Jeremy Gilbert teaches and practices design-centered journalism. He works at Northwestern University, lives in Chicago and designs news and information.
Haiti’s Hope: Touching the Heart of Haiti
May 30th, 2004
For 10 days The News-Press had a reporter-photographer team trekking through Haiti searching for the stories that tied the island-nation to Southwest Florida.
Those stories concentrated on the mission work of a variety of groups: A pastor-doctor who runs an orphanage and ministers to mountain villages, a family that runs a church school in the highlands, a secular orphanage in Port-Au-Prince and a group that teaches eco-friendly farming techniques. Each tale became its own chapter in a 12-page special section. The reporter, Miriam Pereira, wrote several hundred inches of text, including a column relating the experience to her own immigrant background and the photographer, Andrew West, took more than 2,000 images – 38 of which appear in the section.
The project was heavily photo-driven. The quality of the images and the character of the people captured in the photographs dominated the pages. The cover was meant to reflect the startling differences between life in Haiti and Southwest Florida.
Because ‘Haiti’s Hope’ was printed on heavier-stock paper it allowed for the publication of unusual photos. The main image on the page is of a Haitian child racing his horse through the market. The motion blur that saturates the image conveys the motion and excitement of the moment in a way that a normal photo could not.
These pages set the scene for the stories to come. A column introduced the trip and an overview story gave readers background about Haiti’s social, political and economic situation.
The spread also introduced the visual style of the rest of the section: generous columns of white space, stark black dropcaps, labels and navigation.
The ECHO and HAFF missions are linked. ECHO explores alternate farming techniques that allow for the growth of subsistence and commercial crops even when faced with the terrible deforestation of Haiti. The photographs of farm workers and ECHO members capture the toil and desolation of farm work in Haiti. It is possible to raise crops, but just barely.
The missionaries of HAFF moved to Haiti from Southwest Florida nearly six years ago. In that time they have setup a school and a mission in the highlands and their lives have become entwined with those of the people they serve. The strength of these photographs is the sense of equality and not missionary zealousness.
This doubletruck photo spread finishes the story of the HAFF mission and gave ample room to document the lives of the Haitians and the HAFF missionaries.
Again, heavier paper stock allowed for riskier photographs like the largest photograph on the page, which shows the energy of the market through a reflection in a car window.
With hundreds of HAFF images to pick from, editing the photos for this page was a challenge.
Love-A-Child is a secular organization that supports Haitian orphanages. Although the organization had strong ties to Southwest Florida neither the story nor the images were among the strongest in the section.
The Love-A-Child chapter was juxtaposed against the strongest and most dramatic chapter in the section, that of Pastor George. The pastor runs a private orphanage in Haiti, is married to a Sanibel, FL woman and acts as a doctor to a number of highland Haitian villages.
The reporter and photographer spent nearly as much time with Pastor George as they did with all the other subjects of the section. The pastor let me them sleep in his orphanage and follow him up the mountain.
The second page of the Pastor George story concentrates on his weekly trip up to the highlands. The three photos on page 10 are some of the most storytelling in the section.
Page 11 is a photo page of other images from the Pastor George story. I concentrated on balancing the size and weight of the images. The face at the top of the page could easily over power the other pictures if the size of the images was not in proportion.
The closing page
The last page of the special section offered an opportunity to display photographs without a home elsewhere in the section. A pair of images – the dominant photo of a girl carrying a bucket of river water and the portrait at the bottom of the page – were originally in consideration for either the front page of the section or the newspaper. These startling pictures, plus a healthy dose of white space, end the section with a strong closing note and hopefully leave a lasting impression of what was witnessed.
As Deputy Editor, Digital for the National Geographic Society, Jeremy oversees editorial, missions-based and advertising storytelling on National Geographic's digital platforms. Before coming to the Society he was an associate professor teaching media product design, interactive storytelling, web and print design tools and techniques for Medill and the Segal Institute of Design at Northwestern University. He also served in the Medill administration as the Director of Technology and Space Design. Previously Jeremy led The Poynter Institute in rethinking and redesigning its industry leading website and served as an art director at a couple of newspapers.
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