Medium format black and white portrait photography by Leah Gordon, carnival Haiti. From the series Kanaval.

Kanaval A photography project by Leah Gordon

Inspired by a deep interest in grassroots religious, class, and folk histories, UK-based photographer, filmmaker, writer, and curator Leah Gordon, has been documenting Haiti’s Jacmel Carnival for over two and a half decades: Kanaval is the result.

“Before Carnival, you never sleep, always dreaming of bringing pleasure, innovation and creation.”
– Fanel Saint-Helere & Frantz Denoujou (Flanbo Mardi Gras troupe, Jacmel)

Haiti employs many forms to chronicle its history, from the drumming, singing, dancing, and possessive ritual of the Vodou religion, to the words, theatre, and poems of its great literary tradition, and the unique visions of its painters, sculptors, and flag makers. Haitian history, from the revolution to modern-day, is also replayed through the masks, costumes, and street theatre of the carnival troupes in Jacmel, a coastal town in southern Haiti.

This project and book consist of a series of black and white photographs, taken on a mechanical medium format camera with black and white film, over a period of over twenty years. The images are contextualized by a series of oral histories related by the leaders of various troupes who oversee costume design and generate the narrative of the street theatre during carnival time. Their stories reflect the wealth of invention, fable, and self-generated mythology prevalent in much of Haitian culture. Leah Gordon

Kanaval was recently published as a monograph by Here Press, and Gordon is also in the process of directing a feature-length documentary on Jacmel Carnival for BBC’s Arena, due for broadcast in late 2022.

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