‘Living in the Mud’
A local photographer trains her lens on life in Haiti, where hardship and happiness intermingle
by Bill Donahue

When Natalie Napoleon Wi heard her neighbors would be going to Haiti as part of a missionary group, she knew wanted to help. She just wasn’t sure how. Her initial plan was to raise enough money to buy a number of cameras to take with her so she could teach photography classes and find other ways to help Haitians enrich their lives.

Although her fundraising goal ultimately fell short, she raised enough to fund her trip to the troubled Caribbean nation. She decided to go not as a teacher but as “a voyeur.”

“I was nervous, and I knew I had to be careful,” says Wi, who co-owns Allure West Studios in Doylestown. “I went into it with as much of an open mind as possible, but I didn’t know what to expect. Oftentimes, with anything you do in life, getting there is the hardest part but once you’re there you can really enjoy yourself.”

In November 2014, as part of a group organized by the nonprofit Poverty Resolutions, Wi spent a week in the small village of Carries, Haiti. There, missionaries worked to help the local population by providing services in regard to education, health care and transitioning to the work force. No matter where Wi went in Carries, her camera was never far away. In her images, she captured the beauty of human perseverance—smiling schoolchildren, patrons of a medical clinic and residents of a nearby orphanage, as well as one particularly visceral shot of a goat that had been slaughtered to feed the village. The images are honest, unfiltered and, in a word, stirring.

“I was moved by the experience, and I discovered we’re all living the same journey; happiness is what we’re all searching for,” she says. “I left there feeling very happy and grateful for what I have in life. Despite their circumstances, the people I met [in Haiti] were happy to be alive. Oftentimes they didn’t have roofs or shoes, but you would still see them smiling and spending time together and working hard as a community. I wanted to take that concept and bring it home to Bucks County.”

Although the experience turned out to be much different than she had expected it to be, it was nonetheless transformative. The people she met, the things she saw, the images she captured—all stoked her desire to “do something” even after she returned stateside. The fruits of her labor will be on display April 24, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., when she will host a curated event, “Living in the Mud: An Interactive Pop-up Haiti Exhibit,” at the Event Center by Cornerstone in New Hope.

The exhibit, which is sponsored by The Cornerstone Clubs, will welcome attendees to view and purchase many of the images she captured during her time in Haiti. (Two of the images were accepted as entries in the 23d Annual Phillips’ Mill Photographic Exhibition.) In addition, Wi will be on hand to offer her perspective on the experience and answer questions, as will two other photographers: Jules Lafferty, who went to Haiti on a medical mission trip through Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Doylestown; and Jung Wi, Natalie’s husband and business partner, who will hold a discussion on travel photography. In addition, one of Cornerstone’s yoga instructors will lead a community yoga session. A portion of the proceeds from the exhibit will be used to fund Wi’s daughter’s efforts to buy recorders—the flute-like musical instruments—for students of a school in Carries.

“I’ll always want to help someone, somewhere,” Wi adds. “I’m not sure it will always be Haiti; maybe I’ll look toward other countries and different cultures. It could be anywhere, even local. We have a lot to fix here, right in our community in the Philadelphia area.”  

Admission to “Living in the Mud” costs $10. To register for the event, visit allurewest.com/haiti/registration

Photograph by Natalie Napolean Wi