Woosler Delisfort refocuses perceptions of African spirituality

Woosler Delisfort has carved a unique path in the world of photography by focusing on the intersection of art, spirituality and community. Born and raised in Little Haiti, this passionate and talented artist has been deeply influenced by his upbringing and the changes he’s witnessed in his surroundings.

The 42-year-old’s journey into photography began about 15 years ago, prompted by Little Haiti’s shifting dynamics. As he observed stores closing and new neighbors moving in, he became determined to capture the essence of the community. His initial goal was not to become a photographer but rather to preserve the memories of a place undergoing gentrification.

In 2018, Delisfort earned an Ellie award from Oolite Arts for his multimedia project “This is Little Haiti.”

“I got tired of the negative perception people had when it came down to Little Haiti,” he said. “I wanted to show there was more to it.”

Delisfort’s dedication to documenting Miami’s communities, particularly those that Black and brown populations call home, has also earned him recognition as the inaugural fellow of HistoryMiami Museum’s Center for Photography. The program was created to support emerging local documentary photographers who excel in amplifying community stories.

The fellowship, which came with a $25,000 stipend, acknowledges Delisfort’s exceptional talent and provides opportunities for future exhibitions of his work, both at the museum and at off-site locations. Additionally, select photographs that he created while in residency will find a permanent place in HistoryMiami’s collection.

Prior to becoming a full-time photographer, Delisfort was working as a vet tech. He hadn’t planned on a career change, but a chance encounter with renowned photojournalist Carl Juste led to a dramatic change in direction.

The pair met when they were both taking pictures in the neighborhood, and Juste has been Delisfort’s mentor ever since.

Woosler Delisfort working in Benin, West Africa.(Emmanuel Davis)

“Carl pretty much took me in and taught me how to properly tell a story through a camera,” he said.

Over time, Delisfort transitioned his focus to religious and spiritual aspects of community life, particularly highlighting women in Black spaces practicing various religions. Dissatisfied with the stereotypical images associated with Black spirituality, he decided to tell the stories he saw before him.

While he grew up Catholic, he is now immersed in African spirituality and draws inspiration from Haitian Vodou and African religious practices. His extensive travels from Cuba to West Africa, documented through his photography, capture religious ceremonies and the spiritual essence of different communities.

Delisfort’s photo series “GodMama” seeks to portray women as spirit guides who are loving and nurturing.

“What you see in my images is laughter, dancing, and a community that is shown from within,” he said.

African spirituality, as understood by Delisfort, is a form of remembrance that brings communities together to honor their ancestors and the divine. Through his lens, he seeks to portray the various aspects of this spirituality, providing a visual representation of his personal journey. But his work extends beyond photography, as he actively engages in practices associated with African spirituality, participating in ceremonies and coexisting with different religious traditions.

Central to that journey is his connection with Mambo Ingrid, a Haitian Vodou high priestess. Acting as his spiritual “mom,” she played a crucial role in inspiring Delisfort to document Vodou ceremonies and share positive narratives about these practices. Their connection represents a shared commitment to dispelling the negative stereotypes that surround them.

“I just had this beautiful community of mostly women who were able to really hold me down and help me move forward as an artist and as a spiritual person,” said Delisfort.

As he elevates voices and tells empowering stories, he’s contributing to a more nuanced and inclusive narrative surrounding African spirituality within the Black community.

“I want people to be able to see my own transformation in my photography,” said Delisfort.