10 by Alex Smailes

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

The invitation to Smailes’ 10 exhibit, held at the Medulla Art Gallery from the 22nd November to the 6th December, 2012.

The front cover of 10

10, Alex Smailes’ new photobook, shows that a collection of photographs can mean many things. At first glance, it doesn’t fit the bill for one’s expectations of a coffee table publication of glossy, high-definition stills. Perhaps this is entirely the point. Encased in a sturdy, neat cardboard box, and bound with a present-wrapped length of twine, 10 must have appeared an unlikely, intriguing Christmas gift beneath some trees this year.

Upon unwrapping, 24 sheets of newsprint emerge, bearing a decade of Smailes’ work in the Caribbean: ten years of images, a carefully curated 167 illustrations in colour. Each still shot demands attention, consideration — this is no sheaf of papers to be hastily fumbled through. Quite the opposite, in fact, for there are photos in here to summon your sadness and anger; (Haitian coup of 2004) your sombre reflection; (Kaleem “Billy” Danglade’s funeral in Morvant, Trinidad) the resurgence of your childlike wonder (Mayan children at play in Belize), and a whole host of other emotions.

Alex Smailes, holding 10. Photo by Steve Hernandez.

Alex Smailes, holding 10. Photo by Steve Hernandez.

These remarkable photographs signal new ways of seeing, while simultaneously honouring the traditions of a quickly vanishing era. Lost children, shoemakers, dapper old gentlemen and proud, gun-toting youth: all these faces stare up at you from 10, not mere statistics, but members of a whole regional conversation of which you, the viewer of these pictures, are a part. 10 deserves a prized place of ownership in your collection for many reasons, but this reason is my favourite: Smailes encourages us, with every image, to join the Caribbean dialogue, in whichever ways feel and seem most natural to us. No subject is unworthy of the lens, and this, one feels instinctively, is 10‘s crowning glory.