As is to be expected the front pages of today's Independent are dominated by stories about Haiti; the earthquake, the aftermath, the politics and the recovery. Since my association with the paper began the depth and readability of its international news coverage has been the thing that has impressed me most and the coverage of Haiti has been first rate. The other thing about the Independent that really appeals to me is the bold use of the front page, the paper isn't afraid to make a statement with both picture and words and today's cover is no exception:
But enough of the Independent love-in and instead let's move onto me! So as you may have guessed my illustration yesterday was about Haiti and the brief I was given focused on the notion that Haiti was a disaster area long before the earthquake. Not knowing enough about Haiti, beyond it being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, I decided to do a little research on the topic so that I was better able to visualise how and why the country would be described in such a fashion. I discovered some truly awful statistics: Haiti is approximately 98% deforested, with most of the land reduced to rubble, meaning food is scarce and approximately 80% of the population live below the poverty line, with a 75% unemployment rate. A legacy of corruption and political instability contrives to hamper any attempts to push forward, thus the country was ill-equipped in terms of infrastructure (both physical and political) to deal with another natural disaster.
Armed with this information I tried to generate roughs that would loosely suggest such points without contradicting an article that may follow a different narrative. I presented an idea that depicted the Presidential Palace with piles and piles of shacks, huts and crumbling homes perched precariously on top (in a Jenga fashion) with cracks rushing towards it to suggest that there was a physical instability relating to the country's leadership over the years. I also showed a map of Haiti being squeezed by a fist and cracking to suggest how violent dictatorships had weakened it.
But the idea the art director preferred was more suggestive. It shows a hand reaching up and out for help, a hand which shows roughly healed scars and badly stitched up wounds and one large open gash that is bleeding. This image was intended to be a visual representation of Haiti's problems, the old scars being the legacy of french occupation, which still looms large over the country today and the badly stitched wounds representing the democracy that replaced dictatorship and hasn't really solved the problems. Of course the open, bleeding gash is a symbol of the earthquake, currently an open wound and occurring within the same physical boundaries of the previous issues. As an extra touch I tried to make the hand roughly resemble the shape of the country, at least in terms of the thumb's position, and have the cut be vaguely in the area of Port-Au-Prince.
I was really pleased with the way it turned out (considering I found out that scarring is a really tricky thing to recreate quickly) and happily the layout of the column really enhances the image (as I hoped it would) all in all creating rather a dramatic spread.
I'm sure many casual readers will just assume the hand is meant to show someone reaching out for help, someone trapped in the rubble, which is fine, it kind of does and I always intend for my images to work immediately. But the thought process leading up to the artwork was more complex then that and it's nice that having a blog such as this allows me to share that.
The full article is here and if you should wish to donate to the International Aid effort then the Global Giving website is a good place to go for more information and to make a donation.