Remembering Guédé , the Haitian Day of the Dead, on All Souls Day

My former job at the Haitian Art Company in Key West had a tremendous influence on my life.  Established in 1976, this small family business still promotes, exhibits and sells one of the largest rotating collections of Haitian Art in the United States.  A formative time in my life as both young artist and creative professional, I immersed myself in the study of Haitian arts, culture, religion and politics while learning how to operate a successfully established art gallery.  I was particularly fascinated with the Vodou religion, it’s origin and history and how contemporary practices of Vodou incorporated elements and symbolism from Catholicism.

In The House Of Ogou Feray, Van Dyke Brown, 2000

My first big trip to the island was planned to coincide with the holiday of Guede, more commonly known as Day of the Dead.  I attended public vodou ceremonies, watched the ritual tending of graveyards and visited private temples.  The gallery gave me unique access to Haitian artists and allowed me to experience the culture in a way that is unavailable to the average person.

In Honor Of Guede, Gum Dicromate, 2000

In the fall of 2001, I made another big trip to the island…this time for two months where I traveled, largely solo, throughout the countryside.  I had just received the South Florida Cultural Consortium award for images I shot in Haiti and felt the need to go back, give thanks and further my explorations of this complex and fascinating island.

Of the many adventures I experienced during that two month span, the most memorable was a 5 day road trip from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien, made in a 1986 Buick LaSaber with renown artist Franz Zephirin.  Zephirin was raised on his grandmother’s voodoo compound in Cap-Haitian and he took me there to show me ‘the real Haiti’. Through relatives of the compound, I was graciously given permission to document the grounds and record the events of a seasonal vodou ritual. The only stipulation was that I not use a flash or light of any kind.  The only available light came from a single bulb in the center of the temple along with a few lit candles.  The results are grainy with an often stop motion effect which appropriately adds an otherworldly quality to the footage.  I had been to a handful of ceremonies prior to this experience, but this was by far the most authentic!  The following is the video I created from that memorable night in Cap-Haitien…the original is 24:22 minutes…for some reason, I haven’t been able to upload the entire thing onto youtube after several tries (but still working on that)…however at 18+ minutes, it’s quite the investment time-wise to watch in it’s entirety…but is only a small glimpse into a spiritual experience that ties the body and soul together.


Ceremony for the Serviteur, Digital Video, 24:22 minutes, 2003