My Security with Boundaries (and how it was questioned)

I was walking around today, taking photographs of the physical boundaries that have been my mental focus for the last few weeks. It was the first time that I set out to photograph locks and gates and barbed wire and walls, and boy did I ever find boundaries in a two-block radius of my apartment. But what I found beyond those boundaries also surprised me.

Generally, I would say, I’ve been thinking of these boundaries as flimsy and superficial. Short fences, broken gates, simple locks that would be easy to pick or cut; all of these factors made me underestimate the real use of them. I’d been so focused on what the locks “mean” rather than “do,” that I needed a scare to help me remember. Luckily, I wasn’t robbed, my boundaries weren’t necessarily breached, and I wasn’t harmed.

However, as I had walked up to one particular wall with yellow flowers growing through the holes in the cement wall, I was startled by a particularly vicious warning bark. That first bark and growl was followed by another canine voice joining in, and I was instantly aware of being grateful for the boundary between those two anonymous dogs and me.

But just as I was walking back to my own house, past the gate in that cement wall, I see, almost like it’s in slow motion, two front paws pushing the door open. It swung open with the momentum of the dog’s force, and I was instantly more than just startled. I was concerned that this dog was actually going to attack me, and so was another woman walking across the street. She shouted a warning, and we both warily walked away, as fast as we could. But the dog followed us at a trot. It wasn’t until we were nearly a block and half away that it turned around, and went back to its yard.

I was shaken, and I’m not afraid of dogs. What really disturbed me most, beyond the initial fierce disembodied barking was the fact that my comfort level with boundaries was instantly shattered and shifted. No longer were the walls, gates, and doors so static.
Sure, I still noticed the idiosyncrasies of a lock locked onto a door, without locking anything in or out, or the fact that a wall couldn’t keep a flower in, or how vines grew into barbed wire, and worked themselves into the border patrol. However, now, I’m thinking of how much such boundaries change.

It’s like the coffin in a haunted house. One minute it’s a stationary prop, and the next minute, a huge vampire is jumping out towards your neck. I got a big shock, and therefore, a shift to my thinking. I’m curious to see if, at all, my photographs and focus in this topic will shift.

Will I focus now on also incorporating more of how boundaries are created, changed and trespassed? I think so. I so wish I had the wherewithal at that moment to snap a shot of the dog breaking through the wall, because it was a pivotal action that has shown me just one more way to think about breaking boundaries and rethinking security.

I’m pleased with many of the images. This was a test run, and a way of avoiding the relative monotony of shooting only YALE locks. Since my focus is technically security, this episode with the dog and the simple act of walking critically around my neighborhood has enabled me to see security a little more in these works.

Now I’m wondering how I can transgress ideas of security, along the lines of the loose dog, perhaps through staged events, as well as hopefully, through quicker hands and thinking!

I thought I was more sure of my thinking for my final project, but now the floodgates of thought and possibilities have released that much more inspiration and things to think about!

The security set has grown HERE.

Multimedia and Maxi Taxis: An update

This week, I've started diving in (unsuccessfully) into my Maxi Taxi project, while working more heavily on my multimedia photo essay on TriniRevellers/Tribe designer, Gina Maingot.

The final essay, which will be completed this week, will be about 3 and a half minutes long, and include most of the images in this flickr set, as well as a few other photographs, which will be narrated by sound gathered and compiled from two interviews with Ms. Maingot. The audio track, which I built using Audacity, is completed, and although it took longer than I had originally anticipated, went fairly smoothly. Now it's just a matter of mindfully laying the images in with deliberate timing and transitions in a sensible and logical way so the images and voice compliment one other.

I've begun the Maxi Taxi project with a rough start. I got linked up with a driver named Shannon, who drives the Maxi adorned with puzzle piece upholstery this week. I sat in on his route from Curepe to Sangre Grande, which was, to my surprise, about an hour and a half ride each way. While I took a few photographs during the ride, I encountered a few unexpected problems:

1. Exposure -- Very bright outdoors with very harsh shadows inside, led me to blow out the skies and underexpose inside. Also, I forgot to pay attention to my ISO and shot the entire set at 800... woops :-)
2. Movement -- The Maxi was full, and the seat Shannon saved for me was the middle seat of the driver's bench, so I could only shoot in front, behind (while being careful to not bump him nor the woman seated to my left) or to either side. No room to move around to get different perspectives.

I then went out a different time to shoot Maxis from the side of the road on the Priority Bus Route in Curepe. I figured it'd be nice to try getting a few shots of tons of Maxis driving past, and I was especially hoping to get some interesting shots of the different expressions on the front windshields of the vehicles. I encountered a few problems with this as well:

1. Catcallers -- Once again, men like to catcall women, I would estimate, about 200% more often when the woman is both white and has a camera. During the twenty minutes before I got frustrated and uncomfortable and decided to call it quits, I got catcalled by an ambulance driver, a police officer, a garbage truck driver, several P cars, and a small handful of passersby. It's really difficult to concentrate on your photographs when you've got cops leaning their bodies out of their vehicles to wave at you, and truck drivers pulling over (holding up traffic) to ask for a photograph.
2. Content -- Photographs of the outsides of moving vehicles on the highway are just not that interesting. Or at least, I didn't manage to find a way to make them very interesting.

After discussing with Mark Lyndersay my various "points of failure," as he put it, we determined that I need to go to where my subject is, and I need to catch my subject on their time -- I need to go to Maxi stands during off-peak hours when the drivers aren't scrambling to fill their vehicles and continue on their routes. I need to spend several hours liming with the drivers when they're just waiting about. I also need to find the human connection between the vehicle and the driver. So, in thinking about this project more, I think I'm going to try shifting my idea to being portraits of drivers with their vehicles. This will be a more feasible way to connect the person customizing the vehicle with the vehicle itself. I think this will be a good approach for now, especially considering that for this project, I can't go alone (for safety reasons). This way, I'll also cover my bases in case I don't have time (I only have another 5 weeks until this project has to be presentable) to spend enough time with an individual driver to get to know him enough to trust being alone with him, and then to interview him, and then to go through the sound, and then process the images, and then make a complete multimedia track. After working on this Gina Maingot essay, which is only about 3 1/2 minutes long but has taken me easily 30 hours already, I'm realize how time consuming and labor intensive multimedia work really is, so I'd probably be better off just really honing in on producing the best (and most telling) still photographs that I can.

In any case, as embarrassing as this photo set is, here are the least terrible of my starter Maxi photos.

A "Brief" Survey

After meeting with Charmaine earlier this week, I felt very encouraged and inspired to begin the project. She explained the typical process the firm undergoes when involved with a design project. From teh brief, to design creations, to deciding on a final practical design, to writing up construction documents, and finally administration of the project, there is a great deal of detail which accompanies the task. Luckily the Program House is already constructed- meaning I only concern myself with the first three steps. The Brief is the most important part because it allows the designer and the client to collaborate, acting as a written agreement of what the client wants and what the designer understands the client wants.

So today I sent out a short survey regarding the program house to the other six members of the group, the program directors, and two previous program participants. I'm hoping to receive responses soon so I may begin to plan out the physical changes for the space. I have to consider flooring, color vibrancy, lighting, organization, actual measurements, practical use of space, and even mosquito control. More importantly, I want the space to still look like it belongs in Trinidad when I am finished. I mean, I am an American student visiting the Caribbean for a few months and have created my own definition of "Caribbean Style" based on the spaces I have been exposed to. An American-Trinidadian fusion of styles based on historical structures and contemporary ideas.

Below is the list of questions I asked my "clients"to consider:

1. What first comes to mind when you hear “Trinity Program House” and how does the phrase make you feel in general about the location?
2. What rooms/areas do you like about the Program House and why?
3. What do you wish you saw/had there?
4. What room(s) are you required to use the most?
5. What room(s) to you find yourself willingly using on your own time?
6. What room/areas need the most work (choose 3) and explain why/how?

a. Classroom
b. Kitchen
c. Balcony
d. Administration Office
e. Bathroom
f. Out front
g. Out back
h. Computer area
i. Chill corner

7. What can be done to make the Program House a generally more effective and attractive space?
8. Would you be willing to physically help with remodeling the Program House in April/May?
9. Any further comments or suggestions regarding this project…..

Performance and Control

Lately I’ve been thinking about my final project proposal. I have an idea that I’ve been obsessed with, literally. I’ve dreamt about it, sketches of this performance are posted on my walls, I’m writing my lines in my notebook, and it seems that nearly every conversation I have can somehow link back to this idea that I have stewing in my mind.

I’ve been considering the importance of the story of my experience, especially after last class, my first meeting with Mark Lyndersay and with this article that Christopher Cozier recently sent us. The value of my own work and experiences is something that I paradoxically have no issue seeing, and often do not consider.

This, combined with my theatre course with Tony Hall has led to one concept of a performance piece relating my feelings about my own experiences, and with my semester-long focus on security, locks, walls, and boundaries.

I hope that this piece that I’m concocting will speak to more than just me about the ironies of the idea of “security,” and the juxtaposition of being within or outside of boundaries.

However, despite my obsession, I still haven’t entirely figured out all the details in a way that is clear enough to present. Until then, I will also quickly speak to my continued thoughts on valuing experience. I met with Mark Lyndersay last week, for the first time, and while I learned a lot about parametric software’s, multipliers, cataloguing softwares, and copyright information, one clear part of our conversation, in my mind, is his impression of my own value on my work. I had never considered myself self-deprecating, or actively devaluing my photography process. However, that was clearly the tone in which I communicated, and due to this fact, it is something that I have continued to be bothered by, post-meeting.

In this, I am actively considering my inner thoughts on my work, and perhaps comments I make to my fellow photographers, and how I accept (or don’t) compliments on my work. It’s something to think about, that’s for sure.

Also, since one of the issues I broached with Lyndersay had to due with my lack of full control/connection to images, I spent this weekend primarily working at exerting more control over my image process.

This set is a look at the more controlled outcome!

A Glimpse into Hindhuism in Trinidad and an Update on the Maxi Project

The past few weeks have afforded us several visit to spiritual places in the Hindhu faith here in Trinidad. The following photo set is of some of those encounters.
As for my Maxi Taxi project, I've started looking for contacts by asking our Maxi driver if he knows (and trusts) anyone enough to let me tag along and interview them and photograph them. I'm still waiting for him to get back to me, but after a long conversation with Mark Lyndersay, I need to acknowledge my anxieties that lead me to want to plan, plan, plan as being indicative that I'm being careful and trying to cover all my bases, but at the end of the day, I really just need to start working on this project immediately. I'm running out of time here, and no matter how much planning I do, if I don't start getting images, I'm not going to have any images (duh). So, tomorrow I've got a date with my roommate to dive right in. We're going to try the priority bus route from Curepe to Trincity first, since that's the route that I noticed the transformers Maxi and the puzzle-piece Maxi several weeks ago. My game plan is to keep my camera in my bag, wait for a Maxi that strikes me as personalized, flag it down, and if possible sit up close by the driver when I get on so I can talk to him a bit. If the Maxi isn't customized, we'll get out at Tunapuna market, and wait for another one. My primary objective, and my goal for this week, is to get images and phone numbers, and to worry about recording interviews with drivers and recording ambient noise from inside the Maxi and outside, at the Maxi stands, later if its possible.

Tune in next week for my progress!

Designer on the Inside

A short while ago, Nikki and I made a visit to Walt Lovelace at “The Beachhouse” in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He was so welcoming to our endeavors in Trinidad and willingly showed us some of his work. From music videos (including 3 Canal) to documentary films, he has a very skilled eye and intentional style. I really appreciated what he had to say regarding his creative experiences and advice for us. However, my artistic eye for color was very enticed by the space itself. Every room was a different color and the curtains complimentary to the walls. The cabinets were also interesting accents to each room and only enhanced the creative vibe I felt in the place. It was so playful and inspiring! Then, while waiting for our transportation to arrive I noticed and indulged in the large stack of interior design magazines on the desk. And the wheels began to turn uncontrollably.

There is something special about the influence of interior space on the human psychological state. Living spaces, working spaces, and play areas each have their own aura and people are both directly and indirectly impacted by this atmosphere. I don’t know much about architectural design, but I’ve always been interested in the interior design and decoration process. This includes spending entire Saturdays watching HGTV just for fun. Before attending Trinity College, I really wanted to study Interior Design, but given the circumstances I am a studio arts and theatre dance double major… for now.

So recently I had a chat with Sean Leonard, an architect. He and his firm design for commercial and domestic purposes, including Alice Yard and stage design for the 3 Canal concert. He explained that Alice Yard is supposed to be changed as needed, that it’s not about seating people where he wants them, but letting the community mold the space into what it needed next. For example, the graffiti was from a past exhibition but one wall was preserved to showcase the moment. Sean believes it is important to let Alice Yard develop itself, but that he is only there to facilitate the changes as they come. Brilliant! So I offered my services to help at Alice Yard or on any project which needed a hands-on volunteer. (Back home, I am known for changing the furniture arrangements in my room once a month, but I also spent all of last summer painting dorm rooms on campus) Sometimes an artist just needs to get her hands dirty.
Then I thought about doing my own design project at Trinity’s Program House. It’s a really great space where we have classes together two days a week but could use a little love in the design department and an upgrade. The Program Directors love the idea and are looking into a budget for me. They have noted what needs to stay in place and showed me several beautiful student photographs which need wall placement. My task will have to concern resources, deciding which space(s) to do, and creating proposals on what I want to do with the space. So I’ve been reading Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space” to grasp the idea of design and spending a lot of time in the building to observe how people move in the space. I may interview the other students to get opinions on improvements and want to meet with Charmaine, the interior designer from Sean’s firm, to get a foundation in design thought process. I like Sean Leonard’s notion that a space should develop itself and the designer should facilitate it -so I look forward to studying every nook and cranny of the building and will soon decide what move to make next. This could be a great final project- but I make no promises yet. One day at a time.


Recently, I've had the opportunity to photograph a few of Trinidad and Tobago's naturally beautiful flora and fauna.

This set will continue to be updated as I explore more of what T&T's rain-forests have to offer!

Experimenting with SoundSlides

This week I've begun experimenting with using SoundSlides to present images in a more compelling and deliberate way. SoundSlides allows you to arrange your images in a slide show, adjust the timing and movement of slides as well as transitions between slides easily. SoundSlides also allows you to lay an audio track to accompany the slide show. While I've been familiar with other photographer's visual presentations put together with SoundSlides, this is my first time working with it. This is my first experimentation with combining sound that I captured from the formal event of the Kendra Phagwa Festival in Londonville, with photographs I took at the event. I also experimented with stop motion animation, created by rapidly presenting a sequence of images so as to create movement from the still images.

I had a number of challenges, again, technically and content-wise, that I hadn't anticipated.

Technical challenges: In the previous multimedia work I've dabbled in, I've worked primarily in Final Cut Pro, a much more powerful (and much more complicated) program that allows for the incorporation of video, still, and multiple layers of audio. Since I do not have Final Cut Pro, my first challenge was in creating an mp3 audio track that would accompany my images. When using programs like Final Cut Pro, most multimedia storytellers will build up from the audio track, which they complete first. The first layer is audio, and from there, image stills, video, and supplementary audio (sound effects, narration, music) is layered up accordingly. Although the process is easier when the audio track is finished, one challenge of using SoundSlides is that once an audio track is imported into SoundSlides, it cannot be changed. Any changes to the audio track must be made in a separate program and then re-imported into SoundSlides to replace the original track. Since the source of my sound was from video recorded using my Nikon D90, and since I do not have any other audio software as of yet, I decided to try using iMovie to create my audio track. I then separated the video from the audio, built the audio track, exported it as an mp3 file, and imported it into SoundSlides. That process alone was time consuming, and posed some problems since I couldn't revise that track once it was imported into SoundSlides without repeating that time consuming process. Overall, I found that iMovie, while easy to use, is not the right tool for me in this setting. I've just downloaded Audacity, an open source sound editing program, and while Audacity won't change that I won't be able to change my audio track from within SoundSlides, since it is software dedicated to sound, it should give me more options to deal with sound in a more efficient way.

Content: One of the challenges with telling a story through photographs, sound, and/or video, is, well.. telling the story. It's fairly easy to present a slide show of interesting images, but it is much more different to arrange those images in a meaningful order with meaningful timing, and to incorporate a thematic flow throughout. This is one of my areas of least experience right now. I know of a few ways to tell a story with images. One is to accompany textual narration, either in captions or subtitles within the presentation, or as introductory text at the beginning for context. Another way is to have a third-party narrator give context to the images. Another way is to include interviews with subjects, and to mindfully lay the audio interviews over appropriately paired images, and when applicable, appropriately layered sound effects. None of these options, however, are possible if, as the storyteller, you don't understand the story you want to tell. As a result, all of the above issues are problematic to my telling a story of Phagwa. I attended the event with no knowledge of the event, many of the songs were in Hindhi so I did not understand the language, and without that knowledge base, I didn't know what to photograph. Even now, after the fact, when I've done a bit more research, I still don't understand the story of Phagwa enough to tell "The Story of Phagwa." What I can tell, however, is MY story of attending this Phagwa event. I chose to record sound of the musicians playing and singing because I was drawn to the trance-like meditative calm that filled the air when they played. I photographed the musicians, and their instruments, because many of them were foreign and beautiful to me. I photographed in rapid succession with very short shutter speeds the action of the drummers', and other muscians', hands to convey what I saw as a combination of individual actions by individual body parts by individual people resulting in these beautiful sounds that flowed over a large crowd of collective individuals. I recorded sound of people singing and dancing around Holika as she was burnt, and I photographed that process. At the event, I decided to capture as widely as I could, in hopes that I would latter be able to draw from that pool to tell the story that I would learn after the fact. After the fact, however, in conversation with Nicolette, I realized that perhaps what would be more interesting in this setting, and what might lend itself best to a technical exercise in using new tools to see if these are the tools I want to continue using, would be to simply document myself through this experience.

Okay, great. I'm documenting myself through this experience. That still gets me back to those first sets of issues:
1) Do I thread this fragmented story together with text or with narration?
2) If I weave this story together with narration, presumably my own voice reflecting upon the experience and why I chose to shoot/capture what I did, I did two audio tracks -- one of the music and sound that I recorded at the event, and one of my own voice's narration.
3) Since SoundSlides only accommodates a single audio track, I'll need to layer my narration over the existing audio track in a separate program, export the two merged tracks as a single mp3 to import into SoundSlides.
4) I don't know how to do that yet.

So this is my first attempt. No text, no narration, only my images, and the accompanying sound that I was interested in, and several hours of this non-technologically minded girl trying to figure out new software.

To be honest, I'm not sure how much more work I'm going to do on this project, since my intent was for it to be more of an experimentation with this process. What I am going to start doing is applying this process (although hopefully it'll be easier with the help of Audacity or another sound editing) to a new project that I hope to continue for the rest of my time here : Maxi Taxis as a form of personal expression.

One of the first things I noticed when I arrived at the airport in Port of Spain were the big bold letters "GOD'S FAVOUR" sprawled across the upper front windshield of our maxi taxi. The more maxis I saw, the more expressions of perspective, religious and secular, displayed proudly on the front and rear windshields of the maxis. Once I started to ride different maxis, I noticed that their use as vehicles of self-expression extended far beyond the words toted on their exteriors. Many maxis have graphically expressive ceilings. One maxi I took to TrinCity had an elaborate Transformer's themed design on the interior ceiling while another one I took in Arima had a puzzle-piece patterned interior ceiling. Even the little signs inside are expressive of the drivers' personalities. So far my favorite signs include "If you must smoke, please don't exhale," "Please don't poke the driver," and "I am a Driver, not a Pilot. If you want to get where you're going on time, leave earlier." My initial conversation about this idea have been with Chris Cozier and with another well established photographer in the area, Mark Lyndersay, who I'm also working with here. Chris Cozier offered some insight into the history of Maxi Taxis, specifically pointing to how much more expressive they were in previous years and reflecting on some issues that arose as a result of a sort of socially deviant underground maxi taxi culture in Trinidad. Mark Lyndersay informed me that much of the scaling down of the maxi taxis relates to a shift in the culture of consumerism with regards to automobiles. He reflected that back around the 1980s, when Maxi Taxis were very expressive, people would buy one vehicle for years, whereas now, people purchase vehicles with the intent to trade them up in a few years. As a result, people don't invest as much into their vehicles, since vehicle modification can make it harder to resell in the future. I see a really interesting dialogue emerging from this trend in the maxis, and in their changing roles in Trinidad's culture, and perhaps in their changing roles for the maxi drivers' lives. I'm also particularly drawn to documenting this because its such a routine and ordinary and non-glamorous part of daily life here. I'm also drawn to the Maxis as a documentary project since Chris Cozier mentioned that he wasn't sure if there was any documentation of Maxis back when they were intensely expressive.

I'm going to start off trying to find 2-3 maxi drivers with highly customized vehicles, see if I can follow them along on their route for a few hours, talk to them about their lives, how they started driving maxis, why they chose to customize their vehicle, what the customizations mean to them and so forth. Naturally, I have to think about my safety, as a young, female, foreigner who doesn't know her way around this island as much as I'd like to. I'm going to see if I can meet some Maxi drivers through my Maxi driver and friend, Ivan LaRose. Ultimately, I'd like to use multimedia storytelling tools to tell the stories of a few Maxi drivers, as told through their vehicles.

Looking For Some Direction

My most recently posted images, from J'ouvert morning 2010, are unrelated to the direction that I want to take my photography while I'm still here, although they do demonstrate one of the challenges that I've been finding in producing compelling images.

Thus far, I have experienced two primary challenges: technique and content. I know those are the two most obvious challenges to producing good images, but I still think my personal challenges with the two are worth discussing.

Regarding technique, it is always difficult to handle low light situations with moving subjects. I've been shooting with a new Nikon D90, which has surprisingly little digital noise at high ISOs, and that has helped, but at the end of the day, film needs light to oxidize silver halide crystals, and digital sensors need light to register information. If there isn't enough available light, you need to provide your own. The challenge: flash ruins the mood and atmosphere of pictures. While expensive, high quality external flashes are better than in-body flash, images are still undeniably stronger when they're shot with natural light.

My conclusion, as I think about where to take photography this semester? Shoot in daylight. Again, I know it sounds obvious and simple, but it really does make a world of difference.

Now, regarding content: One of the biggest challenges for me in deciding what to photograph, is my level of comfort going out and taking pictures. Thus far, every time I've tried walking the streets with my camera, the cat calling increases. The men here certainly don't hesitate to cat call every female in sight without a camera, but for some reason, when I have my camera out, it's like bait for hungry sharks. "Eh sexy gyal, ya wanna take mah piture?" It makes me feel uncomfortable enough that I feel like I can't spontaneously whip out my camera and start shooting. This has led me to consider a logical next step. If my goal while in Trinidad is to document my experiences, then why not document my experience as a photographer being cat called? If men pull over on the side of the road and ask me if I want to take their picture, why not take their picture? I've been thinking about this "Portraits of Cat Callers" idea for about a week or so now, and although I like the idea, I'm still hesitant to try it because it involves confronting a reality about my surroundings that I don't feel very comfortable about... which is interesting because I find that to be one of the best reasons to take photographs.

I've been working on a few other mini projects for a couple weeks now, and we'll see if any of those start taking me in another direction that I haven't considered yet. I've started photographing Maxi Taxis to look at the Maxi as a means of personal, aesthetic, and religious expression for the Maxi Drivers, and I'm also working on a two multimedia pieces. The first is a very short practice piece on a Phagwa ceremony I attended, to try out SoundSlides for the first time and to experiment with combining stop motion animation, still images, and sound into a multimedia piece. The second, slightly longer piece is on TriniRevellers/Tribe designer, Gina Maingot, and how her vision for Carnival mas reflects where Carnival mas has been and where its going. I've only done one other multimedia piece, Coming To Terms, a piece about my Growth Hormone Deficiency, which is still a work in progress (when I have time to revisit it, I want to take out all of the video and replace it all with stop motion animation). While I learned a lot about multimedia production in working on Coming To Terms, it was done with a different (much more complicated) program, Final Cut Pro, and I had the help of an experienced friend to work through the project. While I understand that SoundSlides is infinitely simpler than Final Cut Pro, and that it will be perfectly adequate for my needs, since I'm not using video, I haven't used it yet. As a result, my experience using it for the Phagwa piece and the Gina Maingot piece will help me decide if I want to work with straight photography for my final presentation at Alice Yard, or if I want to try lacing in some sound and stop motion animation. We'll see. Here's to experimentation!

Positionality and Tobago

I’ve been considering my position and positionality as a photographer recently. I was hoping that looking to Krista A. Thompson’s book titled “An Eye for the Tropics” would help me to be able to more critically look at my role, but found instead that it only confused and complicated how I feel.

On the one hand, Thompson prints a quote from an old travel guide to Jamaica, and I can immediately connect with. I simply recognize my own experiences in Trinidad and Tobago with the idea, “that to a person coming from a northern climate, it is realizing for the first time a picture one has been in the habit of seeing for years in their imagination” (Thompson, 93).

Of course, I have not been seeing these exact scenes, colors, or peoples, but images coming from the Caribbean islands at large, as argued by Thompson, are taken in a way as to homogenize and create desire for a particularly “Caribbean” experience.

This is what I am hoping to avoid. I am hoping to avoid, in my photography and experience of Trinidad and Tobago, that specific type of stereotyping and stripping of the individuality of a nation. As I previously wrote, I am finding one way of doing this through looking for, finding and seeing the smallest human moments that are (supposedly) universally recognizable. The assumption that a look, a touch, or a smile can be universally recognizable may show my own bias and set of cultural assumptions, but in this I am endeavoring to look beyond what is considered “foreign” and fantastic, and instead find elements that I am comfortable in recognizing.

While I’m still exploring this for myself, I’m taking the opportunities that come to photograph the beauty that I see. So until I further work out my feelings, and also the direction of my focus, this set of images are those that I took in Tobago, while I was attempting to balance my mind on the issues of tropicalization and colonial legacy within photography.

In these photographs, I can see my mind composing photographs like scenes from the post cards Thompson points out, to clever moments, and my favorite focuses of color, texture, and locks. Here I see what I've read and how I've been socialized jockeying for the foremost artistic influence.


I’d noticed the amount of constructed boundaries in my day-to-day life in Trinidad, but the coming of Carnival had marked an increase in the literal boundaries as well, even while people themselves were preparing to wear less clothing, and therefore don fewer boundaries. Walls were being constructed around banks and businesses, bars were coming down over store fronts, roads were blocked off, and yellow tape was posted to prevent entrance in anticipation of Carnival.

My focus on constructed boundaries has however, shifted after Carnival more towards locks. Locks have been a significant part of the culture shock that I’ve observed my fellow participants in the program going through. That’s not to say that I’m immune to this particular jarred familiarity. Rather, I went through similar steps of struggle, observation and presentation of the difference when I was living in South Africa. Here in Trinidad, I have observed just as many barred windows, and just as many locks, on shorter and less imposing fences surrounding houses. There is less barbed wire, and fewer visible security company stickers plastered onto windows of apartment complexes than in South Africa, but the same feeling is still present here in Trinidad; the feeling that all these “safety” measures are somehow necessary. If there wasn’t a lot of crime, either in theft and robbery, or some sort of attack, why would so many people in our residential neighborhood collectively or individually choose to have at least three or four locks separating “them” from “me” and the “dangerous outside” from the “safe inside?”

What I’ve then been photographically focusing on are the tangible “things” which lend a (false) feeling of security. In this, I’ve been focusing on doors, locks, gates and walls. However, I’ve also been attempting to expose the irony that this simple objects pose, in the creation and maintenance of “safety.” Do three locks on your door really make you safer, or is their presence alone making you more susceptible to irrational fears of the dangers that require those three locks to keep you safe? Does the bold black imprint of “SECRUTIY” on a booth make you feel better, knowing that someone is “always” watching? Or is that illusion broken when you come to see that the security booth’s windows are papered over, and the security guard only gets up from in front of his television program to pee in the corner of the compound, by the trash cans? What too, of gate locks, I ask? When one can download a guide of how to pick locks, and use any number of slim simple tools to open your padlock, or simply jump the gate, are those locks useful?

What I wonder, when I look and see so many “security measures” is how often these objects actually serve as protection, or if rather, they serve as indicators of homes with enough worth protecting. I also wonder at how those same potential indicators of wealth may serve to make someone feel worthy of protection, and somehow more safe and sheltered from the outside world.

In supposed “third world nations” like South Africa and Trinidad, I have also noticed the propensity of citizens and visitors alike, talking of the crime in the area to serve as a warning, or to show a particular suave or worldly understanding of criminal minds and how to avoid being a victim. However, regardless of how one may act, or what security is in place, one can never choose not to be a victim.

This leads me back to constructed boundaries. Locks, barred windows, and security systems do create visible and invisible boundaries between passers-bys and inhabitants. There is also a class component to such “security measures.” Who can afford a complex security system, and who must rely on personal vigilance to create security?

And, most interesting to me, in traveling from first to third to first to third, which nations, areas of those nations, and people within those nations feel the need for which types of security. The suburban neighborhood that my mother lives in relies on decorative walls and fences with unlocked latches, but keypad locked garages and homes with motion-sensor security systems, while my father, in a rural area of the same state, never locks his front door. In South Africa, where I felt I’ve been most actively taught to “feel” constant and imminent danger, vicious barking dogs lurk behind tall walls adorned with barbed wire, and houses sit behind locked gates, locked doors, and permanently barred windows. In Trinidad, I’m coming to terms with the seven keys it takes to access my space, and the growing awareness of similar security measures every where that I go.

Attitudes around locks and other boundaries I find, are rarely questioned. The importance of locking the outside gate is tantamount, and the importance of locking both the door and iron gate in front of my door is stressed, and further reinforced by the insecurity that other students feel when the door is open. And despite this seeming disavowal of locks and all other security measures, I do mind the norm. I lock both locks into my apartment, and keep the gates and doors of any of my spaces locked. After all, I don’t want to compromise the supposed safety of the complex that I live in, and the community that I’m therefore partially responsible for protecting through the three measly locks and obviously scale-able gates.

I also think it is clear, in my photo stream, that I’m attracted to and interested in photographing the color and contrast and ideological realities of locks. Due to their constant outdoor presence, many of the locks I find most compelling are covered in rust, accompanied by a bold color, strongly lit, or even missing, perhaps due to a previous break-in. Following my preoccupation with seeing the constructed boundaries of Carnival, I am interested in further exploring similarities perhaps, between locks as security and boundaries, and my camera as a boundary, and as security.

In my mind, even the lens of a camera can be construed as a boundary. It is a distinct separation of subject matter and photographer, and I am increasingly aware of this feeling as I continue to live and travel Trinidad and Tobago, and talk to my fellow photography students. One has remarked that it is often easier to “see” uncomfortable events and realities through their camera. While I have never consciously felt this way, I am now more aware of the potential truth of this statement in my own work. Is it sometimes easier for me, at an event, to simply get caught up within the colors and details and light?

As my awareness has grown to this potential boundary creation, I’ve tried to focus on the small events and details that are recognizable and human to any event. Within the glitzy and glittering fantastic scene of Carnival, I focused on a smile, or a sleeping child to bring home the shared humanity, even in a situation that I found new and strange. Rather than focusing only or purely on difference, I am instead trying to also see the little, often overlooked similarities.

Not all of these photos are successful. For example, the photograph of a child interacting with a Blue Devil around his age was underdeveloped and nearly unrecognizable, but I find it important for my own self-understanding and preservation and attempts of non-exploitative photography, to continue to try to capture these smaller, common human moments, even in the midst of an unfamiliar cultural happening. This makes me feel, at least, that my role is not entirely tourist-focused, nor entirely focused as an anthropologically focused student photographer. I’m also not committing to photojournalism in this, as many of these little moments are my favorite images, and not specific to any particular event, culture, or people.

It is this mental focus on commonality that led me to locks, and so the mental circle repeats itself as I continue to look to those connecting pieces and moments of every day interactions and life.

Auto-Focus State of Mind

I have a confession to make…. I am not a professional photographer. I do not claim to be one, nor do I consider myself the equivalent. I am a photography student, who successfully completed Photo I on Black and White Film photography. And I received a Nikon D3000 as a Christmas/New Year’s/Going away-to-Trinidad gift in December, so I am just beginning to learn through experience about digital photo taking. That said, there are moments when I wish I could take beautiful photos, but absolutely fail. Sometimes failing makes me work harder at trying to get the image I want, but other times, I get really aggravated and turn the camera off completely for the rest of the event. It is sad, but true. At one point, I even found myself consciously choosing to not even try to take photos at an event simply due to the environmental conditions (with light, motion, estimated crowd density, my role). The real shocking point was when I went to a show completely forgetting to bring the camera out of the apartment! My mind was ‘out of focus,’ I suppose, on photography.

But that’s just it. Over the course of a month, I’ve learned that –for me- photography is more than shutter speed, aperture, point of view, and an idea, photography includes a huge element relating to state of mind. I can go into an event as either a witness (to participate in that performer-audience relationship) or as a photographer who documents the experiences other people are having, but I cannot do both. I simply can’t have dual focus. When I bring the camera, my eyes see everything. Every sense is heightened, every color illuminated, contrasts made beautiful, and minute detail emphasized, that I lose focus on the cultural value or personal experience of the event. I no longer see the big picture. My mind becomes mechanical to the point where I can’t enjoy taking photos and that is a problem. There are so many parts to taking a picture, just in preparation of the moment where one pushes the shutter button. I have to find balance.

The greatest issue I’ve had so far, especially due to the Carnival season, is taking photos of moving subjects at night- perhaps a concert or art show or media launch. There is a huge difference in technical stress between daytime landscapes and night concerts with moving subjects. The 3 Canal Media Launch was the first night event I attempted to photograph and it was no easy task. I found myself either packing the camera away or using Auto mode with Auto Focus to take shots (though that mode uses flash, a feature not condoned by my advisor). A while later, I started taking photos in Program mode with AutoFocus on. This means I can concentrate on composition, content and available light rather than everything technical all at once. Now, while some may say, ‘it’s about the image itself, not the camera mode the image is taken in,’ I have a hard time grasping the thought that the camera is doing the calculative work and I am just there to position it in the real world. I am not the tool; I want to make the choices. But I think the pressure of getting tangible photos from a plethora of once-in-a-lifetime events was distracting from my enjoyment of some events and from the action of taking photos, but also from developing ‘manual’ photo skills.

So I decided to bring the camera to a 3 Canal concert rehearsal. It was interesting to be a part of the production making process; hearing commands for lighting cues and watching the actors mark stage positions. Since it was a rehearsal, there were trial runs of color projections and spotlights, sound checks and script mess-ups. As a performer, it made me feel right at home to be amongst the madness of show preparation. I felt pretty special getting to watch the actors practice, meet the director, and shake Wendell Manwarren’s hand. Then I realized that there is an interesting relationship between visual arts and theatre set design, where traffic patterns, color focal points, prop mediation, and activity balance all come into play. No wonder why my senses were so heightened!

The dilemma then became: taming my performance drive to allow aesthetic visual comprehension. In other words, I needed to dissociate myself from the excitement to see the aesthetic values worth photographing. This, of course, was extremely difficult. I chose not to bring the camera to the official show performance. This decision had its advantages and disadvantages. Given that we attended the first half of the rehearsal show to photograph, I found myself really enjoying the final visual product on show night. Yet, I also knew what to expect. The second half of the performance was the greatest thing I’ve seen cross a stage in about a year. Song, dance, humor, lighting excitement, climaxed plot and even audience interaction where I got to sing into the microphone! It was so much to see- almost too much. So though there were beautiful moments where a good image could have been shot, I don’t regret leaving the camera home. It was such a great show to experience. If I could do it again, however, I would see the final show twice and photograph at my second attendance. There is a different awareness that accompanies familiarity. Moments are anticipated and the experience intensified, when a performance can be enjoyed as a whole first, then zoned in on visual aesthetics separately. Just as one shouldn’t take snapshots of people and call it portraiture, every performance has a personality which needs dissection before documentation- not to devalue the great photos my co-interns were able to capture at the final 3 Canal show. Besides, I really would’ve loved to see the show again.

Recently, however, I have found myself less intimidated by digital photography. Through meeting other art students in my Three-Dimensional Design class at the University of the West Indies, interested in graphic and fine arts, I have realized how lucky I am to have such a good camera. They can do some beautiful things with point-and-shoot technology and they have tried to assist me with my own camera. I am very grateful. So on Sunday we visited Hanuman Murti and Temple in the Sea and I was inspired to put the camera on manual mode, with manual focus on the lens. I tried various combinations (examples featured below) of program mode, auto focus, manual focus, aperture changes, and shutter speed etc. to take various photos in different locations (shade vs. sun placement) or of the same object but in different camera settings. I really do want to become familiar with the technique so I will have better reaction time to set up when I want to take photos. It will take time and practice.

Next on my list of “things to attempt before leaving Trinidad” is figuring out the basics of Photoshop. The most I do now is crop the photos, but adding an artistic touch to my own photos though a program could also be valuable. I am not ready to tackle that yet due to my low comfort level with my camera at this point, but I would like to experiment with Photoshop before the end of March. I like a good challenge- but I’ll definitely be in need of some assistance when that time comes. Until then, I will work on altering my Auto-Focus state of mind and befriending this Nikon.