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Meet Vanessa Cass, Street Photographer from Haiti

Updated: Jan 27, 2019

- By Anshul Raj Khurana

I am following Vanessa’s work for some time and she has a unique way of communicating through pictures. One can call them to be a docustreet style of capturing the moment. There is a beautiful way she tells a moment of truth and candidness in her pictures which make them so different. I am sure you all will love her perspective.

Anshul- Why do you only shoot Black & White?

Vanessa- I love shooting in black & white and have often asked myself what is it about it that I love so much…. the mood it creates, the nuances, the subtleties, the story that only monochrome can create. I feel that for me, it better suits my genre, which stark, not always pretty, definitely gritty .. I think it brings out the soul of a situation, at least I try to.. since although the world is in color, there are so many grey areas.

Anshul- I see your style to have a strong documentary aspect, they have an active story element. What’s your take on it?

Vanessa- Living here in Haiti, the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere, it's hard, if not impossible to turn a blind eye to the life of the people. The struggles, mores, the celebrations, the heartbreaks... A country so incredibly rich in culture and beliefs that have been devastated and raped over and over by nature and by men, I see nothing else but stories to be told...

Anshul- What is photography for you? How do you define its significance in your life?

Vanessa- I am a classically trained artist that worked for over 25 years in the business but never felt like I could ever make an impact. I didn't feel like I could ever express myself or convey anything powerfully and felt strange sharing thoughts I had on the inside, but with the camera, I discovered an incredibly powerful tool that has this magical and sacred quality of capturing monumental moments in microseconds that can transmit and say so much. A look, a gesture, a scene, real life that's there, a moment that marks us for better, for worse, can all be captured with this tool, That for me is what I had been searching for, it keeps me hungry to connect with and better understand humans. So many complexities...

Anshul- When you are out there shooting, how do you make a picture? What goes in your mind? Do you previsualize or go with the flow?

Vanessa- Sometimes I wake up with an idea of what I want to capture, Shoe Shines, School Children, etc. but it hardly ever works out that way. Life is so precious, so much to be seen. Since I do early morning shooting, absolutely adore golden light, the mood varies and find myself surprised by what I do end up seeing. People hurrying to get to church, people buying live chickens for Sunday meal, the shadows, public transportation brimming with people. Being a bystander watching life happen is enchanting to me, so yes, I go with the flow. I like surprises…

Anshul- You have been shooting mostly in Haiti, how was your experience, how do people react when they see you shooting on the streets?

Vanessa- Yes, I have to say, Haiti is very rich in culture and the human experience, I am moved by the resilience and the general life story that unfolds here. Unfortunately, Haitians can be quite unpredictable when they see people with cameras, I've had a lot said to me, but lately I realize a smile, some friendly chat goes a long way… now I can sometimes hear whispers " Ohh she's an artist that likes to take pics.. pay no attention" lol, maybe they've gotten used to me?

Anshul- How do you keep your inspiration ON, do you follow any photographers? Any photography books you read?

Vanessa- Although photography has become my life and my central artistic platform, I am, a classically trained artist, inspiration is never far, and can summon it quite quickly... I love Cartier Bresson, Vivian Maier, Mary Ellen Mark, my teacher Eric Kim, and so many others…. So much incredible talent out there that I learn from every day.

Anshul- What’s in your camera bag? What gear do you use? Any favorite lens/ camera?

Vanessa- Right now I am using a Sony a6, mirrorless, a good reliable camera easy to use... I shoot on manual, and my favorite lens these days is a 20mm. It's perfect. I can walk straight into my subject as it's compact, light and discreet.

Anshul- You are working on any new projects?

Vanessa- I am working on a project that is so very near and dear to my heart. It's called "Little Warriors Making it through" It's me documenting the stories of young girls and young women at the YWCA in Haiti, dealing with incredibly difficult life situations and how they are making it through against terrible odds. I am hoping to get it done by the end of this year!

Anshul- What advice you want to give you photographers who are starting their journey?

Vanessa- The advice I will give to any budding photographer is, learn the basic rules of composition and how light works. " when you know the rules, you can break them". Take your time, no rush, it's a beautiful discipline that requires patience. Know what you like, but listen to others too. You'll need a thick skin, you won't always like what you hear but keep shooting anyways and again, keep shooting!!!

You can see more of her work here:

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