Daily Picture Show

Documenting Haiti's Ruined Grandeur

Photojournalist Swoan Parker recently toured Haiti's National Palace, which was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. NPR's Laura Sullivan interviewed Parker about her photos of the once-grand building.

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    A view of the collapsed cupola of the National Palace is seen in Port-au-Prince on Aug. 13. The palace, which was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000 people, was supposed to be demolished to make way for new construction, but the plan has been delayed.
    Swoan Parker/Courtesy of Reuters
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    A view from inside the presidential office — known as the Oval Office.
    Swoan Parker/Courtesy of Reuters
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    A ruined staircase is seen in the collapsed National Palace. Parker described it as "a staircase of grandeur."
    Swoan Parker/Courtesy of Reuters
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    An interior view of the destroyed building.
    Swoan Parker/Courtesy of Reuters
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    A wooden sculpture depicting former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide rests against a wall of the National Palace. The words on the sculpture that read "Lape nan tet, lape nan vant," is a slogan attributed to Aristide, meaning, "There is no peace of mind without peace in the stomach."
    Swoan Parker/Courtesy of Reuters
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    A photograph lies amid the rubble.
    Swoan Parker/Courtesy of Reuters
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    Destruction is seen on the second floor.
    Swoan Parker/Courtesy of Reuters
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    The ballroom at the destroyed National Palace.
    Swoan Parker/Courtesy of Reuters
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    A view of an interior courtyard and roof at the National Palace.
    Swoan Parker/Courtesy of Reuters
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    Members of the Haitian Color Guard lower the flag in front of the National Palace on Aug. 9.
    Swoan Parker/Courtesy of Reuters

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Laura Sullivan: It looks like the building is literally falling down on top of you — how dangerous was it to walk around this former palace?

Swoan Parker: Actually, pretty dangerous. I was a little afraid to take more in-depth pictures because of the instability of the structure. Because there are chunks of concrete just dangling from the ceiling, you are wondering if they're just going to come crashing down on you. So you walk as gingerly as possible, and just cross your fingers that nothing's going to happen.

Sullivan: What were some of the most haunting photographs for you?

Parker: Just looking at the cupola, which is now a symbol of the state of the country. But inside that cupola, there's a grand ballroom, so in my mind I was constantly wondering what it was like with some of the events that were there – some of the galas that they hosted — who might have been present.

Sullivan: What is your sense of how people feel about the palace at this moment?

For many people, it stands for Haiti's pride. This is a symbol for many people, so they consider it a great sense of loss.

Sullivan: When you walked through the palace are there any vestiges of the seat of government that it once was?

No, everything has been completely removed. You find the miscellaneous couch, but you don't find anything of significant importance.

Sullivan: Are you planning to shoot the demolition of the National Palace?

Yes, it's anticipated that demolition will begin within the next two weeks, but this is Haiti, so sometimes things are not always set in stone.

Parker wrote about her experience photographing the National Palace on Reuters' photo blog.

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