High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture (2018)

Browne shows us everything about the permeable, uncanny habitations of these figures of Mas in his lucid images. This book is wise and field-changing.”
Dionne Brand

This book…will open our eyes to what lies beneath the revelry of Mas.”
Elizabeth Nunez

“High Mas leaves me breathless with the beauty of what we make, how, and under what conditions.”
Christina Sharpe

I’m pleased to announce that High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture is now available for Pre-Order! Published by the University Press of Mississippi, High Mas is a book of contemporary Caribbean thought and practice. In it, I combine photography and the lyric essay to devise a way of seeing the Caribbean, the world, and the self. Responding to the myths and crises of identity, of nation, and of belonging that persist in the region, High Mas complicates assumptions about Trinidad Carnival as an exemplary festival of local freedoms. Instead, I explore the spirit of Mas as a deeply generative means of vernacular expression. Using the performance of Mas as a lens for reading the contemporary Caribbean, I draw particular inspiration from the performances of Blue Devils, La Diablesse, and Moko Jumbies, who I photographed between 2014 and 2017.

Essays accompany each series and frame the my ideas of “Caribbeanist Photography” as a practice that is both reflective and refractive. Beginning with memoir, and moving progressively toward a more extensive treatment of Caribbeanness as performance—as Mas—the book is a celebration of the Caribbean subject. It is, furthermore, a declaration of the agency of ordinary people who take it upon themselves to do extraordinary things, who deconstruct the vagaries of everyday life to construct meaning. Like its overarching theme, High Mas disrupts conventional assumptions of what Mas—and the people who make Mas—can do. Relying simultaneously on aspects of memory, experience, imaging, and inquiry, High Mas is an intricate argument for the relevance of vision to the Caribbean voice.

High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture is my second book—in my view, a practical, poetic application of Caribbean Rhetoric that I theorize in Tropic Tendencies (2013). And a more personal one.

(Keywords: Caribbean Poetics, Trinidad, Photography, Carnival, Cultural Rhetoric)

Pre-Order High Mas now.

You can also read or download a pdf of Chapter Summaries here.

“Seeing Blue”

For all the seeing it can enable, Caribbeanist Photography is also an art of conjuring our missing pieces. Missing pieces. It is the collection and tenuous resetting of broken bones and of kept, forgotten pieces. It is a conjuring up of missing things that cannot be bestowed with sight alone, but also with vision: to see what exists beyond the boundary of the frame and in the mystery of unexplored shadow. Emerging from a need to respond to the ubiquitous stain of Empire, it does not memorialize, nor can it create what is not there to be seen. (In time, you will see that neither Mas nor this craft will allow those things.) It is, rather, the art of memory’s inadequacy, the declaration that there is something worth remembering, worth seeing, and worth looking for—and that it is gone away from you (returning, now and again, in parts, like a flawed lover to your mad and vulnerable days). We are here to embrace all of it, knowing we entangle ourselves as much in loss and missing as with challenges of sight.

Paramin and Port of Spain, 2014

“La Femme des Revenants”

We see differently because we are different. The objective of Caribbeanist Photography, demonstrated in these photographs, is not merely to adopt or mimic conventional ways of seeing that simulate power, and then to creolize them. Rather, the objective is to incorporate, complicate, and ultimately relegate them to the periphery. Caribbeanist photographers have enough to do as it is: struggling for who struggle to be seen, deriving our vision from the tenuous traditions that have forged us and those we see, navigating the irreconcilable distances and silences between us. If we are, in fact, beautiful and dangerous (and we are), we should know that it is a hard-worn beauty, a danger tempered with grievance and blood, rebellion and failure. Our way of seeing gives us leave to note the visible silences caught in the still life of frozen eyes and blackened mouths, the pains of aging locked in shadowed wrinkles too old to dance in the light. (How their translucent edges glisten on the asphalt.) With the lens, we seem to dance a dance for the seen and the unseen.

Port of Spain, 2015

“Moko Jumbies of the South”

Behind the lens, I am (I tell myself) alone, driven only by my intentions. (Who else would it be operating the shutter and rings, fumbling my way to an image?) It is a fiction, I know. But if I hope to devise an imaging of Mas or a cohesive self, or an idea of my people who call themselves into awareness and account, I’m compelled to ask the Moko Jumbies about their Mas. “Why Stick?” The response is so matter of fact, so obvious, that I might have been embarrassed to repeat it.
“Stick?” she laughs, “Stick is life, boy. Stick is joy. Stick is happiness. Stick is everything. Yeah. I could be in real pain, like serious pain. Like, for instance, last year (2015), I was in serious pain, and I want to walk on that stick, to cross the stage. That was the night of Dimanche Gras. I fell the night of the Finals. I fell and I damaged my knee. And I gone up on the stage. Yeah. Them telling me let somebody else walk it. I want to walk that stick. Have to. Stick? Stick is a love, yes. Stick is life.”
Yes. These things we do by faith—not by sight alone, but by feel.
Spirit,” she adds “at the end of the day.”
This is a terrifying thing, this terrible clarity. At least, for me.

Ste. Madeleine and Tarodale, 2015-6

I’ve never been good at self-promotion, but I believe in this project. I believe in the people represented in it. I believe this book will give you, the reader, a chance to reflect on how you see–how you see yourself. Caribbean or not, you will see yourself in it.
To inquire or order prints, please contact me on social media (Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram).

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is under contract with the University Press of Mississippi and is licensed in this form under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.