Haiti Exposed

Alumnus Patrick Farrell’s photos capture the agony of a storm-ravaged country, and a Pulitzer Prize.

Eleven Haitian children, arms akimbo, lie on a muddy slab, the somber crowd surrounding them as still as their lifeless bodies. Click. A young boy, stark naked, pushes a mangled stroller salvaged from the wreckage of his home down a flooded street. Click. Moments after giving birth, a woman rises from the delivery table to make room for another woman in labor. There is only pain, no joy, etched on her face. Click. Nineteen in all, the black-and-white images from the unrelenting 2008 hurricane season that washed away more than 800 lives, hundreds of thousands of homes, and much of Haiti’s flimsy infrastructure are difficult to look at, impossible to turn away from. They are even harder for Patrick Farrell, A.B. ’81, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography, to talk about. 

Haitian Children

Patrick Farrell, A.B. ’81

Nearly a year after the veteran Miami Herald photographer captured what Pulitzer judges called “provocative and impeccably composed images of despair,” Farrell’s voice still quavers. “I was witness to a nightmare,” the 50-year-old Miami native says. “I still can’t get it out of my head.”

His solace comes in knowing his riveting photos, along with the words of Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles, helped catapult the hemisphere’s most impoverished nation back on the world’s radar. The two were the only international media in the town of Cabaret after Hurricane Ike ripped a dozen children from the grasp of desperate relatives.

Farrell still wonders how he pressed the shutter after Frantz Samedi handed his 5-year-old daughter Tamasha Jean, her arms outstretched like an angel’s wings, to a man who placed her on a flatbed truck bound for the coroner.

“I still well up when I look at that image,” the father of two young girls says.

Jodi Mailander Farrell, a Herald writer and editor, confides that the emotional display embarrasses her husband of 12 years. So does the fuss over journalism’s highest honor.

“You know a lot of photographers would do the same thing,” he says. “It was being at the right place, or the wrong place, at the right time.”

Of course, that’s rubbish. As Michael Carlebach, a professor in the School of Communication for more than two decades, notes, his former student won the Pulitzer precisely because his camera records his feelings.

“Pat was haunted and shocked by what he saw. You can see it in his pictures,” Carlebach says from his North Carolina home. “When you’re in that kind of situation, you do it all by instinct. So it’s what’s inside of you that comes out—if you let it.”

The seventh of 12 siblings, Farrell traces his love for photography to a BB gun accident at age 12. He was shot in the right eye, but both eyes were bandaged for a week. When the blindfold came off, the interplay of light, shadow, and details captivated him.

Turning a family bathroom into a darkroom, he set out to frame his newfound world. “I was like a little sightseer. I always put stuff in a box: ‘How would this look in that frame?’”

It wasn’t until his senior year of college, when Carlebach introduced his class to essays from the National Press Photographers Association, that Farrell realized he could make a career of telling stories with photos.

“The lights would go out and I would get lost in his picture shows,” Farrell says. “As soon as I saw them, I knew: That’s what I wanted to do.”

Twenty-eight years later, a close-up of a boy’s mud-caked face, his penetrating eyes filled with fragile hope, graced the cover of the association’s monthly magazine. Inside, 11 more images from “Haiti’s Year Without Mercy” make it clear that Farrell’s heart is as wide open as his lens.

Maya Bell is a senior editor in the Miller School of Medicine Office of Communications.

A woman bemoans her fate as she washes dishes and clothes in the muddy water of her flooded residence.


Clayson Menthor, 13, holds out a small pot for some beans and rice provided by a church outside the small Haitian town of Cabaret.


A young boy in Gonaives pushes a stroller from the wreckage of his family’s home in the wake of Tropical Storm Hanna.


Mardoshe Thelisma cries at a funeral mass for her cousin and 90 others who were crushed to death when the three-story College La Promesse school collapsed in Petionville, outside Port-au-Prince.


Four-year-old Venecia Lonis, now 16 pounds after two weeks of care, was so malnourished when she first reached a clinic that her mother was planning her funeral.


In Gonaives, Roseline Genilus plays outside her family’s one-room home near a storm-battered school bus.


Frantz Samedi holds his lifeless 5-year-old daughter, Tamasha Jean, who died when Hurricane Ike’s floodwater swept children and the elderly from their homes in Cabaret. Captions by Patrick Farrell/The Miami Herald.


For more photos, go to http://www.pulitzer.org/citation/2009-Breaking-News-Photography.

All Photos, © The Miami Herald, 2008