High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Photography 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 2017, the book features Traditional Mas characters–Blue Devils of Paramin, La Diablesse, and Moko Jumbies of San Fernando. It will be released in 2018 by the University Press of Mississippi.
It will be my second book.
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