October 26, 2021

Exhibit at CRT displays photography of Tom Haskell

Kevin L. Smith/staff reporter

Catherine Bertini of Homer sits Wednesday with some of the photos Tom Haskell took in 1992 during famine and war in Somalia. Haskell was a photographer for the United Nations World Food Programme, which Bertini used to run.

Look at the faces in Tom Haskell’s photos. You’ll find dignity. You’ll find apprehension. You’ll find hope.

Haskell, who grew up in Cortland, traveled the world, collecting a lifetime of images of lives around the world — both hard and happy.

“Tom was an artist,” said Catherine Bertini of Homer, who grew up with Haskell and married him in 1988. “When he was a little boy he loved to paint. His detail in artwork transferred over into photography.”

Eight years after his death, Bertini wanted to display Haskell’s work, more than 60 images collected from all over the world. It’s now in a photography exhibit at Cortland Repertory Theatre. The exhibit is open to the public noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday until Aug. 16. An entrance donation of $5 is suggested, which benefits the theater.

“His photos showed many faces all around the world,” Bertini said. “This is much of what this exhibit is about.”

Kerby Thompson, artistic producing director at the theater, was looking for different ways to use the theater during the COVID-19 pandemic. The space on Port Watson Street is big enough to show the exhibit while socially distant.

“It’s important to be able to offer something that people can come see while remaining socially distant,” he said. “This type of exhibit is also something we had in mind when we designed the downtown theater venue. The versatility of the space allows us not only to hold shows and events, but also galleries and exhibits such as this one.”

Haskell and Bertini were classmates and 1967 graduates at Cortland High School. They married in 1988, and moved to Washington, D.C. where Haskell established a photography business.

Haskell would take event photography of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, members of Congress and other political leaders.

In 1992, when Bertini was named executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, Haskell accompanied her to Rome.

As Bertini tried to feed more than 700 million people, Haskell offered to illustrate the effort, across 40 nations, including North Korea, China, Rwanda, Angola, Somalia and Iraq. Many of the photos Haskell took with the World Food Programme are now showcased in the exhibit.

“It’s fascinating to see the work that both Cathy and Tom did in their time with the Food Programme, and the fact that they came from Cortland shows a sense of pride the community can have in their own fellow community members,” Thompson said.

Haskell’s photos show the hardships of poverty, refugees and people during wartime mixed with uncertainty during the 1990s, said Bertini. But they capture the happy moments, too. Most of them show people smiling.

“A lot of the photos you see here are spontaneous portraits of people, done very quickly and on the spot,” Bertini said.

“It reminds me about how resilient people are all around the world, and how beautiful people are all around the world,” Bertini said. “It’s amazing how an artist like Tom can show us that.”

Rein Skullerud, photography director at the World Food Programme, said Haskell left a legacy.

“I’m glad to hear that Tom’s work and WFP’s work over the years can use this opportunity,” he said. “The world of photography has changed dramatically. There is less attention and understanding of the work made by people like Tom. Our new culture offers snappers that produce valid information, but without the passion for photography and the love needed to tell the story with dignity.”

Now Haskell’s work is on display for the community to see.

“It brings the people of Cortland not only a perspective of a local man, but the perspective of someone who has seen so much of the world,” Bertini said. “He took photos in places mostly in the countryside and where visitors wouldn’t even think of going.”