Meet Carl Juste, Miami’s most interesting man

Miami Herald photojournalist Carl Juste has got Miami in his blood. He’s traveled all around the world and taken stunning images that tell deep and meaningful stories — but the moments he loves most are right here in the Magic City. You can find him all over the city trying to capture its diversity in many different mediums.

It’s his passion that makes him this month’s most interesting man in Miami, a monthly series launched by The Millennials Project, an organization that encourages men to become allies and advocate for women in the fight against domestic violence.

You can meet Juste yourself next Tuesday at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, where this month’s “most interesting man” event will be held.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Why do you think you were chosen to be Miami’s most interesting man this month?

I have no idea, maybe because of my career choice and my public presence. I’m honored by it and humbled by it, but I have no idea.

What do you think is the most interesting thing about you?

I can fit in anywhere. As a journalist at the Miami Herald, you learn those skills quick. At one moment I might be photographing the president and another a homeless person. I think that makes me interesting. But as I’m getting older, I’ve realized it’s a continuum, and it’s a never-ending process. At the age I am now, I’m beginning to understand what that really means. Being interesting is not something that you ARE, but it’s something that you feed and maintain everyday.

As a photographer at the Miami Herald, you’ve been all over the world. What are some of your more memorable shoots?

I was at the Afghan war in 2001 and Iraqi war in 2003 — and those were interesting.

I’ve also photographed a lot of local legends like Celia Cruz and people like Father Jean-Juste, who was a civil rights leader in Miami in the 1980s. Those people formed Miami and re-defined it. Whenever I cover people that add to the diversity in Miami I find that fascinating.

Your parents had a big hand in molding Little Haiti and advocating for the rights of Haitian immigrants when not many were doing so. What are some of the conversations happening in Little Haiti today that people should be listening to?

I think there’s a sense of encroachment and whitewash of all the cultural nuances of that have made Little Haiti what it is today. That may be both in perception and in truth, but the problem is that the line that divides the two is very blurry.

I think what makes Miami so unique is the way that all these cultures and various languages blend, more like a salad and less like a soup. If you take the lettuce out of Caesar salad, it’s no longer a Caesar salad. You need the main ingredients. I think the Haitian flavor is important, and without the Haitian people we wouldn’t be having these conversations.

The same can be said about Cubans, Colombians, or Nicaraguans. The new Miami is going to be made by these multiple groups not only conversing among themselves, but also among each other. Specifically in terms of Little Haiti, there is a sense of the neighborhood losing its identity — becoming a place for a cool and a hip and less the place of the real. Very few places are so real. So if the very people that created the community can no longer live there, I think that’s unfortunate.

How is your work shaped by Miami?

I see myself as a conduit, and I want to make sure I magnify some of those fears and hopes. I came here for a reason. My parents came here for a reason. That is to be close to their birthplace and Miami offers that to a lot of immigrants.

Very few places can help you transcend a physical place in the way Miami can. For example, in parts of Miami, you can close your eyes and think you’re in Colombia. Even in Wynwood, you just might hear a chicken or a rooster crow, you can smell rice cooking — all of those things are very dear and when they’re gone, it becomes kind of bland. So, I’m hoping people who are moving into Little Haiti understand that the very thing they love, they need to protect. Engage with their neighbors, eat the food.

I think my work adds to it that. I’m working on a book now called “Havana and Haiti: Two Cultures, One Community.” It speaks about the Cuban and Haitian community that makes up Miami.

The word Miami itself is made up of two words, mi, which means “my” in Spanish and ami, which means “friend” in French. That’s not a coincidence. My book is about celebrating these two cultures. I’m from both, and navigating both, and my work reflects that.

What artists have influenced your work?

Prince has influenced me a lot — and that’s just the way he approached artistry, the way he was willing to change and adapt and have the flexibility with this art. But most of all, the way he was adamant that artists owned their work.

The photographer Gordon Parks and writers like James Baldwin have also shaped me. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee was one of the most influential books in my life because it shaped my global sensibilities. After reading it, I understood from a very global standpoint the power of racism in this country and I always thought my work could be a global equalizer — not only in terms of race, but also class and disenfranchisement.

Then there’s Gandhi and Malcolm X. My parents have been very influential — they live by example and they left me that legacy and it’s something no one can take away from me.

What’s your favorite photo you’ve ever taken?

I’ve loved different pictures at different moments in the course of my life, and even at different times in the day. One of my favorites is one I did in Haiti called “The Mask.” It’s a photo of a man wearing a mask on his face made out of a red T-shirt. What makes it my favorite is the both abundance of color and the man’s stare. In the picture, all you see is the man’s eyes, and its ambiguity poses more questions than it answers — it’s like the Haitian Mona Lisa.

I think the best images are great, not necessarily only of the photo, but also the story behind it.

I’ve also made some nice images of my son, Miles.

Your son is absolutely adorable. What are you going to do when he gets older?

I’m hoping to raise Miles as a gentleman. I’m hoping that he remembers he has a mother and treats women with respect — that’s not to say he’s not going to break hearts, that’s probably unavoidable. But he’s a very sweet boy. He’s gentle and caring. I want to raise him to be tender.

He’s very shy. Sometimes I take him out and people just want to take pictures, but he closes his eyes. People see his external beauty but Papa knows the inner beauty, and and that’s the beauty I want to photograph. He’s a great little boy. The love of my life. I’ve never known love until I had him. He’s my best friend.

The best head start I had in life was my parents and I’m going to do the same for my son. Someone that transcends the physical — that’s the kind of son I want to raise. It’s a struggle, but it’s a beautiful struggle.

Are you a feminist?

I was raised by one. My mother didn’t say much, but she did so much. Her feminism was on her sleeve, in her arms that labored. It was on her seat as she stood hours and worked and toiled and demanded to be treated with respect. So yes. I’m a feminist. I’m a manist. I’m a blackist. I’m an Asianist. I’m a humanist.

Look where I came from. Who would have known a kid from Port-au-Prince would grow up to photograph kings and history makers? Who would have ever have known that? That’s only possible in this country. I remember being called the n-word and that I was stupid because of the color of my skin. I remember for years walking into places and I was the only black person in the room, when I was the only black person at my job.

My parents never made me feel like I was an outsider looking in, but rather on the inside looking out. They raised me to treat everyone with fairness and kindness, and now that’s my responsibility.

Want to revisit April’s most interesting man? Meet Spanish actor Alberto Mateo, whose interestingness we tested with a few silly questions.