration system, where Haitians are regularly locked up here for fleeing desperate poverty and violence, while others who reach our shores get asylum. The end result is 75 documents of Haitian Miami life, part of the Knight Exhibition Series at the museum.
One powerful portrait can sum up the series: the assistant chief of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, 2010. He is wiping his face, eyes closed, the end of what might have been a rough day, or a rough year. But he is standing upright and strong, hat firmly under arm, soldiering on.
“Bruce Weber: Haiti/Little Haiti” will run through Feb. 13 at MOCA, 770 N.E. 125th St., North Miami; 305-893-6211; www.mocanomi.org.
“A Community Conversation About Haiti; Haiti: After the Earthquake” will take place on Dec. 15 at 7:00 p.m., with reporters and photographers from the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, who have done extensive and intensive coverage of the quake.