BitDepth#822 - February 21

How lazy photography ruined out perception of Carnival.
A picture perfect Carnival
A snapshot of Dimanche Gras in the late 1950’s.
Photograph by Kingsley Lyndersay/Lyndersay Digital.

Carnival has long attracted photographers of all kinds to capture its dynamic variety and spectacle. 
There has been a steady shift, over the 33 years that I’ve been photographing the festival, from images that record a performance to a consensual engagement between masquerader and photographer that results in images that depict a Carnival that never really happened, save in posed slivers of time.

This tends to happen most obviously on Carnival Tuesday, when revellers take to the street with the intention of being recorded in the poses they have come to understand as the visual shorthand of Trinis having a grand old time.

This is Carnival as an aggregate of cocked hips, hands lofted to the skies and ecstatic smiles. It’s a warm and inviting image that describes friendship, joy and a wanton Caribbean party and it’s all become one picture.

That photograph, replicated hundreds of times over, has come to implicitly direct the very nature of Carnival. A generation has come of age in its pervasive and unchallenged presence and now understand it as both the point and the apotheosis of the celebration. 
It is an image that has become such a fundamental part of the modern Carnival narrative that the largest Carnival bands produce their own collections of these photographs, printing them on glossy stock and even bundling that product with DVDs full of many hundreds more, a Carnival captured, edited and packaged to taste.

It was not always like this. For many years, photographers captured images of the festival which were expressive and eclectic. But now, the work of Jerry Llewelyn, Derek Gay, Sean Drakes, Abigail Hadeed, Jeffrey Chock, Marlon Rouse, Noel Norton, Roy Boyke, Gary Chan is now absent from the published record of Carnival.

Some of these practitioners have passed on or have retired from the pressures of photographing the event. Others pursue it in their own way, outside mainstream media.
Some have simply given up on Carnival. Along with the influx of more privileged visiting media recording the event are hundreds of new photographers keen to machine gun their way through the hips, cleavage, feathers and beads.

Two generations of young masqueraders have come to understand Carnival without the guidance or example of a curated, thoughtful document like Key Caribbean’s Trinidad Carnival. The disappearance of a considered visual interpretation of the event has fundamentally shifted the self-image we have of the event, its value systems and the way it is recorded and presented.

Today’s hastily produced and printed, disposable aggregates of wining posses only reinforce the displacement of portrayal by party hearty and engagement with empty enthusiasm.
Until we change this narrative by taking different photographs, telling different stories, shooting different footage, the massive legacy of Carnival creativity will keep shrinking to fit commercial concerns and limited preconceptions.

This will be very difficult, if not impossible, because no part of the planning dialogue for the annual festival has ever considered the creation of a serious archive of our boldest creative moment to be of any importance.
It is a simple truth that anyone who has continuously recorded Carnival over the last five decades has done so in the face of at best, ruthless indifference and more commonly, open hostility from the authorities charged with the administration of the festival.

The NCC and its predecessor the CDC, have, in my experience, worked with quiet and admirable industry to discourage and frustrate any local effort at authoring an archive of the events of the festival.

Today, if you chance to be in the mas, cast an eye on the hundreds of tiny interactions between players and photographers, it is there that the Carnival of record is being captured and our mas is snapshot to death.
blog comments powered by Disqus