portrait - Corentin Fohlen

From Bangkok to Port-au-Prince

Bangkok, May 17: One of the main barricades not far from the Red Shirts’ base. A sniper had just been spotted in a building opposite.
Bangkok, May 17: One of the main barricades not far from the Red Shirts’ base. A sniper had just been spotted in a building opposite. Corentin Fohlen/Fedephoto

At just 28 years old, French photographer Corentin Fohlen won this year’s Young Reporter award at Visa pour l’Image for Haiti & Bangkok – horror & revolt. A freelancer for six years now, Fohlen says he is drawn by news events that mark their stamp on history.

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So when the earthquake shook Haiti in January and Bangkok was gripped by civil unrest from March to May this year, he headed out to the front.

So did hundreds of other photographers, but the images Fohlen captured are not typical of those that made the headlines. Especially those taken in Haiti.

There are no pictures of looting and rioting. But rather of devastation, suffering and a form of violence due to desperation.

Like the photo of a man dragging a corpse from the rubble just to go through his pockets. Fohlen says that what might seem like a criminal act is borne of the need to survive.

“It was taken outside the hospital quickly - the man didn’t even see me. The people around were shocked but curious too. When you’re hungry, don’t know what to do, you can be pushed to do things that might seem shocking to us.”

Port-au-Prince, January 17.  The people are exhausted and most of them have to sleep in the streets
Port-au-Prince, January 17. The people are exhausted and most of them have to sleep in the streets Corentin Fohlen / Fedephoto

Another photo shows women sleeping in the street just a few days after the earthquake struck.

“I spent my days in the streets in Port-au-Prince and landed on these women in front of their house. I just had time to take one photo before my presence woke them up.

"They started to laugh. Everyone was sleeping in the streets. Despite it all there was a remarkable kind of joie de vivre.”

Fohlen went to Haiti three times: immediately after the earthquake, returning a month later to do a report for La Vie magazine and then six months later for Pelerin magazine.

Despite all the talk of reconstruction and the hundreds of NGOs whose numbers have soared since the earthquake, he says Haitians are still waiting for things to improve.

“I’ve been back twice and the only change I have noticed is that there are more camps for displaced persons. The capital city has already been rebuilt – yes, as slums and vast camps for internally displaced persons. This is how life is organised here now.”

In principle Haiti and Bangkok have little in common apart from being big news stories: one a natural disaster, the other deeply political. But Fohlen says they both show ordinary people struggling.

“In the case of Thailand it’s the search for liberty, of hope for what might come later. I was interested in the fight of these people from rural areas coming into the city.”

He spent just nine days in Bangkok with the Red Shirts - the days leading up their surrender in May.

In one photo a man from the countryside has come to the capital to protest.

“He’s hiding behind a barricade of tyres, a pathetic arm compared to the military side,” says Fohlen. “Symbolically, there’s something of David and Goliath in there”.

Fohlen is a member of Fedephoto, an independent association of photographers. He says he's part of the freelance generation. What started off as an imposed situation due to the lack of staff jobs has become a preference.

“An agency wouldn’t allow me to photograph the way I want, to express myself the way I want.”

So far, despite the difficulties facing the profession, he’s found work.

“I’m getting more and more work commissioned, but you never know what tomorrow will bring.”

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