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Portraits Of Haitians In Miami

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Portraits Of Haitians In Miami

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Portraits Of Haitians In Miami

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The photographer Bruce Weber is best-known for his shots of models and celebrities. Think about Vogue or Ralph Lauren ads, or Abercrombie and Fitch. He created one of advertising's most famous images back in the '80s: an Olympic athlete wearing Calvin Klein briefs - that's all - on a Times Square billboard.

He also used his photography to tell other, less-commercial stories. In Miami, Weber has a museum exhibition with photos profiling the city's Haitian community.

From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: For Bruce Weber, Miami is home.

Mr. BRUCE WEBER (Photographer): I first came here working for Calvin Klein, and we went down to South Beach. And I fell in love with the beach and the water.

ALLEN: But he's here not just for the beach. Weber is also drawn to Miami's neighborhoods.

Mr. WEBER: You know, people always say to me: Well, what's the best part of Miami? And I say it's people, because they're all so many characters.

ALLEN: Weber tells the story of some of those characters in a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. It's 75 photographs taken over the last seven years in Miami's Haitian community. He says this show was inspired by a conversation he had with his friend, filmmaker Jonathan Demme, after a screening of Demme's documentary about Haiti, "The Agronomist."

Weber says he asked Demme what he could do to help Haiti.

Mr. WEBER: And he said, Bruce, take your camera, go to Krome. Go to the people of Little Haiti.

ALLEN: That's Krome, as in the Krome Detention Center, a federal facility near Miami where Haitians are held, pending deportation. In 2003, he went there with Haitian advocates and was shocked at what he found. Weber says he's visited prisons before on photo assignments.

Mr. WEBER: But never did I have a chill like I did when I went to Krome. And I saw men just treated so terribly because of where they're from and who they are.

ALLEN: In the exhibit, there's a portrait of a skinny young man, David Joseph, who was just 18 when he arrived in the U.S. and was detained by authorities. Attorney General John Ashcroft intervened personally in the case, writing an opinion denying Joseph bail bond while he sought asylum. He spent two years in detention before being deported.

Krome and the plight of Haitian asylum seekers is far from the world of models, celebrities and fashion where Bruce Weber is one of the most sought-after photographers. But while taking those assignments, Weber has always found time for more personal work, such as his 2007 film profiling a gritty Miami neighborhood: "Liberty City is Like Paris to Me."

Mr. WEBER: The people in this community suffered through the riots of the 1980s, and they experienced continual poverty and unjust immigration laws. But they were able to rebuild and rise far above what others once thought was impossible.

ALLEN: For his journey through the Haitian community, Weber had an expert guide. Marleine Bastien is well-known through her work with the non-profit group she heads, Haitian Women of Miami. She introduced him to the community and worked with him almost as a collaborator.

Ms. MARLEINE BASTIEN (Founder, Haitian Women of Miami): He's able to communicate to them in ways that other people can't. And he becomes like their interpreter. He touches their soul, and then he's interpreting to others what the Haitian people have been through.

ALLEN: While many of the photos are from 2003, focusing on forced detentions and U.S. immigration policies, there's another set that's more recent. After the Haitian earthquake, among the places Weber and Bastien visited was a hotel in Miami where medical evacuees were being housed.

While there, Weber photographed four Haitian girls, all recovering from disfiguring injuries. They were hesitant, but he convinced them, telling them they're as pretty as Beyonce, whom he's also photographed.

In the exhibit, his photo shows four young women smiling - beautiful, with a lot of personality. That was especially so, Weber says, with one of the girls, Barbara Adrien.

Mr. WEBER: Her personality was so strong and so vibrant that I can only compare it to the time I was photographing Leonardo DiCaprio when he was a young boy. We went to Coney Island together, and it was just like an explosion of life. You could have taken a million pictures of her. You could have made a million movies about her.

ALLEN: Weber's show will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami through February. Weber says he isn't done telling the Haitian story, and is planning a trip soon to the island.

I'm hoping some day, he says, that we'll have a better story to tell.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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