Photos by Christopher L Mitchell
Defile Kanaval, Haiti’s main Carnival celebration, is hours away from kicking off in Port-au-Prince. Simultaneously, cities across the country will hold their own Kanaval celebrations over the next three days, each climaxing on Fat Tuesday. A week before the big event, though, Haiti’s capital of culture, Jacmel, hosts its own separate Kanaval, celebrating the distinct culture of this artistic city. LargeUp photographer Christopher L. Mitchell was in the midst of things Sunday, as Kanaval unfolded on the streets of Jacmel.
“I have been photographing Kanaval since I got into the camera in my teens,” says Mitchell, who grew up between Haiti and the U.S. and currently resides in Jacmel. “My mom is from Jacmel, and any school vacation, we were always visiting. I’ve seen a lot of change.”
Distinct from the Kanaval celebrations that happen nationwide the following week, Kanaval in Jacmel is a one-day event that puts the creativity of this city known for its artists and artisans front and center.
“Jacmel is called la ville créative,” Mitchell says. “Many people will say Kanaval here is prettier. You have more colors, and costumes and masks made from papier-mâché. Papier-mâché is really big here.”
Thanks to this, and the city’s reputation as one of the safest places in Haiti, Kanaval in Jacmel has become a major draw for the city, a place which already holds some of the biggest appeal for tourists visiting Haiti. “Because we have Kanaval early, people from other parts of country come to Jacmel to celebrate Jacmel’s carnival. Canadians come to it, the French come to it, Americans come to it… It’s a beautiful thing.”
Here’s a look at Kanaval in Jacmel, through Mitchell’s lens.
Kanaval in Jacmel is just one day, but the [masquerade] groups come out into the streets every Sunday for a month before Kanaval, to hype things up, doing little spectacles. Then, Sunday is the official Kanaval. It’s very organized. Each group has got to get an approval, and everybody gets to do their thing.
This year, I focused on being at the end of the parade route. You’re still on the street, but in front of the official stand that all of the masqueraders cross. In previous years, I walked up and down, or shot the preparations. The masqueraders give their best when they reach the stand, because they know everyone is watching. There was a great energy.
Any mask you see is 100% papier–mâché. Jacmel is known for the arts, and one of the things we’re known for is making these papier–mâché costumes.
Kanaval is Jacmel at its best. Seeing the people be creative and put on a performance with these beautiful colors: It’s when Jacmel is most alive.
These teeth are made from real cow’s teeth. I have enough close-up photos of these guys to see that.
These are three of the Kanaval Queens on a float. That’s the back of a big, giant lion’s head behind them. A lot of times, you will see an artist develop the same theme over the years. You are seeing the same lion for 10 years, but you’re seeing the evolution of the lion.
Here are some of the same girls on the official stand. There’s 10 queens altogether for Kanaval. The girl in the middle is Queen of Tourism for Jacmel, the one to the left is the Queen of Culture, and the one on the right is the Queen of Town Hall.