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On the 3rd February, Adjustment Layer posted an account by photographer Edward Linsmier. It is the fullest eye-witness account by a photographer of events surrounding Fabienne’s death that I have read.

The account doesn’t name the girl as Fabienne. Her name has been available from different sources for some time.

Also worth noting, Linsmier talks of Nathan Weber, another photographer present. I was not aware Weber was at the scene.

Fabienne Cherisma lies dead after being shot in the head by police. January 19th, 2010. © Edward Linsmier


Read the full account on Adjustment Layer.

Linsmier opens with the excess necessary to hook the reader, “We heard gunshots and knew we needed to be closer. We processed the thought for a split second and we took off running with our fixer not far behind.” and, “Emboldened by the electricity of the chaos, we advanced further and saw people laying on the ground with police yelling and waving guns in the air and shouting commands.”

Linsmier goes on, “We retreated several steps and waited behind a truck for several seconds until the police were distracted. I saw another photographer up the road and decided that we needed to make a move closer to him so we could make some pictures.”

(One presumes this other photographer is Weber?)

“We followed … onto a downed roof top that led to the exposed insides of several shops filled with the scavenging and excited crowd. We were making pictures.”

“The fixer motioned for me to come because the police had caught a man and had him down on the ground. I, in turn, motioned for my friend and fellow photographer, Nathan Weber, who was still on the slanting concrete rooftop to follow me to the commotion down the road. I yelled his name and he looked at me with a blank stare. Nathan is someone who is on point in a situation such as this. He communicates quickly, clearly and with authority when needed. He is no stranger to photographing in similar situations but something of this magnitude was new to both of us. I knew he heard me and figured he would be right behind me as I headed down to the commotion.”

Linsmier returns to see Fabienne’s body, “[I] climbed back up on the roof to see Nathan in almost the exact same spot where I last saw him, except he was looking at a girl who was lying face down on the slanting concrete roof. As best as I can recall, Nathan spoke in short sentences, “I saw her fall. I thought she tripped and knocked herself out. She’s dead. Fuck. She got shot. I was right here.”

“The decision to continue making photographs was instinctual. More photographers showed up and we were all making pictures, composing the dead girl in the foreground as the looters continued to walk past her, almost over her, carrying whatever they could. Several men stopped to turn her over, seemingly to identify the body. They gently took her arms and almost had to twist her just a little to face her upward. They looked at her with little emotion and left.”

This record of events is interesting because it doesn’t report the bypassers going through Fabienne’s pockets as the Guardian did here.

“She had been shot in the head. From what I could tell, the bullet entered her cheek and exited from the back of her head. The blood had been pooling in some picture frames she was carrying when she fell. After the men moved her, the blood began to run down the slanting concrete roof towards us. We all were still making pictures. To anybody else, it must have looked sick, a crowd of photographers vying for the best position to tell the story of the death of a girl.”

“Just about the time that I figured the pictures were over and we should leave, a frantic man and several others emerged from the crowd. It was the family of the girl. The father hoisted her onto his shoulders and began the journey of bringing his daughter home. The photographers followed. Ordinarily, this would be a scene that hardly anyone could bare to photograph. They were experiencing probably some of the most painful moments of their lives but they knew why we were there. Not once did anyone give a mean look; not once did I hear anyone question why all the photographers were following this family’s grief so intently and so closely. It was part of the story.”


The underlining above is mine. It highlights the photographers’ conscious activities. I make no judgments here. Linsmier is aware of the sensitivity of the situation. Like, Mullady, yesterday, Linsmier’s candour should be appreciated.

Photographs are deceiving. I should know that by now. When I began my inquiry into Fabienne’s death, I assumed there was a scarcity of images. I presumed only Grarup and Garcia Rawlins had witnessed and recorded the incident.

It is clear, now, that there was more photography and activity. On the scene, at various points, were six photographers – Jan Grarup, Olivier Laban-Mattei, Edward Linsmier, Michael Mullady, Carlos Garcia Rawlins and Nathan Weber.

I’d like to state that I have no agenda here, I am simply interested in constructing the scene in a wider context. Photographers don’t work in a vacuum and we must demand to turn their images inside out to understand the context in which the images were created.

Mining the conditions of production is a position I have held consistently throughout my writing on Prison Photography. I am a great admirer of Errol Morris’ writings that demystify photography; it is in that spirit I am pursuing this inquiry.

Thanks to Melissa Lyttle for the note on Edward’s interview.

– – –


Part One: Fabienne Cherisma (Initial inquiries, Jan Grarup, Olivier Laban Mattei)
Part Two: More on Fabienne Cherisma (Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
Part Three: Furthermore on Fabienne Cherisma (Michael Mullady)

Part Five: Interview with Edward Linsmier
Part Six: Interview with Jan Grarup
Part Seven: Interview with Paul Hansen
Part Eight: Interview with Michael Winiarski
Part Nine: Interview with Nathan Weber
Part Ten: Interview with James Oatway
Part Eleven: Interview with Nick Kozak
Part Twelve: Two Months On (Winiarski/Hansen)
Reporter Rory Carroll Clarifies Some Details
Part Fourteen: Interview with Alon Skuy
Part Fifteen: Conclusions


“The question is not whether Fabienne will be remembered as a victim of the earthquake but whether, outside her family, she will be remembered at all.”

Rory Carroll, The Guardian, January 26th, 2010

15-year-old Fabienne Cherisma lies dead after being shot in the head in Port-au-Prince. Photograph: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters.

Fifteen year-old Fabienne Cherisma was shot dead by police at approximately 4pm, January 19th, 2010.

On the 26th of January, the Guardian published an account of Fabienne’s life – her schooling, her sales acumen and her aspirations to be a nurse. The piece is not long, but it needn’t be. It is a modest effort – hopefully the first of a few – to remind us that Fabienne was a daughter, a sister, a source of love and pride for her family and, in the end, an innocent victim.


There is a chance that Fabienne Cherisma could become a symbol of the Haitian earthquake and the problematic aftermath; that she become a tragic silhouette extending meaning far beyond the facts of her abrupt and unjust death.

This notion can be at once offensive and inevitable. If the visual rhetoric is going to play out as such, then if it is not Fabienne, it will be another victim.

What purpose could the emergence of a such a symbol serve?

Thus far Fabienne’s death is a story that has caught wide attention. It came without warning, it was unexpected. Her death – resulting not from nature’s violence but from human action – stands out from other deaths as a particular injustice; Fabienne’s killing is salt in the wounds. While tens of thousands lay obscured beneath rubble, she lay limp and exposed on a bare roof-top. The image itself is an affront.

If one believes that images fuel public awareness, thus securing donations and aid, and thus helping Haiti’s immediate future, then certain images and stories will carry that awareness and emotion.

All the accusations of media exploitation in Haiti do not discredit the positive effects a single image can – without any manipulation – have in the minds of millions. I wouldn’t call this the magic or the power of photography, I’d call it the mysterious perversion of photography. I don’t, and can’t, explain it. I merely observe it.


Fears amongst those who care about media and its conduct hope that the focus can remain on Haiti and its long-term recovery. If the media deserts Haiti after a few short weeks then all accusations of disaster pornography will be upheld.

Photo-editors are now searching for the images that will maintain the humanitarian momentum on Hispanola. These images will be from committed photojournalists who stick around once press photographers have left.

It would be worthwhile to see and hear journalists’ reporting that follows up on the experiences of victims who may or may not have already appeared in coverage. I actually expect journos will follow up on the stories of the child born amid the rubble, the elderly woman rescued after 10 days and the man rescued after search and rescue was called off.

The Haitian recovery must be reported more than the initial chaos.

In the scenario of mass reproduction and circulation, the image of Fabienne’s dead body needn’t be one of mere exploitation. Nothing is so one-dimensional. Of course, this is very sensitive territory and above all the wishes of her family should prevail … in an ideal world.

That said, the history of photojournalism is replete with globally-recognised subjects whose visage was appropriated without their knowledge and/or consent. There’s no model release form in war and disaster.

Fabienne may become a symbol for the innocent victims of this disaster as Kim Phúc did for those in Vietnam. The politics of the two crises are a planet apart, but our modes of consumption are not.

Images are highly manipulable; Errol Morris asserts a caption will turn can turn the reading of a photograph 180 degrees.

The inconvenience of captions often results in the creation of symbol.

I don’t think it will be long before a symbol, a brand for Haitian plight, will rest upon a single image. Western thought demands a visual book-end to the visual dialogue.

Pureevilbunny has already documented a graphic (in both senses of the word) stencil rendering of of Fabiennie’s corpse (artist not stated). The incongruous pink clothing, argyle sweater, flowers and blood are elements that shock.


I do not want to prescribe a means of viewing images of Fabienne’s death. I am interested in informing the public about the photographers who witnessed and recorded the event.

The most widely circulated image is that atop this article by Carlos Garcia Rawlins and distributed by Reuters. It was used in the Daily Mail among others and in the Guardian’s original reporting of the killing:

Police armed with rifles shot over the heads of the people and kicked a man, part of a delayed effort to regain control of a capital which has been lawless – but largely calm – since the 12 January earthquake.

The crowd was carrying grime-­covered chairs while Fabienne, who was on a roof, clutched paintings, including one of two flowers in a vase.

Photographs show her father Osam finding her body, then lifting it into a cart. Fabienne’s mother, Armante, is shown weeping and close to collapse. Osam told AFP news agency that police intentionally shot his daughter. Police were not available for comment.

Jan Grarup of Noor images was also present. Grarup’s dispatch for the 19th and 20th January contains 136 images, nine of which include Fabienne.

© Jan Grarup / Noor Images

© Jan Grarup / Noor Images

© Jan Grarup / Noor Images

© Jan Grarup / Noor Images

Fabienne’s body is in a distinctly different position between the photographs of Garcia-Rawlins and Grarup:

© Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters.

© Jan Grarup / Noor Images

Grarup was present at the scene before Garcia-Rawlins. Between their photographings, the framed pictures slid, Fabienne’s hips turned and her body rolled.

How much time was there between Fabienne’s slaying and the two photographers at the side of her body? How much time was there between the two of them photographing Fabienne? Were Grarup and Garcia-Rawlins on the roof at the same time? Did they see each other work?

Both photographers were obviously present before Osam, Fabienne’s father, carried her body away.

In the immediate aftermath, Grarup documented with a few frames a distraught Osam and family.

Olivier Laban Mattei continued documenting events. Laban Mattei’s dispatch of 28 images, is in fact only five images repeated.

Osam Cherisma carries the body of his daughter Fabienne killed by a policeman during lootings in the Marthely Seiee street January 19, 2010 in Port-au-Prince. © Olivier Laban Mattei/AFP/Getty Images.

Armante Cherisma cries in front of the body of her daughter, Fabienne, 15 years old, killed by a policeman during lootings in the Marthely Seiee street January 19, 2010 in Port-au-Prince. © Olivier Laban Mattei/AFP/Getty Images.

Despite the amateurish piecing together of evidences, presented here is a basic timeline to Fabienne’s death. These images placed in sequence describe more fully her tragic death and take Fabienne’s memory beyond that (Garcia-Rawlins’) single image.

Fabienne was an innocent. Whether misdirected warning shots or deliberate targeting, her shooting was needless.

If Fabienne’s death does come to symbolise something larger, I hope it does so to benefit the survivors in Haiti; that the injustice brought upon her will only distill our resolve to avoid injustices to others.

If the shocking form of her body, face down in the broken frame, becomes symbolic it cannot be for reductive consumption, disaster cliche or political gain.


‘With morgues overflowing, and earthquake fatalities being bulldozed into mass graves, the Cherismas took their ­daughter’s body out of the city. With a borrowed $70 they rented a private bus, and drove for four hours to relatives in Zorange. They buried her in a Catholic ceremony and placed a white cross over the grave.’ (Source)

– – –


Part Two: More on Fabienne Cherisma (Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
Part Three: Furthermore on Fabienne Cherisma (Michael Mullady)
Part Four: Yet more on Fabienne Cherisma (Linsmier, Nathan Weber)
Part Five: Interview with Edward Linsmier
Part Six: Interview with Jan Grarup
Part Seven: Interview with Paul Hansen
Part Eight: Interview with Michael Winiarski
Part Nine: Interview with Nathan Weber
Part Ten: Interview with James Oatway
Part Eleven: Interview with Nick Kozak
Part Twelve: Two Months On (Winiarski/Hansen)
Reporter Rory Carroll Clarifies Some Details
Part Fourteen: Interview with Alon Skuy
Part Fifteen: Conclusions

Magnum has produced a three minute In Motion piece on Haiti:

The multimedia piece as a whole is disappointing. It features the photographs of Abbas, Christopher Anderson, Eve Arnold, Jonas Bendiksen, Bruce Gilden, Cristina Garcia Rodero and Alex Webb – all incredible photographers, but bundled together they compete against (and detract from) one another.

Abbas’ silvery images of Hounsis, ladies dressed in white (2000) … mix with his images of Saut D’eau (2000) … mix with his images of the Pentecostal Protestants of Jacmel … mix with Gilden’s hard-flash from Plaine du Nord (1985) … mix with Gilden’s street photography in Port-au-Prince (1990 & 1994) … mix with Eve Arnold’s quiet compositions (1956) … mix with Christopher Anderson’s menace … mix with Jonas Bendiksen’s beautiful retreated studies of Haitians in agrarian landscapes and activities … mix with Rodero‘s image of the rituals of Soukri, photos of the Carnival at Jacmel and Souvenance …

The slideshow concludes with a vertiginous volley of portraits of Restavek child servants/slaves by Paolo Pellegrin (who strangely has no credit line).

It’s all too busy and without context and frankly does nothing to describe the country of Haiti. It is in some ways just a limp, late addition to the flurry of visuals we’ve been served these past eleven days.

Magnum would have been much better promoting the recent traveling exhibition Disposable People – Contemporary Global Slavery, and making ‘In Motion’ pieces for contributors Webb and Pellegrin.


Fototapeta‘s interview with Webb is well worth reading. He talks about the cultural differences between the US and countries of Central and Southern America (with repeated references to to Haiti); about open energy and discrete action; about shooting in colour and in B&W; and about reconciling photojournalism with an inevitable personal reaction.

Webb notes his ongoing balancing act,

“I always felt to some extent that I am out one fringe of Magnum, but I was brought into Magnum particularly by Charles Harbutt, and Charles was really oriented not towards traditional photojournalism at that point. I mean at that point Marc Riboud was doing a lot of rather traditional photojournalism. Charles was encouraging a much more personal kind of vision of the world, and that influenced me much more. I have taken elements of that, which is a very personal approach, but taken them into situations that people do not associate with a totally personal approach like going somewhere else, like Haiti, where political violence takes place, therefore it is photojournalism, but I am actually taking a very personal approach inside places like Haiti.”

HAITI. Port-au-Prince. 1987. A memorial for victims of army violence. © Alex Webb

I picked out the image by Alex Webb (above) as my preferred image because, while it’s subject is death, it is – as a single image – actually about the bonds of a Haitian community and the composition of Webb’s craft. And they equalise one another perfectly.

I don’t wish to be misunderstood, Magnum: In Motion is a phenomenal service to the global photographic community. I can’t imagine a world nor web without it. The archive is a treasure. I guess when I believe a slideshow has fallen short I want to state it as such. I only criticise because I care.

© Damon Winter / New York Times

In November, I interviewed Damon Winter for Too Much Chocolate. He is calm, modest and (quite frankly) not the best interviewee because he still feels he is too young in the career to make bold statements … you know the sound-bites from photojournalists we all crave … the ones about adventure or celebrity subjects.

His skills were proven when he raked in the Pulitzer for A Vision Of History his coverage of Obama (it was his first time covering a political campaign!)

Damon attested to the fact he has always learnt on the job. He did not train formally as photojournalist per se; he studied environmental science at college. He even admits that since his job is so time-consuming he feels somewhat detached from the talk and over-talk (my term) within the industry.

To cut a long intro short, I have a lot of respect for Damon.

Damon’s visit to Haiti has been his first coverage of a disaster area. His dispatches have been well received; most likely because he has put sensitive words (here and here) out there as well as his photographs.

I posted earlier this week about the unknowns surrounding the escape of the entire Haiti National Penitentiary population. Damon has since visited the prison for the New York Times and the NYT continues the reflections on these unknowns:

Who were the [prisoners]? Were they among the machete-wielding pillagers who made their way along the Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines on Saturday afternoon? (The account in The Times, “Looting Flares Where Authority Breaks Down,” said no one could answer with certainty.) Did their numbers include political prisoners? In “Disaster Imperialism in Haiti” on MRZine, a Socialist Web site, Shirley Pate wrote: “Who knows how many of the dead or escaped prisoners there were those who were incarcerated without cause over the course of the two years that followed Aristide’s departure?”

Damon Winter’s photographs answer none of these questions. They don’t mean to. But they do begin to paint a picture of life inside a Haitian prison; a picture that few people have ever seen before.

(My bolding)


Men rummage through the remains at the Haitian National Penitentiary that stands burnt and empty after a 7.0 magnitude quake rocked Port-au-Prince, in this United Nations handout photo taken and released on January 14. Photo Credit: United Nations, Reuters.


The Port-au-Prince slum Cite Soleil was renowned for extreme violence and as stronghold for gang activity. Recently, activities there had calmed – as Reuters notes, “The pacification of Cite Soleil had been one of President Rene Preval’s few undisputed achievements since taking office in 2006, until the quake devastated Port-au-Prince.”

The National Penitentiary served to incapacitate the capital’s violent gang members and leaders. Between 3,000 and 4,000 former-inmates are now on the streets. The remains and records amid the rubble of the Ministry of Justice have been torched destroying the information needed to track down the former prison population. Law and order are fragile now, but still, violent incidents are few.

Undoubtedly, fear reigns. From the Guardian:

Now Cite Soleil is braced for a return of the gangs.

“They got out of prison and now they’re going around trying to rob people,” said Cite Soleil resident Elgin St Louis, 34, told Reuters. “Last night they spent the whole night shooting,” she added. “We dread their return,” said another.

So far, warnings that Port-au-Prince would descend into anarchy have not materialised. Lawlessness has been localised and confined largely to the night. But the few incidents have been brutal. In the Delmar neighbourhood, two suspected looters were tied together and beaten before being dragged through the streets.

Haiti’s National Penitentiary became an essential apparatus in Preval’s abatement of gang command in Port-au-Prince’s poorer neighbourhoods. In 2004, it is alleged prison administration put down a non-violent protest with lethal force. President Rene Preval’s office argued that they used acceptable force in the interest of self-defense.

But the problem’s in Haiti’s prisons existed long before Preval’s insertion into power in 2004 and even before Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s third stint as president (2001 – 2004).

In 1997, Donna DeCesare won the Alicia Patterson Fellowship and, in 2000, used the opportunity to examine the links between criminal activity, US deportees and gang structure in Haiti.

From looking at her essay I can only presume Preval’s strategic battle with the gangs compounded problems of overcrowding. DeCesare’s essay touches necessarily upon issues of poverty, services, police shortcomings and judicial corruption … all the while following the fortunes of Touchè Caman, U.S. deportee and organizer for Chans Altenativ, an organisation to help Haitian deportees.

Brilliant journalism, but of course ten years old.

More immediately are the concerns of safety and health for Haitians in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas.

At the Haitian National Penitentiary, Touchè Caman does outreach for Chans Altenativ.looking for deportees among the inmates. “I never thought I’d be going back into a prison after the last time,” he tells me laughing. “It’s a lot different on the other side of the bars. Maybe Chans Altenativ can help a few of them when they get out.” © Donna DeCesare

At Forte Nacional, where children, women and youths are incarcerated, more than 40 youths share the same cell. There are no school classes or trade workshops here. Most of these boys are 16 years old. A few are younger. Some claim membership in Base Big Up and other gangs. One thing is certain, without training or rehabilitative programs of any kind to offer alternatives to street life, many of these boys will find their way into criminal gangs when they are released, even if they weren’t already involved. © Donna DeCesare


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