Pictures from Paradise

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Robert & Christopher Publishers, 2012 ¦ 224 pp

Edited by Melanie Archer and Mariel Brown.

If you declared that Pictures from Paradise: A Survey of Contemporary Caribbean Photography resembles the face of a constantly-evolving portrait of our islands, you wouldn’t be wrong. Noticeably absent are Photoshopped vistas of emerald seas against sandy white shores, or permanently smiling “local people”, selling colourful artisan crafts by the roadside.

The collection was launched in April this year at the Medulla Art Gallery, as part of the 2012 NGC Bocas Lit Fest celebrations. It has also been launched at separate events in Jamaica and Barbados, and features works from 18 Caribbean and Caribbean-based media artists. Stunningly and crisply formatted by Trinidadian graphic designer Richard Mark Rawlins, the book is introduced with an essay from O’Neil Lawrence, assistant curator at the National Gallery of Jamaica. It displays photographic art in four sections: Tableaux Vivant; Documentary; Transformed Media and Portraiture.

Watching these pictures is that very best sort of paradox: an unnerving delight. Some of them seem to be looking back at you, like the faces in the “Trinidad Artists Project” series by Gerard Gaskin. Certain faces do not hold so direct a gaze, such as those in Rodell Warner’s “Erotic Art Week Photo Booth” series, where masked and veiled participants share pieces of their most intimate selves. Marvin Bartley’s “Tragedies of Zong” series has us contemplate the uncomfortable atrocities of our collective past, and wonder with concern at what our future transactions might be. The digital collages of Holly Bynoe reveal a startling immediacy; they haunt with their suggestion as much as they hint of nostalgia and aging, in their sepia tint. Abigail Hadeed’s black and white portraits of people and places summon entire suspended lifetimes and histories, spanning decades upon decades within the moments it takes to turn a page.

These are brilliant, disturbing, memorable pictures, worth far more than a cursory flip-through in a dentist’s waiting room. This collection deserves a place of pride in the home of any discerning art enthusiast. It will command your attention time and time again, prompting you to re-imagine the Caribbean as a fragmented, fascinating place to exist, even without a single tourist-themed vista in sight.

Pictures in Paradise would make a splendid Christmas present for:

  • an enthusiastic art, design and/or photography student;
  • a collector of high-quality, glossy-print coffee-table publications;
  • anyone who’s interested in (and deeply moved by) alternative views of the Caribbean.