Though I must say, creating these 100+ costumes is a team effort. Parents, older school children, a Trinity student like me, and Noble Douglas herself, work together into the night to glue, sew, paint, and glamorize these outfits. I suppose this is the British influence of tea time which makes group projects into a social gathering for introductions, life lessons, and beverages. I just like the idea that people voluntarily take time out of their day to create intricate costumes for children, who will essentially walk in a parade one day and dance on stage for two minutes. I’ve already learned that it’s not about the monetary worth of the final product, but about the process of creating mas and the purpose of it in the lives of the children. Process, purpose, not the product: an interesting way to participate in art. I look forward to watching the kids prance and masquerade across that stage next week in all their glory.
“Mas” short for “masquerade,” which means 'to perform' and 'to transcend,' is the basis of Carnival in Trinidad. Costumes represent people in history and fictional characters of past cultural celebrations. While on Noble Douglas’ back porch, I was sewing antlers onto a headband and the young students in the open-faced studio behind me were presenting research in drama class. They spoke about some of the characters represented in Carnival (including the costumes we were making then) and gave preliminary ideas of their own ‘dream carnival.’ Besides being drawn in by the Trinidadian twang such young children have already learned, it was intriguing to learn about the history of Mas while they presented. I can already tell that this ongoing experience will be valuable to me as an artist, student, Barbadian, and human being in the world.
Perhaps my final project can involve children or children's artwork or costumes. After all, Mas is child’s play.
In photography, I've found myself most drawn to images of people and I've long thought that the power of portraits lies in the commonality felt between people--that I look at an image of a person and I feel a connection to that person as I am reminded of what we all have in common. Today, however, I had a different thought. Perhaps the human connection we feel when looking at images of other people lies not in the human identity of the subject, but in that once a person's entire existence is flattened into a still image and is condensed down to merely the amount of time it took for the shutter to close, the image is no longer of the person, but now is just a still performance.
While photographs feel incredibly factual and reliable, they actually are in many ways the most deceptive form of image-making that there is. An abstract painting does not try to convince the viewer that it is grounded in reality, but a photograph by its very nature does. A photograph is believable as fact because it is simply a physical still rendering of the dynamic bustling active world around us. But life cannot be condensed into a fraction of a second without losing something. Or without losing everything, perhaps? The photographic moment loses everything except the portion of life confined by the frame during the allotted time. In that way, the people depicted in a photograph lose their entire identity once rendered by a camera, and instead become something else. They become a vessel for projection. I see a person and my mind editorializes by creating a world of situation and ideas and factors leading up to that moment when--CLICK!--the shutter closed. I see an image of a person and I feel connected to him or her because during the moment that I look at this image, the only thing that actually exists is the dialogue between my eyes and my mind, as prompted by my still performer.
This prompted me to think about photographic ethics. Take this photograph above, for example, of a young woman and her beautiful daughter. As a photographer, you are always in a space interacting with the subject of your photograph, but your audience sees only what images you produce. If I see a beautiful young child and chose to photograph her holding her mother's hand, I aught to consider what sort of editorializing my audience may do in their placement of this scene in an imagined world. If I take this same type of photograph from one angle, I have a backdrop of a beautiful picturesque waterfront with commercial banking buildings across the water. If I take the photograph from the opposite angle, I have a backdrop of Sealots, one of the poorest areas of Port of Spain. The two photographs would convey wildly opposite ideas about the subject of the photograph.. whether intended by the photographer, or not. It's an idea that every photographer must be conscious about and must make decisions about. Both scenarios are of a reality, both are documentary, and neither is in and of itself misleading, but it is the context surrounding those images and how those images are used that dictate whether or not the photograph is factually documentary or simply a still performance.
Though I am primarily into drawing, photography has recently caught my eye and this adventure abroad is a great way to enhance my observational skills as I learn the ropes of digital photography. Rather than focusing on direct portraits, I like analyzing my surroundings: the plants, industrial development, interior decor/structure in homes, and animals. I like geometric lines and color, though I do admit black and white images have a voice and power of their own. It will be the people living in this new environment who contribute there own "lines" to my work.
Though I am not positive of what my final project will be in the end, I am keeping an open mind to experience every aspect of the culture, including visual and performing arts. It will be a journey to remember. Follow my adventure on flickr
"Diamond Vale View" was taken from a hilltop and it depicts a typical tourist image where everything is blue and green. It is a compelling image free of modern elements.
An Eye of the Tropics is an informative narrative contradicting the notion of a tropical Caribbean. For me, it was eye opening to read about the ways in which the Caribbean had been transformed into a tropical destination. The characteristics that make the islands tourist destinations were merely creations of Western imagination, which were forcefully imposed upon the land and people of the islands. Krista Thompson eloquently and factually delved into the re-presentation of the islands, mainly Jamaica and Barbados, by focusing on the visualization of the space.
Thompson supports her argument that the idea of a tropical island directly resulted from Western imagination by providing numerous examples of how photography played a major role in advertising the countries unnatural beauty. At some stage in the early 1800’s Europeans avoided traveling to the Caribbean because it was a breeding ground for disease. However, once the sugar economy failed, colonial holders had to invent another way to support their properties. They used artistic representation to exploit the tropical imagery of the Caribbean. Majority of the flora and fauna of the Caribbean were imported and marketed as indigenous to the island. For example, in some parts of the Caribbean silk cotton trees were brought to the region from South Carolina, but photographers often used the giant tree as a focal point for their images. No longer were Europeans fearful of disease; instead they wanted to experience the cool breeze, relax and observe the locals.
This got me thinking, as a person photographing pre-independence homes, how am I contributing to an oppressive view of Trinidad. I have been taking pictures of houses from the colonial era and adamantly promoting conservation of these homes. Does that mean that I am also promoting a primitive lifestyle? Am I stuck in Trinidad's past? Society is hell-bent on moving forward, accepting the change modernization brings. But instead of appreciating the new structures, I find myself comparing them to the old and favoring past ingenuity. It is interesting that people were predisposed to the tropical representation of the Caribbean and visit the islands with hopes of experiencing the fabricated environment. Imagery rarely show the islands as is, sometimes cars and cables are eliminated from pictures/paintings in order to preserve the primitive island look.This is similar to the first image, however we can see how different the "Same Tropical View" looks once the picture is taken from another angle.
At some point, Mr. Cozier mentioned that Caribbean artists tend to focus on the picturesque past. Although the country is trying to become more modern, the artistic representations of the island are still stuck in the past. Art rarely incorporates the harsh reality of Western influences. Instead it omits progress and promotes tropicalization. According to Thompson, tropicalization describes the social and physical consequences of a complex visual system that was created to promote tourism and build an economy. In analyzing my current stock of photos I am a bit worried that I may have been guilty of adding to tropicalization. Despite the fact that Trinidad is not truly considered a tourist island, it still has some compelling features. At some point Trinidad's attraction laid within the various architecture. I have edited some pictures where I cropped out some unsightly wires to make the image look less cluttered. But I would argue that I am not doing this to keep Trinidad in a picturesque past, instead I am doing it to highlight the beauty of the past and omitting as little as possible.
Unfortunately, Trinidad does not seem preoccupied with preserving much of it's history, instead it is moving hard and fast towards a more modern version of an island. Trinidad is one of the few islands that does not completely depend on tourism to support their economy and in an effort to set itself apart from the others, the country lost interest in preserving the unique aspects of its heritage.