Celebrity photographer urges help for Haiti in local exhibit

Marc Baptiste at Pamela Lerner

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Photographer Marc Baptiste had already committed a month ago to show his work at Pamela Lerner Home & Design on August 27. Then the Haitian disaster, a 7.2 earthquake shattered his native country the week before. The latest official figures include almost 2,000 deaths, over 7,000 homes destroyed, nearly 5,000 damaged, and 30,000 families homeless. Many hospitals, offices, schools were demolished. Then Tropical Storm Grace hurled its wrath shortly after. So Baptiste was flying out on a humanitarian mission with Noah NY, a not for profit, to Port-au-Prince a week before his show.

“I treat Haiti as if it were my family,” he said. “I have distant cousins there. My dad was raised in Les Cayes where the earthquake hit.”

“We have 12 doctors, eight nurses from downstate,” he said of the crew, headed by Noah NY president Dr. Henry R. Paul. (Noah NY provides high quality, accessible medical treatment to underserved communities in northeast Haiti.) “We’re doing tent medicine,” Baptiste explained in Lerner’s shop.  “They need clean water and tents.” The tents are supplied by ShelterBox USA, a global non-profit organization that believes shelter is a human right. They offer a big green box-like container with a family-size tent and basic tools. 

Right now, travel obstacles are tricky at best. For one thing, there are only two main highways in Haiti. “There are gangs,” he said of the dangerous conditions. “They managed to kidnap a tank already, so we’re talking to Sunrise Airline to airlift us out of Port-au-Prince to where we need to go.”

Still, he was looking forward to his return and the opening exhibit (it starts at 4:30 p.m.); he lives in Brookhaven hamlet now. He’s hoping people will dig into their credit cards to help ease the Haitian disaster with Noah NY.  Plus, he’s tapped a surprise celebrity chef to participate in an auction.

 “He will auction off one of my photos to aid Haiti,” Baptiste said.

 “I have nine pieces that will be exhibited, of various sizes, framed, double mats. This is the lead image,” he said showing the exquisite shot he took of the Bellport breach; layered sand of undulating hues and the ocean, swirling, calm, a palette of blues.

That and other Bellport photos were accomplished thanks to his next-door neighbor Sally Pezza, an airline pilot, who flew Baptiste in her Cessna 172. “It was his first time photographing something in the atmosphere,” she said. Pezza knocked on Baptiste’s door when he moved in several months ago, introduced herself, and said, “We need to go fly.” He wields a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and also a Hasselblad.

Does he use programs for touchups? “I try to keep it cinematic and as real as I can and be true to the source so there’s not much manipulation,” he said. He has a small portrait studio in his garage.

As for exhibiting his work, Baptiste said he chose Lerner’s Bellport shop, “because of her energy. Sally (Pezza) said, `you’ll love this store.’” (Not surprising. Lerner’s business is creative hub for artists as well as design treasures but also friendships, and at times, even wise counseling.)

Baptiste is engaging and expresses a sincere gratefulness for his career. He’s photographed Prince, Shakira, Janelle Monae, Misty Copeland, Spike Lee, Michelle and Barak Obama and is internationally known. He worked in Paris shooting couture shows from 1989 to 1994 then moved on working for Detail magazine, as well as others including Elle, Vanity Fair and Cosmopolitan.  

He came to Brooklyn from Haiti at an early age, was initially drawn to painting, but in 9th grade became enamored of photography.

What was his epiphany?

“There were kids in this class including a beautiful woman,” he said.  But Baptiste didn’t have a camera. So he signed up for the course and wound up helping classmates learn how to print their photos in a darkroom; his aunt eventually gifted him with a Pentax K1000 and his photography teacher became a mentor. “She got me into School of Visual Art in 11thgrade,” he said.  “She also encouraged me to visit museums and galleries.”

Baptiste has a glorious roster of stories, including the one where he captured a supermodel who fell off the runway at a John Paul Gaultier show. It got him his first magazine job.

Baptiste has engaged in several philanthropic collaborations, he’s on the Noah NY board, and has been accompanying Noah NY crews since 2014. When he goes to Haiti, “I bring candy and treats,” he said. “I talk to the kids and try to uplift them. It’s funny what M & M’s can do.” He also documents conditions for Noah’s website with interviews, videos and photos.

“It keeps me humble and grounded,” he said of his humanitarian work.

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