Today, while in transition from landing in New York from Haiti, photojournalist and Belgium native Alice Smeets stopped by the College Now journalism class at Lehman College. She offered advice about studying photography in journalism, and shared her stories about working in Haiti.
In her session with the students, Smeets gave tips on photojournalism. While working in Haiti for many years, she believed her photos became more “objective” and discussed how her work has developed over the years.
Talking to the students, the photojournalist demonstrated how to edit a photo using contrast and how to make a picture black and white. She also provided some photography tips, including the “golden rule,” which she explained is used in photography to cut photos into three lines as well as using composition and lighting to help improve pictures. She also advised that taking a lot of pictures is the best way to find the right one.
“Go and take pictures. Pictures, pictures, pictures. Lots of them, and look at the pictures…see which ones the rule applies to,” said Smeets.
She shared many of her experiences and talked about taking photos of random people. From subways to buses, as a young photographer she took many pictures of strangers to practice her photography. On some occasions people yelled at her and had her delete their pictures – but she only pretended to do so.
In 2006, Alice Smeets first began her pursuit of her career in photography. A year later, at the age of 19, she went to Haiti to begin working as a photojournalist. Even though she was young, having quit school for her career, Smeets began to work in many places. She traveled to different places such as South Africa and Haiti, where she used her photojournalism as a medium for travel. This was the ideal job for her, she said, because she was “always trying not to pay for [her] flight ticket.”
In describing Haiti, Smeets shared her initial thoughts about the country.
“It was a culture shock,” she said. “I had never been in a place with so much poverty.”
Thinking back, Smeets explained how she wondered how her photography would impact the country’s society. “When i was 19 years old, I wanted to take pictures of the poverty and make a change,” she told students.
Although her pictures did not necessarily make changes in Haiti, they did provide insight of the very poor parts of the country. Some were of orphanages, and little kids working as prostitutes.
Smeets won the UNICEF photo of the year award for her photo of a young girl in the slum of Cite Soleil.
During the 2010 earthquake she was on her way to Haiti, but was stuck in New York. However, she continued on her way and reached the earthquake-ravaged country five days later.
“I wish I was in Belgium because it was the second plane to arrive in Haiti,” says Smeets.
Although Smeets wanted to be there, so did many other reporters. She shared that those reporters were only showing only one side of Haiti.
She says she had to be there more than anybody else “because [she] knew everything about the country.” Those other reporters just wanted an easy story, she said.
She explains that all the reporters went to one place, which showed “only one tiny part of Haiti” that included crime and dysfunction.
“I didn’t take any pictures of crime because that is not what I saw,” Smeets said. “The media showed Haiti as the most criminal place, and [I] wanted to show a positive side.”
In her attempt to discover the “truth” about Haiti and “how the country really is,” Smeets came across many interesting stories such as the story about a 7 year-old girl whose father died and mother left. She was forced to live with her neighbors who treated her differently.
After shadowing the girl for three days, Smeets discovered that the young girl had to do all the housework. She states that the little girl’s condition of living was “basically a slave to the family.”
Smeets also informed the students of the large differences in money that are existent in Haiti. “Rich people in Haiti have everything they want,” she said, “Haiti is the nation with the second biggest inequality difference in the world.”
“The rich are really rich and the poor are really poor,” she said.
Smeets talked about how the rich people don’t want to be seen as the bad guys. They want “people to see the [nice] side of Haiti for tourism,” she said.
“I don’t want to judge them. I want to tell it how it is,” she said. “It’s their Haiti.”
This will probably bring money back to the country, but “this system is so strong that even if you want to, it is so hard to change,” Smeets added. She said it would take everyone to work together, rich and poor, but that the “government is corrupt as hell.”