The problem of mango string in your teeth is neither the mango’s fault nor your own. Find the right mango variety, and you’ll have less of a problem. The greater problem, assuming there aren’t any other varieties available, is the lack of choice. As in, I have no choice but to eat this mango all the way down to the seed.
Then, of course…
What remains between our teeth is regretful, to be sure. (It’s what I imagine floss would be if it had a personality disorder and dressed in costume, tormenting others to make itself relevant.) But because it is derived from our previous pleasures, it is not essentially a regret.
It’s important to know the difference, as we walk sucking our teeth among strangers for whom discontent is the norm. Or, in the comfort of our homes, taking an adolescent pleasure in running our tongues along those teeth and smiling broadly at the bowl of skins and seeds resting on our lap.
Tabanca is love gone bad, or so they say. The only cure I know of is this: knowing that there are two ends. The first “end” is the ending that causes the pain I feel right now. It is inevitable, always happening or about to happen. As certain as death, my human frailty, once recognized, will betray me (and others). Every character trait has a finite quality that will fall short of whatever expectations I set for them.
The second “end” is the end of my pain, which no person can ease until it has run its course and done what it is meant to do. Whether I think of it as a poison or an elixir, I should know that what I feel is not the absence of the other, but my own, unavoidable, presence. Not the inarticulable hurt that seems to herald these bouts of maddening loss, nor the fact that I have always been a little mad, but the unsatisfying truth that I am who I am. Not the selective remembering that defines my grief and heartbreak, but the unmistakeable beating of a heart I’ve learned to ignore, caught up as I’ve been in other sounds, other noises, bodies, mouths, eyes, tongues, words. And while I may have played at exploring the anatomy of love, I cannot escape my heart–the thing beating [within] me. It is always with me. This is why we sometimes feel like we want to die, that we will die–either because of the pain, or to escape it. So strong is the idea that this pain must subside, then disappear, that I forget that I am the source of what I feel. And while I may feel as though I want the end to come, my pain is proof that I’m not yet ready to let go. I still feel. It is a frailty that (like all other things about myself) I must accept.
The end, in this sense, is both teleological and ontological–or, more accurately, the purpose and possible outcome (telos) of my experience is the rediscovery of my damaged, dormant, and muted self (ontos). That is the lesson, a lesson that I’ve sought to understand without taking the time to question. It is also a fact, one I’ve pretended to forget: by shifting my attentions from myself to another, I’ve only changed the direction of those attentions, not their source or their quality. And though it may be tempting to suggest that how badly I feel is a direct result of how deeply I’ve loved, the opposite may be more accurate. That is, how badly I feel is a direct result of how badly I’ve loved–and how well. Pain is pain, no matter the cause.
But since we know that our capacity for denial is the inevitable precursor to Tabanca–a symptom, if you like–then reflection may be viewed as treatment. Recognition is your recovery. Acceptance, in this vein, is the cure. But all this denial says is that you’ve been misdiagnosed. Love gone bad was never love to begin with, only a placebo that has expired, leaving you with little choice but to withdraw. That withdrawal is nothing more than a painful return to a state you never really left: yourself.
Then I think of something pithy to say, to mask the fact that I’m as disappointing as I am disappointed. Failing to do that, I choose a kind of silence.
Some thoughts ahead of the publication of my book, Between Still Life and Afterlife: Mas, Photography, and the Self (UP Mississippi, forthcoming).
First, know this: you will lose what you hope to keep. Those of us who create know that our creations–and what we think of as our creativity–come at a cost. They do not simply appear out of a vacuum. No. Something must be given and given up in exchange for what we create. A sacrifice, in a way, without the expectation of a blessing. A curse is as likely to come. Or nothing.
The inevitability of loss is the only gain, the only reward. Know this. Accept it, if you can. Ignore it, if you must. But expect it.
Nothing is sacrosanct that existed before that created thing. No one is safe from it. (And yes, they know this and try to love you anyway, thinking themselves safe and special–almost immune. You think it, too. I think it. They try to stay, to take you as you are, but they know. No excuse can suffice, nor weak justifications satisfy. Lies, yours and mine and theirs, cannot hold. It is what it is: a reality greater than you.) No reward awaits you for admitting, publicly or in private, that there is no depth to which you will not go to defile yourself, all for the creation of a thing.
It’s a violence no one is bound to understand, one done to yourself and to others, existing beyond the limits of perfect conscience, beyond the reach of hand, heart, and mind. A violence that transcends its own inadequate morality, one that leads you to a truth that is even more inadequate: no art, no image, no words, no melody will ever bear the burden that comes from their expression. Instead, it is you who must bear it. This is how it is with something you know will outlive you, outlasting even the impulse of its birth.
I’m thinking of what I’ve caused to bring into this world, and sometimes the enormity of what it cost is too much to bear. But to see what others have not seen, you must either see differently or see different things. Each will lead you away from what, and who, you know. Each will move you, or move others. Each will bring you through the loss, through the blur of your tears, to a dissatisfaction glorious enough to see you create, again, in spite of the cost. You push, though you haven’t seemed to move.
There you sit–between the still life of what you perceive and the afterlife of a thing you have conceived but cannot articulate–understanding that though the cost is great, your creation knows no currency.
It is you who must have the courage, or the desperation, to pay.
Please donate and share the link below, as I try to raise money to make this book a reality. #BetweenStillLifeandAfterlife
Between Still Life and Afterlife: Mas, Photography, and the Self is a book of images and essays inspired by the art of Mas in Trinidad and my own fear of blindness since being diagnosed with glaucoma in 2007.
Photographed between 2014 and 2016, the book features Traditional Mas characters–Blue Devils of Paramin, La Diablesse, and Moko Jumbies of San Fernando. It is due to be published later this year or early 2018 by the University Press of Mississippi.
It will be my second book.
As a result of budget cuts to national and regional arts-funding organizations, projects like this one have stalled. Many will never see the light of day. I really don’t want that to happen, so I’ve taken it upon myself to raise the money.
I’m offering select prints from each of the series that appear in the book. From an initial print run of 1,000 books, I’m also offering up to 100 signed copies as gifts for donations of $200 or more.I created this page of excerpts and images as a preview, and to support my efforts at fundraising. If you’re interested in helping make sure this book gets published, please visit and share the GoFundMe link and make a donation if you can. You’ll be glad you did.
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 ageing 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.
And 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.
Thanks so much for your interest in my work. Please feel free to share this page, and to follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@drbrowne).
Books will be delivered after release.
S&H of books and/or prints not included.
Additional images, which are also available for purchase, can be found on my Instagram feed. 100% of every dollar received in this fundraising campaign will go toward the publication of this book.
The Blanton Museum presents Impressionism and the Caribbean: Francisco Oller and His Transatlantic World, an exhibition of approximately eighty paintings by Realist-Impressionist painter Francisco Oller (1833–1917) and his contemporaries. Organized by the Brooklyn Museum and debuting at the Blanton, the exhibition reveals Oller’s important contributions to both the Paris avant-garde and the Puerto Rican school of painting. Providing historical, geographic, and cultural context for Oller’s work, the exhibition also features paintings by nineteenth-century masters Paul Cézanne, Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and others. The Blanton’s presentation also includes a small selection of works by contemporaneous Texas artists working on both sides of the Atlantic.
One of the most distinguished transatlantic painters of his day, Oller helped transform painting in the Caribbean. Over the course of his career, he traveled between Europe…
“The French Revolution Digital Archive emerged from the expressed need by scholars of the French Revolution to gain greater and more flexible access to their sources. The French Revolution itself produced scores of documents by participants, spectators, and critics. These materials include texts of all sorts – legal documents, pamphlet literature, belles lettres, musical compositions, and a rich imagery. Dispersed in libraries and archives, hidden in documental series and in short individual pamphlets, this diverse documentary heritage can now be offered to scholars in a digital format. The French Revolution Digital Archive brings together two foundational sources for research: the Archives parlementaires (hereafter AP) and a vast collection of images selected from the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Both of these corpora were included in the important “French Revolution Research Collection” produced by the BnF and the Pergamon Press for the bicentennial of the…
A project out University of Michigan that digitized two 19th-century photo albums owned by an African-American woman named Arabella “Bella” Chapman recently went live:
The Arabella Chapman Project brings together students and scholars of African American history and culture to explore the role of visual culture, especially photography, as a critical dimension of the everyday life and politics of black Americans at the end of the nineteenth century.