Valerie Baeriswyl

Valerie Baeriswyl

Based
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Born
Landeyeux, Switzerland
Status
Photogrpaher
“Photojournalism will always have its place, regardless of how the media business evolves.”

Beat

Portraits, politics, the environment, daily life and news.

One Shot

. Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Reuters/Valerie Baeriswyl
Children stand while camping out with other people fleeing from violence after the murder of a local gang leader, in the courtyard of Cite Soleil's town hall in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
“I like how I was lucky to be able to align everything in the frame by chance. It’s not perfect but it has a whole symbolism and we interpret it in different ways. Families had taken refuge at a town hall in a hurry after they fled violence as armed gangs started shootings in the country’s largest slum, Cite Soleil. They gave everything up and left without looking behind; some did not even have time to gather all their children. It was a terrible situation. I was at a town hall with the Reuters team, looking to meet these families, when I took the picture. If I take portraits, we have time and can guide the person for their expression. But if I take news photographs, everything happens quickly. So when we have the right photograph, one that shows information and emotions, and makes people look at it, then the mission is accomplished.”

Profile

I grew up in a village in the countryside and at 12 I started writing and taking pictures for the village newspaper. It was the beginning of a passion I have until today.

I first taught myself how to use the compact camera and at 15 I bought my first reflex camera, a Minolta with film. I took pictures of anything that caught my attention. It was around that age when I also started to cover smaller news stories of all sorts for newspapers in the region.

Even though I’m self-taught, I progressed because of many people who gave me advice. My dream came true at 27 when I attended a photojournalism school in Paris. When I finished school, I won a prize that encouraged me to always keep going even in difficult times. It was a feeling of adventure and curiosity that has always driven me.

I wanted to be a photographer for as far back as I can remember. It was a long journey because even though photography was always my passion, I worked as a librarian for 10 years because my parents wanted me to have a “real job”. My mum would say: “It’s great to have a child artist, but why in our family?”

In this job word of mouth recommendations are really important, but also being there at the right time. In the beginning, it was difficult. I started out with only my passion – I didn’t know all the tricks of the trade, things that come with experience, such as taking vertical and horizontal frames of the same situation. But I learned with every assignment and progressed.

It would be hard to name just one assignment that left the biggest mark on me as there are so many where I covered something unjust, horrible, unbearable even. When there are deaths, especially deaths of children, or when people are starving, it always makes me want to cry. I believe that this sensitivity is a strength because it allows me to connect with people around the world.

Even if it’s utopian to think that a photograph can fundamentally change something, we must keep hope. We can shed light on beautiful, unfair or disturbing events.

With my work on Haitian weddings, I want to show the country from another angle. I want to show that in Haiti family and friendship counts more than anything, it's difficult but also so warm and wonderful. It’s a country where mutual help takes precedence and that even with little, we can achieve so much.

Photojournalism shows what is happening around the world. It remains a point of view, of course, so it’s essential that photojournalists tell stories as accurately as possible and as close as possible to the human with dignity.

I hope to learn until my last day as a photojournalist. I feel that after every assignment I take something away. Over time, I’ve come to understand the importance of patience. Even while we have to wait, it doesn’t stop us from looking.

It’s always worth carrying a small notebook to write down details that are easy to forget: impressions, quotes, places, names of protagonists or their number. I don’t always get to process the information immediately, so it’s worth keeping it for later.

I respect anyone who is passionate about their work and does it to the best of their abilities, who places human dignity at the center of their work. Someone who I respect most is Lorenzo Virgili, a teacher at my photography school in Paris who always impressed me with his dynamism.

Photojournalism will always have its place, regardless of how the media business aevolves.

Behind the Scenes

. Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Jean Marc Hervé Abellard
Reuters Photographer Valerie Baeriswyl covers a demonstration in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.