The Voices of Haiti: Rachel Snyder


For a missionary kid, the place you grew up, in my case Haiti, always incurs several common tedious questions and a first impression that is not always fair to me whether it is positive or negative. In my senior year at Spring Arbor University I chose to theme my senior art photography exhibit on the people of Haiti. I wanted my pictures to represent the things I have seen in the way I saw them, and in my own way, answer the questions I am always afraid of being asked.

Three and a half years had passed since I left Haiti, and going back there reminded me of just how hard it is to live there. One of our missionaries once described living in Dessalines, during the hottest summer months, as sleeping in a pool of sweat. It’s very true. Fortunately this trip was in December and January and the weather stayed mostly in the lower eighties with added humidity. So we stayed dry when we were standing directly in front of a fan and kept from bending extremities where skin touched skin. Besides the exhausting heat, there are always ants in the food and cockroaches crawling out of every crack. On the upside there is added protein in your meals and you learn to sleep with your mouth closed. The hardest thing to process is the poverty. After living there for so many years the shock gives way to a dull ache. 

I directed the whole of my project to a dusty little town called Dessalines where my family spent two years while my father worked in the mission hospital. The people there are less westernized than the larger cities, the Haitian culture is much stronger, and the town is divided between two religions- Voo Doo and Christianity. Many of the people are involved with both.

 I targeted mainly young children and the elderly because the teenagers in this town tend to be rude. To have an education with no employment or future opportunities leaves them frustrated towards all outsiders who they perceive may be there to take local jobs away from the townspeople. So the young innocent and happy children along with the experienced elderly held a much stronger appeal for what I was trying to capture. But no matter the age, almost every person I photographed gazed into my lens with a solemn dignity that reflected their pride as a people who freed themselves from slavery but were still bound by the poverty they cannot escape. I found it very curious that even many of the children took my picture-taking very seriously. The hospital interpreter, Therisse Joseph, also went to help smooth things over and convince the people to let me take their photograph. Haitians do not like their picture taken when. Knowing this would be the case I decided to offer a copy of their picture as a thank you.

Another challenge I was forced to anticipate was the sun. There are two opportune times to take pictures in Haiti, early in the morning when the sun is just barely up, and in the late afternoon when the sun begins to set. These two times spare less than an hour before constant harsh sunlight and complete darkness making the people too dark and everything around them too bright. God answered my prayers by giving me the confirmation of my exhibit when it seemed clouds moved in every time I stepped outdoors.

 My goals were simple: I wanted my photography exhibit to represent a part of my life that had a major influence of who and why I am the person I am today. To represent the type of photography I want to continue to shoot, and to exhibit photos of a country few people know much about. In my portraits of the Haitians, I wanted to break the walls down enough to glimpse what photographer Steve McCurry calls the “essential soul.” The internal was just as important as the external significance. We are made in the image of God. This is not a physical image but the image of our souls. A glimpse of a person’s soul, whether Voo Doo doctor or missionary, feels like I am seeing a glimpse of God. 

© Light and 2012