Spotlight: In Leah Gordon’s sensitive photographs, Haitian carnival culture erupts in a new, decade-long show

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What you need to know: Ed Cross, London is currently hosting a solo exhibition, Leah Gordon: Kanaval, which will run until February 18, 2023. The selection of black and white photographs is from a long-term series started by Gordon She first visited Haiti in the early 1990s. Featuring images captured with a vintage analog camera over a period of 25 years, the works together offer a glimpse into the rich and complex culture and history of Jacmel, Haiti’s southern municipality. The exhibition follows the latest edition of the book Kanaval, from Here Press last November; It contains more photos as well as oral histories focusing on the Jacmel Carnival season. Later that year, Gordon’s documentary Kanaval: A Folk History of Haiti in Six Chapters will be shown in selected cinemas in November and at the BBC 4 Arena on 27 November 2023.

Why we like it: What sets Gordon’s work apart from pure documentary photography is her reciprocal approach – referred to as “performed ethnography” – to the subjects of her images. By engaging directly with the people and places she focuses her lens on, and communicating through the common language of Krèyol (also known as Haitian Creole), the sitters maintain authority and are paid for their time. {Accordingly, 5 percent of profits from the current show will be used to buy art supplies for Atis Rezistans — resistance artists — a Port-au-Prince-based collective.) Gathering oral histories alongside capturing the costume, clothing and setting of the contestants and Decades of visitors to Jacmel’s annual carnival celebration have resulted in a dynamic, multi-perspective visual exploration of the vibrant community and culture. In addition, through this project, Gordon has been able to delve into broader issues of history and politics, and the influence of the past – from pre-colonial society to the 18th century revolt and US interference in the 20th century to bring to light today’s Haitian culture. Speaking of the project, Gordon said, “These are people who take history into their own hands and mold it into what they decide. So in this historical retelling we find mask after mask, but instead of concealing, they reveal, story after story, through disguise and roadside mime.”

According to gallery: “We are honored to work with Leah Gordon to bring this show to you. Her iconic work, spanning two decades, carefully and respectfully unveils the layers of meaning behind an extraordinarily rich cultural phenomenon, study of which unlocks Haiti’s unique and important history, in all its tragedy and triumph.” – Director Ed Cross

View featured works from the exhibition below.

leah gordon, Lansé Kod | Gason Bó Lanmé-a (Rope Thrower | Boy by the Sea) (2000). Courtesy of Ed Cross, London.

Leah Gordon, Madanm Lasirén (Madame Mermaid) (2003).  Courtesy of Ed Cross, London.

leah gordon, Madanm Lasirén (Madame Mermaid) (2003). Courtesy of Ed Cross, London.

Leah Gordon, Pa Wowo (The Way of Wowo) (2004).  Courtesy of Ed Cross, London.

leah gordon, Pa Wowo (The Way of Wowo) (2004). Courtesy of Ed Cross, London.

Leah Gordon, Nèg pote Wob fè Fas Kache: Deye (Man Wearing a Dress Hiding his Face: Front) (2004).  Courtesy of Ed Cross, London.

leah gordon, Nèg pote Wob fè Fas Kache: Deye (Man wearing a dress that hides his face: front) (2004). Courtesy of Ed Cross, London.

Leah Gordon, Lanmò (death) (2019).  Courtesy of Ed Cross, London.

leah gordon, Lanmo (death) (2019). Courtesy of Ed Cross, London.

Leah Gordon: Kanaval runs at Ed Cross, London until February 18, 2023.

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