How does a fashion photographer shooting for luxury brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Versace, Louis Vuitton and Valentino end up creating a body of photojournalistic work so moving that it rallies the entire fashion world in support of a profoundly humanitarian cause? Haiti: Through the Eye of Stefano Guindani, a unique 168-page photographic volume launched during the fashion weeks in Milan, Rome and Paris, exemplifies the catalyzing role fashion can play in drawing attention to global issues that fade away soon after they stop making newspaper headlines.
Guindani, a fashion photographer who runs a photo agency in Italy offering editorial services to fashion houses, made his first trip to Haiti with a group of Hollywood actors a year before the devastating earthquake of 2009, and fell in love with the country. The joy and the “incredible will to live,” set against the stark contrast of the abject poverty in which many Haitians lived, roused Guindani’s passion for photojournalism as a way to become engaged with the country and its people in a meaningful way. Joining hands with the Francesca Rava Foundation, which has helped children in serious need in Haiti for more than 20 years, Guindani embarked on a two-year photographic journey to create a touching portrait of the country. Guindani began this work prior to the devastating earthquake that shook the country, making him a tender link between the “before” and “after” of history.
When an entire country’s identity becomes embalmed in images of despair and devastation in the collective memory of the global community, what’s needed is a perspective that serves as a reminder that life is more resilient than the immediate experience of tragedy. Guindani’s photographs from Haiti indeed serve to invoke a rare optimism that transcends the anguish that we have come to associate with post-earthquake Haiti.
Virginia Villari-Blanc, art curator for cream*hotel, who has worked on several exhibitions with us in the past, approached us for assistance in bringing Guindani’s work to the United States for the first time to serve as a fund-raising vehicle for the foundation. I was incredibly moved by the stunning black-and-white portraits of children interacting with Guindani’s camera in joyful gestures across the milieu of earthquake ruins, urban slums and the abject poverty that overwhelm their lives. Haiti is a country beset with the grimmest statistics. More children die during infancy in the country than anywhere else in the world, and 70 percent of the population is unemployed. To intimately photograph the least empowered of the country’s citizens, young children, a photographer must not only possess deep compassion and humanitarianism, but also an unwavering commitment to preserving their dignity. Keeping oneself removed enough from these subjects while staying emotionally committed to telling the most truthful story about them is extremely difficult for photographers of all genres, especially one whose personal brand is rooted in fashion photography. Guindani carries this mantle extremely responsibly, going from telling stories about models and brands in glitzy technicolor photographs to painting a portrait of harsh reality in the most powerful black-and-white pictures. “When you’re in certain environments and situations and with a camera in your hands,” he says, “you have the right and the duty to try to tell a story, trying to catch the attention of as many people as you can. It’s impossible to totally experience Haiti without being subjected to it. Subjected in many ways, not necessarily negative.”
As he artistically circumvents the cliché, pity-filled imagery of tragedy, Guindani allows the viewer to con-sider and feel what it truly means to be a child, full of curiosity and hope and an eternal optimism about the future.
We worked with Virginia and Guindani to render his beautiful body of work into 27 digital photographic prints, carefully maintaining the nuanced tonality of the delicate contrast ratios between the shadows and the highlights. Three larger-than-life portraits, stretched in canvas onto wooden frames printed at nine feet wide, anchored the experience of the show.
These photographs, along with the book, have been used to raise funds for the Francesca Rava Foundation. Guindani is donating all profits from book sales to the foundation, which is currently in the process of building a new orphanage for Haitian children. So moved by Guindani’s work were the creative directors at Valentino that Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli designed a T-shirt to support the initiative. Proceeds of the cotton tee go to the Francesca Rava-N.P.H. Italia Foundation to fund rehabilitation and medical-surgical programs for Haitian’s youth in the aftermath of the earthquake.
In a world that’s gradually waking up to its collective responsibility toward humanity and the environment as a whole, it’s extremely heartening to be involved with such a meaningful project and to see that the custodianship of photography as an effective vehicle for aid is emerging, surprisingly, from the world of fashion.
You can see more of Stefano Guindani’s images at www.stefanoguindani.com. For more information on Duggal, visit www.duggal.com or check out the new blog at www.duggal.com/connect and see their newest articles on the printing, photography and fine-art industries.