Trinidad and Tobago through the lens of a War-Correspondent

One of the challenges of picture books is the familiarity one has with the images. How can the photographer take us away from the familiar and show us something new? That is one of the major challenges of such a book. People unfamiliar with Trinidad and Tobago would enjoy a reflection of the countries, but for those of us who know the place, it is a bit harder to see the body of work in this book as special or different. That said, it is still wonderful to see a year in the two island state represented here, and occasionally one can come across an interesting eye, as the people of the SWWTU Hall would attest. I think that one of the challenges of this book is the odd use of themes throughout. By categorising the work into sections, the last section seems like a catch-all and that throws you a bit. Also the layout does not always enhance the photography as the section on flora and fauna shows. Images are placed in such a way that the work has an almost clinical study quality that can be seen in any botanical or biology book. See his exhibition of SWWTU, Back In Times

Where Mr. Smailes’ skills peak through are in works such as the hands of toil. But again this book could have been better served by a clear decision being made as to what each work in every section was trying to convey,and thus known, sizes, shapes and placements adjusted to suit. The dust jacket prepares you for somethingc very dynamic and exciting inside and then the choices let you down. However the book does succeed in doing what it is made to do, and that is, please the tourist. – Adele
How is Trinidad and Tobago interpreted through the eyes of an outsider? What reflects our true essence? A glossy coffee table photographic book on Trinidad and Tobago is on the market to answer these questions. The British photographer, Alex Smailes has canvassed across the country to document landmarks, and cultural observances and is more likely to experience facets of our culture where most locals take for granted.

This is a general photographic book that offers a spectrum of Trinidad and Tobago’s life, and more….it exposes Mr. Smailes’ technique and portfolio range categorized into sections of Land, People, Carnival, Aquatic and Wildlife. All effort is placed to give a snapshot of the country’s surroundings, from the oyster vendor, to car drag racing or the popular landmark as “The Magnificent Seven.” Unfortunately, for the latter, Mr. Smailes attempts to use a device by photographing the series of buildings from a crane, and the results looks like a post-card – If that is the Intention. His underwater shots are inviting and it shows his diverse photographic skills, but he also has polarized a few photographs, the carnival spread for an example may be a sample of his “special effects,” or just poor printing colour management. The colour is over compensated with an offset hue. There is also the issue of the layout, and juxtaposition of photographs which are placed too unevenly, and with not much thought to the book’s size, (11.5” x 11.5”) white space is wasted and more unacceptable his photographs are cropped. Also his photographic selective process may have been jilted by external influences other than his own. The side profile of a young man drinking a “Stag” on the beach is an example. What is the interest here?But there are components of the mundane captured here and characters are caught in a moment of trauma or in a somber mood. His approach towards the social commentary is static, as if the photographer is detached from the subject. This may be Mr. Smailes’ trademark as a photo journalist documenting the conflicts of war in Kosovo and the Middle East, his personal scars may still be under the surface.

In retrospect, the consensus is that the book of Trinidad and Tobago is marketable, and buyers are warmed over by the nostalgia, and all roundness it captures, notwithstanding the photographer lack of identity, and his focus towards promoting a commercial venture of a “Tourists Package” of the Caribbean Republic. See his “Back in Times” exhibition
Above: Back in times: A half page spread showing two men at a fete taken at SWWTU, one of a memorable portraits from a book of Trinidad and Tobago by British photographer Alex Smailes, published by Macmillan Caribbean. From the top Alex Smailes’ book of Trinidad and Tobago. Back in times SWWTU Hall, Coco and sugar cane, Seascapes of Trinidad and Tobago.

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