Dancing on Fire (1986-1990)

Maggie Steber



Dancing on Fire is a collection of photographs made from 1986 at the fall of the 30-year regime of the Duvalier family in Haiti until the election of former Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990, marking the first democratically-elected government in Haiti in decades.
It is about the hoped-for rebirth of a nation that fell short of its goal but more importantly about how Haitians see themselves. Having had the only successful slave revolt in the history of the world that lead to the first Black Republic in the world, Haiti was shunned by the world which turned its back on the tiny country to keep revolution from spreading to other colonial nations where slavery meant money in the pockets of masters and a vibrant world economy which rotated on the blacks of enslaved Africans.
The title is taken from a poem by Felix Morriseau LeRoy, a famous Haitian poet. It refers to how Haiti and Haitians are viewed by the world, as being lower because they are black, because they came from slaves who turned out to be heroes, and because they practiced vodou. But as Morisseau Leroy writes, it matters not if “we dance on fire” because we always have and we always will. It refers to the vibrancy of the nation and how Haitians see themselves, not as lesser than but as kings and queens.


Maggie Steber is a documentary photographer known for her humanistic stories of people and cultures. She is a National Geographic Woman of Vision and has worked in 68 countries, producing cultural stories as well as significant work on Haiti, Native Americans, and the sciences of sleep and memory loss. She has photographed for 30 years in Haiti. Aperture published her monograph entitled DANCING ON FIRE: Photographs from Haiti.
She received a grant from the prestigious Guggenheim Foundation in 2017 for her project The Secret Garden of Lily LaPalma. She also published work on her mother’s memory loss in Rite of Passage
which was also made onto a multimedia project for MediaStorm.
Steber’s photographs are included in many private and public collections including the Library of Congress. She was Assistant Managing Editor for Photography and Features at The Miami Herald from 1999-2003 and has served as judge on many competition and grant panels including the Pulitzer Prize Committee, World Press Photo, the Alexia Grant, the Alicia Patterson Grant, Pictures of the Year, and the Getty-Instagram Grant.