Inside Haiti's Iron Market

A woman at a stall with the Iron Market in the distance Traders sell their goods in the open air while in the distance the clock tower of the rebuilt indoor market can be seen.

It is three years since a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit the city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, resulting in more than 200,000 deaths and one million being left homeless.

The disaster pushed the aid agencies to the limit. Much help was promised from around the globe, yet the scale of devastation and other complications led to delays.

Even now, three years on, with the return of cholera to the island for the first time in a century and with as many as 400,000 people still living in tent cities, there is evidence that the reconstruction of many lives is still a distant dream.

Yet there have been some successes. Photographer John Baucher has published a book entitled Nou La, We Are Here which documents the lives of those who work at the Iron Market (Marche de Fer) in Port-au-Prince.

Start Quote

I always want to use all of the frame so it is rare for me to crop my photographs ”

End Quote John Baucher

Built in France, the main structure was originally destined to be a railway station in Cairo, but the deal fell through and so the President of Haiti Florvil Hyppolite had it shipped over in 1891, and there it stood until it was destroyed by the earthquake of 2010.

The market consisted of two halls joined by a clock tower and an ambitious rebuilding project saw it reopen a year on from the quake, with ex-US President Bill Clinton on hand to do the honours.

The new market was rebuilt using as much of the original material as possible, with the addition of a new perimeter wall which saw local tradesmen employed to create ornamental details. It also houses a large array of solar panels to provide the power. "The Iron Market is a first-class building for a third world country," says Baucher. "And whilst the building is important it is the people who use the building who make it."

Baucher's pictures capture some of the 900 traders in the halls, at work, engaging with their customers and sometimes just proudly sitting in front of their stalls. It's a lovely body of work and one that shows that photography can focus on the positive as well as the gloomier side of life.

Here's a selection from the book.

Southern Hall For many, the reopening couldn't come soon enough, as trader Jeannette Borgelin notes: "The Iron Market is a national treasure and I've been selling here since 1971 as my parents were vendors here too. During the rebuild, I was at home, impatiently waiting for the reopening."
Johanne Remy Inside the southern hall of the market you will find fresh fruit, vegetables, tinned and dry goods as well as beauty products.
Delivery Baucher set up a small temporary stall when he began the project so he could hand out small prints of his work to the traders.
Woman wearing Haiti hat Those whose stalls reside in the halls have the advantage of 24-hour security, offering a secure place to work.
Lormestin Desrosiers Baucher says hairdressing and selling of beauty products are some of the busiest businesses in the market. Lormestin Desrosiers, seen here, said: "The market is beautiful. I wish they would rebuild other stores in the area to attract more clients downtown."
Richard Jean Pierre In the north hall you will find the voodoo stalls.
Seeking shade on the street Outside the Iron Market others trade on the streets.
Solar panels on the roof The solar panels on the roof can be seen to the right of this frame.
End of the day At the end of the day vendors cover their goods and come back the next day to trade once more.

I have previously written about John Baucher's street portraits: Belfast and Beyond: Through the Viewfinder

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  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Your guys are not comparing like with like:
    Haiti is one of the world's poorest; blighted by dictatorships, corruption and natural disasters.
    Japan is the world's third-largest economy with well developed governance, infrastructure etc. Japan had earthquake emergency planning, Haiti had none. Japan could absorb the hit and had major reserves to draw upon. Haiti got KO’d.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    31.Lord Teapot - "......Look at Japan; they've rebuilt their country in less than a year, and the devastation there dwarfs that which occured in Haiti...."

    You neatly sum up the ignorane those of accusing the Haitians of laziness......

    .....Haiti has suffered FAR worse than Japan has......

    ....only a part of Japan was trashed......

    ....the WHOLE of Haiti was wrecked......

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.


    'The problems have roots that extend into the period of western colonialism.'

    Haiti won it's independence in 1804. That's over 200 years ago. They then ethnically cleansed the whites, slaughtering man, woman and child. Haitians, as a result, are visibly more black than any other Caribbean nation.

    Time to stop blaming colonisation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I love the comments here. The moment someone makes a critical remark about the haitians not themselves rebuilding their country (they're leaving it 100% to 'aid' agencies) that someone is accused of racism. The truth stings. Look at Japan; they've rebuilt their country in less than a year, and the devastation there dwarfs that which occured in Haiti. Down vote me, go ahead, reality is reality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Considering that a rebuild of Haiti is going to need the cooperation of the people themselves This article does a fine job of showcasing one positive example of Haitians improving their own lives. Perhaps not by the building itself, but by the entrepreneurship going on inside.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    There are several sound bite type comments that can be made about Haiti. They are not necessarily racist, anti western, or Pollyanna-ish, and all have a basis in truth. Haiti has many issues with its political and social fabric. The people of Haiti have responsibility for these problems. The problems have roots that extend into the period of western colonialism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    BTW, I wished the market would have rented stall spaces to useful businesses that would help the local community. A temporary small school/tuition for kids maybe?
    Don't see the point of having a 'voodoo' stall in there at the moment...

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    24. Little_Old_Me

    I lived in war torn countries, am involved with Wateraid for decades and know exactly what I wrote. I was of course referring to the single men who have time in their hands to do it. After WWI and WWII people re-built all that was destroyed. They did not wait for somebody else to do it for them.
    Try to learn some history. BTW, I don't do Tesco, only local and Fairtrade. :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    To jgm2.

    I know some of the people who dropped their comfortable lives here in the UK to spend months in tents alongside the airport runway whilst trying their best to help these people in any way they could. Some of these people were even working in partially collapsed buildings during aftershocks aware of the risk.

    Sweeping comments like these by vindictive people like you make me sick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The article on Port au Prince market doesn'r seem to mention the charity work from the British architects and others which got it built.
    Rod L.

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    13. Graphis

    You have a stong point mate. People should get their hands dirty, not just wait for somebody else (normally the west) to come to their rescue.
    Although Carribean culture is normally known to be associated with an 'easy man' attitude, an earthquake affects the basic infrastructure and it should inspire the local population to try to rebuild it with their own hands. Quickly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Really nice to see smiling faces back in Haiti. Every similar recovery is normally slow, but as long as it stays at a steady pace, it would improve the local morale immensely. The basic stuff - market stall, hospitals, etc - make an immediate impact.
    Everyone in this earth deserves to live a decent life. Wish you guys in Haiti all the very best for 2013!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    19 Graphis. Your sweeping statement would be more convincing if you could point to some evidence or experience, rather than just trotting out a 'common-sense' prejudice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    19.Graphis - "...I made no comments about race at all: how dare you accuse me of racism!?...."

    I didn't accuse you of racism, I merely asked the question as to whether that was behind your smearing of Haiti's people as lazy.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    14. Little_Old_Me

    I made no comments about race at all: how dare you accuse me of racism!?

    A devastating earthquake affects everyone, as well as food/water supplies: a city gets rebuilt faster when everyone who's affected mucks in, instead of sitting back and waiting for the gov/troops/aid agencies to do it for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Filmmaker Michele Mitchell: “Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?” Through visits to Haiti 2010/11, she conducted interviews with IDP camp residents, NGOs, aid workers...Mitchell examined why so many people (currently 1/2 million) remain stuck in tent camps, despite billions pledged for relief following the earthquake.
    (episodes 1-4).

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Nice pictures for a disastrous recovery:
    Devastated Haiti - much of promised relief/reconstruction hasn't reached needy. In fact, tragedy has served as opportunity to enrich corporate interests. Contractors – including some who profited from Katrina – use political connections to gain profits from others’ misery, receiving contacts worth millions while Haitian people receive pennies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The UN currently has around 10000 troops in Haiti, will this market full of smiling people when they leave?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    While these photos show smiling faces, they & this report ignores the factual reality of doing anything in Haiti.

    These traders would not exist unless they had paid corrupt officials/police or paid off criminal gangs, who mainly work for politicians/officials.

    Haiti would have recovered/prospered/improved so much more if it was not for endemic corruption/crime


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