We speak to New York based Haitian photographer and architect about her journey as a creative and the work she has recently completed.
"Beauty, like love; is an experience whose sole purpose is to elevate our perceptual senses. It is the collection of moments or images that represent the most pronounced & exceptional attractiveness of our souls. And what is more beautiful than our culture, our roots? All of our battles, victories, the foundation of our strength... All perfectly incorporated into songs and dances - voodoo; an unparalleled and divine universe completely misunderstood, belittled as time and modernization prevail."
CN: So please introduce yourself to our audience?
Zarita Zevallos: My name is Zarita Zevallos, I'm a photographer born and based in New York. I was raised in Haiti for 16 years before I moved to Puerto Rico for my last year in high school and beginning of college. I studied engineering then switched to architecture after surviving the earthquake that happened in Haiti in 2010; that was a turning point for me as I had no idea what I really wanted to study. I then moved to New York to study Architecture in hopes that someday I could better the infrastructure in my country. As time went by, I learned photography, the philosophy of life and everything I needed to know to be careful in New York from my father.
CN: What kind of infrastructure are you looking to build?
Zarita Zevallos: I'm generally interested in private homes, but for Haiti, I would like to build schools and roads; a much-needed development. It's very concentrated in the capital.
CN: Will you be going back soon to start?
Zarita Zevallos: Back home is extremely corrupted and it is difficult to collaborate with such government. I thought I did, but not now, surely in upcoming years when I have more experience in the field - corruption really stifles progress.
CN: Talk to us about Haiti, we in the rest of the world don't know much about that country beyond the snippets provided by media.
Zarita Zevallos: It's so much honestly. It is in part what is shown by the media but there is, as usual, a beautiful side. The capital is leaning towards 'trends' and there is a loss of true personality in my opinion. It is overly crowded and people are just trying to find a way to survive, even if it's found in shame. If you go outside of the capital, there is SO much beauty! The people are genuinely warm and really want to share their knowledge and mostly their art. Haitians are self-taught everything honestly, lol it's amazing. Haiti is extremely artistic but there is more interest in artists that want to be musicians rather than poets, writers etc.. What the country lacks is help from the government. People are talented but if you don't have a famous name, it is near impossible to make it.
CN: Talk to us about your photography? What stories are you looking to tell?
Zarita Zevallos: Like I said; I learned photography from my father. He's fascinated by cameras and takes pictures of everything. My mother and father have lived mostly in different countries so he wasn't in our everyday lives until we travelled to see him. It was another chapter of my 'education' because at the time I got my camera we started having strong conversations about philosophy, life, society, psychology etc. I started opening my eyes to the brainwash I was raised in. I realised that from the moment I was born, so much information was downloaded into my brain and I 'thought' I was making my own choices but no. I wanted to share this truth with people. I always wanted to help people realise that certain things that our families told us are a product of civilisation. I want people to truly pay attention to photography, as an art; to pay attention to the messages carved in a picture. I want people to know truth. I want people to learn. Oh, by the way, my parents are married lol. They're not separated. 35 years strong.
CN: How has your photography been received by your family and fellow Haitians?
Zarita Zevallos: Well my mother didn't really pay much attention to it at first. She just wanted a profile picture lol. But there came a time when I did ask her to see it as a passion of mine and she supports me. Everyone in my family supports it, but my father is the one that is proud because he understands the craft and the poetry behind it. My sister, Alexa, pushed me to go further too. I don't have a lot of friends; I keep to myself a lot. but the few that I have are definitely proud of me.
CN: You just published your series on voodoo culture, what inspired that project and what do you hope to achieve?
Zarita Zevallos: Generally, I look to express myself and my opinion on how I view society and communities or people. I had done a previous series on people's different/false faces on social platforms because it is something that makes me so uncomfortable; to see so many of past friends depend on 'likes' or do certain things because it will inevitably get them more likes. I saw how people reacted to it and it created such a conversation that it pushed me to continue creating this 'dialogue' between my work and people that take the time to read and pay attention to details in photography. For this series, It was actually a combination of two things; the first thing was a conversation with someone, and as soon as I spoke of 'voodoo' his face changed and he said things like "you're looking for problems and you're gonna curse yourself" - It left a mark on me because this person is religious and I thought to myself that religion takes too much away from us. I respect people who believe in whatever they do but it hurts me when it conflicts with your culture and who you are. Most people from the western world, see it as 'evil' or from the 'devil'. The second thing was actually me going through Instagram and seeing that there are countless blogs celebrating African culture/women/people and so forth and yet not many who do the same work for Haitian artists (painters/graphic artists/photographers etc.) So it was a combination of events that pushed me to say okay, I need to push this forward. I want to celebrate this side of us.
CN: How has the world responded particularity the youth?
Zarita Zevallos: It was a success actually. Many loved it and felt that there were fluidity and poetry within the pictures. It's caught a lot of people's attention enough to even write me to encourage me to continue what I do.
CN: How has travel influenced your work, I visited your site and I saw that you have been travelling.
Zarita Zevallos:Ummm... It helped me in my thinking first. Because you hear people talking about how they think; whether it's negative or positive, it improves your thinking inevitably. It broadens your horizon. In that way, you stay alone and you see how the world really is (or the part that you've discovered) and you want to express what you've seen/heard/felt and that's how it works for me. Some people write poetry or sing, I express my experience/opinion through photography.
CN: Whats the creative community like in New York? Globally it is seen as the city to be in, is it?
Zarita Zevallos: It's way more than you see in the media! There's always something going on in New York; it's very much alive and what I love about the city the most is that you can enjoy yourself even more at events that are either free or cheap rather than exclusive ones. On the train to go places, you may find singers, rappers, poets, musicians giving a 2-minute show for some loose change. The dancers are repetitive but the rest of them are very inspiring; especially owing to the fact that it is the city; so you always have to 'up your game' - no one will stop and stare if you're typical. I think every artist in new york has learned that it's somewhat a competition so they're all pushing the limits of what you may expect.
CN: What is creativity to you?
Zarita Zevallos: That is such a difficult question to answer. I know that if your work has strong meaning expressed in it, it has a solid foundation to be creative already. Creativity doesn't necessarily have to be 'unique' or the only one of its kind, it just needs to be personal - I would say. I dislike when 'already made' things or filters are added to a piece of work because then it doesn't come from within, no time is taken with the art. In my opinion, it becomes something that 'looks cool' rather than "I gave birth to this."
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