Discovery

– 1499 –
Imagine that somewhere on the horizon is a line of three Galleons…
okay, fine, Galleons are more impressive looking, but we’ll revert to the truth;
there’s a line of Caravels, three of them, heading from the north-west, somewhere where the clouds disappear into the distance.

If you grew up as I did, you were taught that many of “our” countries were discovered by that fellow Chris, but the leader of that flotilla on the horizon was not Chris, but Alonso.

If you can see the flotilla, imagine now that one of those caravels has separated and is heading our way, in a more south-easterly direction along the coast, the remaining two are heading further west and stopping at the mouth of the Essequibo;  Alonso is now the first European to be recorded as seeing and touching our shores… and in that south-easterly heading caravel is Amerigo, who is on his first voyage (second, if you believe a disputed letter), and it is after this explorer that the joint continents of “America” are named.

As for that fellow Chris, this voyage by Alonso, his pilot Juan and navigator Amerigo quite displeased his followers, which resulted in quite a fracas in Hispaniola 🙂

If you stand on our shores and stare toward the horizon, you will not now see those caravels, but in the wake of those voyagers, using the trade-winds and ocean currents, are many ships; and I wonder, what are those sailors thinking as they look towards land?  Are they thinking of those days of discovery?  Are they thinking of the journey home?  Do they see the stars as did those long-ago conquistadors did?

I was processing this image when thoughts of the actual “discoverers” came to mind, hence the long messy thought process above 🙂


“And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.”

Robert Frost – The Road not taken

Canon EOS 60D, Sigma 10-20mm  |  Kingston, Georgetown, Guyana


Click on the image to see it in the Gallery


Vanishing Vanity

There once was a time when we created not just for function but for appeal, when we designed things to make our lives easy, as well as for those things to be easy on the eyes.  There is a sense of loss, its physical, but also emotional, when the older buildings are removed and replaced with structures that closely resemble steel slabs  or concrete cuboids.

I don’t do it often enough now, but I once had a fascination with capturing old buildings around Georgetown… but they seem to be vanishing faster than ever now; I hear it’s the sign of progress.

Like everything else in life, if we don’t fight to keep it, then we will lose it, but most of us seem to have grown up in a time when that “fight” is not in us,  where we accept the decisions of others, because we believe that our voice, our opinion does not make a difference in the grand scheme of things.


Canon EOS 60D, Sigma 10-20mm  |  Regent Street, Bourda, Georgetown, Guyana.


Click on the image to see it in the gallery, along with other images from around Georgetown, Guyana.


House of God

The physical structure that believers gather within to offer thanks and praise to a higher being, their God, is often referred to as a church, temple, masjid, mandir, among many other names; but to me this is simply a shelter over the heads of those gathering; growing up as a Roman Catholic we are taught that the church is the people, yet we all refer to the building as the church 🙂

At 58 Mile, Mabura, along the Lethem trail there’s a church building that I almost always photograph in passing, I’ve meant to walk over on more than one occasion, but never did.  I don’t know which Christian denomination it belongs to, but seeing a quaint little church against the backdrop of the forest usually makes me think if we  were seeking a “place” to gather and worship, maybe out in the open among God’s creation is where it can be every once in a while, to remind us of the wonders of this home we call earth and the God who we believe created it and us.


Church at 58 Mile, Mabura.  |  Canon EOS 6D, Canon EF 24-105mm L


Another church that has caught my eye a few times as we travel through the Pakaraima mountains is the RC Church of St Francis of Assisi at Rukumuta village in the Pakaraima Mountains.  I have photographed it a few times but never caught the essence of it, I think this time I may have done it justice, although I excluded the building entirely (it’s to the right of the end of the frame of the photograph) I think that the idea of a church sitting here, feels right.

St Francis of Assisi RC Church, Rukumuta, Pakaraims Mountains, Guyana.

Canon EOS 60D, Sigma 10-20mm


I’ve often heard people complain about how the missionaries to the third world forced people to convert to Christianity, and while the idea certainly doesn’t sit well with me, the Amerindian people whom I have met, who are Christian never said anything about it, they don’t seem to dwell upon it like some westerners seem to, but I am sure that if the old beliefs are still there in some villages, I do hope that someone is keeping them up and recording them.

This reminded me of something I read last Sunday, about Saint Casilda.  According to legend, around the end of the first millennium, she was the daughter of a Muslim King, despite the conflict between Christians and Muslims she showed great kindness to the Christian prisoners.  She reportedly was cured of an illness while still a young woman by the healing waters from the shrine of San Vicente, and converted to Christianity soon after.

As I see it, she simply changed her method of worship, not her way of living nor the God she worshiped.  Is it possible for us to be open-minded about the existence of God, and the possibility that no matter what we call him/her, no matter what methods we use to praise God, that we can all be one people, that anyone showing kindness to another can be acknowledged for it and accepted as a fellow human being?


Click on the images to see them in the Collection along with other images in the Sepia Gallery.


Choices, choices, choices

choices_KaieteurIf you find it easy to choose photographs for display, exhibition or publication, then you’re likely not approaching it the right way; unless you’ve had many years experience in critically eliminating pieces, I doubt it would ever be easy.

We all have some emotional attachments to the photographs we take, and we have favourites for periods of time, then those favourites change as we add new pieces to our collection, or our styles of photography evolves.

When I started uploading photos online to show family and friends, it was always the pretty photos, this was what photography was for me at the time, all about getting as many pretty photos that others might appreciate, after all, why else would I take photos, right?

As I continued learning about Photography as Art and the Art of Photography, my ideas of what I wanted included in the photograph changed, and the photos changed along the way.  As I keep learning, I am sure the photos will continue to evolve (whether they get better or worse is up in the air at this point).


In late 2011, local journalist Neil Marks convinced the board of the National Art Gallery at Castellani House to host an exhibition of photographs by Nikhil Ramkarran and myself; this was, at the time, the most important decision making we would have to do photographically, deciding what to exhibit.  After consultations with Ms Bissember, the curator at the time, we decided on a common theme that would not have us showing any and everything, but still allow for some latitude to accommodate the diverse style and subject matter of two photographers; titled “Coastal Wanderings”, it allowed us to use imagery taken along the coastal regions of Guyana (although a few non-coastal images did sneak in)

Looking back, I can see my inexperience at the decision making process clearer, but it had a combination of the pretty pictures as well as some that had a bit more depth artistically.  Georgetown and the East Coast of Demerara featured heavily, as that is where most of my photography is done.

Collectively, I think my photos were incoherent, there was no thread that really connected them together well unless you really stretched your imagination.  It was a first showing of the photographs that my friends and family knew me for, with images ranging from Mashramani, to buildings, to flora and fauna, to landscapes; styles ranging from colour to black and white, standard single shot images to multi-exposure High Dynamic Range images, to a multi-image stitched panorama; in short, everything but the kitchen sink.

I don’t regret my choices, it allowed me to learn, especially from the comments made by all, from regular folk just visiting the exhibition to artists giving their own insight into what they saw.


In 2012, there was a return to the arts for the Government as they jump-started the once-abandoned Visual Arts Competition, and this time Photography was included as a category; this was big!  Other than small scale self-serving photography competitions hosted by companies or organisations that were often geared solely to acquiring images for their use, there had never been a proper photography competition that treated the works as art.

The problem of choosing three images from all that I had taken in the last 5 years was immense.   What would the judges be looking for?  What were their ideas concerning photography?  Would they approach it as most people do and look for the pretty pictures, did they want more abstract type images, what type of subject matter may most impress them?  At the time, it was impossible to decide, so I pretty much played it safe.  I submitted the ever beautiful Kaieteur, this was the obvious “pretty picture”, the other two were different, one was “Shooting the Breeze”, a semi-silhouette styled image taken on the sea-wall, and the third was a black and white titled “Final Entrance Opening” that was a personal favourite at the time, this eventually went on to be awarded the Bronze medal.

So, what did I learn this time?  For one, these judges were not looking at the photographs as photographs, they were looking at them as works of art, and that they were not interested in something that is just a pretty picture; sunsets and sunrises, flowers and bright colours were not as effective because they lacked the compositional elements and execution that would have made them better works of art, and not just a pretty picture.


The first competition to focus solely on Photography was hosted by the government in 2014, it was done as part of the Republic Celebrations, and called “Capture Guyana”; this time the tables had been turned on me, and I was asked to be a part of the judges’ panel; I thought that this time, since it is not my photographs, it should be easier to decide, after all, I can look at them without having had any emotional attachment to any of the images.   This was not the case.  Being part of the Guyana Photographers’ group exposed me to the works of many talented individuals, and as we all mostly share our best works, when the submissions were in, I found that I had previously seen the majority of entries.

Having another photographer, formally trained in the genre, and an artist who was not a photographer on the panel made the decision easier; discussions ranged from photographic techniques used, to composition, to the effective use of colour or black-and-white, and many other aspects of the images themselves.

How did we, as judges, choose the best?  I had learnt some things from the 2012 GVACE, so we approached it as “art”, even taking into consideration the photographic techniques used, the primary consideration was “art”;  composition, use of colour, subject matter, lighting, and the other usual suspects.

Whenever there were photographs that I had deeper knowledge of than I thought appropriate, I deferred decision to the other judges, while I think I can be impartial, it was better to be safe and not let my opinions have more weight than they should.


Also in 2014, there was the next iteration of the GVACE, having gone through the choice process for the 2012 GVACE, as well as being involved in the judging process for Capture Guyana, I felt I had a better handle on choosing my images.   Of course, that pesky emotional attachment is almost impossible to over-ride.

I had recently started my first photography project, something I called Oniabo, something that not many people knew I was doing, since I was not sure where I was going with it myself.

I chose one image from the Oniabo core collection titled “Elemental – 5549”, and one from the extended collection titled “Trident’s Wrath”, both monochrome or black and white images as that is part of the Oniabo theme, and the third image was a pretty picture, one that was sure to garner some attention, a diya and pointer broom, a very Guyanese image I think, titled “Diwali”

As you can tell, I also tried to play it safe as this was sure to be a different panel of judges than the one two years prior, and maybe, just maybe, a pretty photo might be what they’re looking for, I was wrong again.  Although I thought that Trident’s Wrath was more impacting, I knew deep down that the best of the three was “Elemental”; which earned a spot in the short-list of finalists.


Here’s the thing, you can’t predict what a panel of judges may like, unless you know beforehand exactly who they are, and their personal preferences when it comes to art.  The judges from the GVACE 2012 and the judges from the GVACE 2014 chose distinctly different winners, in content and in the type of image executed by the photographers.

Do I know what I may enter this year? Frankly, no.  I think I have one in mind, but three? not yet.

Chose wisely when composing, chose wisely when executing the photo, choose wisely when processing, choose wisely when printing and framing; any photograph that you consider entering is a totality of these things.  Personally, once I have the first three covered, I’m happy, but the final product is something that you are presenting, so the printing and framing are important, you do after all want someone to look at it and say “I’d like to hang that on my wall!”



Click on the images to see them in the collection.

2015 Deck – Week 20

I’m using this blog-post to express some opinions.  No one has to agree with me, or even bother reading, you can skip to the photo 🙂

Guyana’s Sound  –  recently there has been talk about developing a unique sound for Guyana, someone was even telling me that there was talk about using the Ringbang name –  I say stop right there!!  For one thing, Ringbang is not Guyanese, it’s Caribbean, it’s more encompassing than what most Guyanese think and it is not “we own” (I know, Ringbang is Eddy Grant’s creation, and while he is “we own” the idea behind Ringbang was regional and not local).   Not many people might remember that Guyana actually had a sound, a unique style of music that died off as suddenly as it was born… and all before our time, it was called Shanto, and the man responsible for its popularity was Bill Rogers, while I don’t remember all the songs I do recall the Fifteen Cent Sweetheart and BG Baghee.  Another identifiable style was that of David Campbell, very folk oriented and probably unknown to most Guyanese living here…  Our world-famous artistes all sing or trade on existing genres, and they do it well.  Eddy Grant is arguably our most famous musician outside of our borders, I think most Guyanese can name at least two of his songs (which in itself is a tragedy, melodically the albums were very good; lyrically, let’s just say that Guyanese should really listen to more of his tracks than just Electric Avenue and Johanna).  Dave Martins is likely the most well-known and well liked, it is not uncommon that people know the lyrics of his popular songs perhaps even better than he does, his music speaks to us as a nation, we identify with it, is we own.  Is it a unique sound?  That is hard for me to say, it is calypso and folk, and a lot of Dave.  Our newer artistes like Natural Black, Timeka Marshall, Jomo, Adrian Dutchin and Slingshot all sing in the reggae, dancehall and soca genres (with some R&B influences), the ever popular Terry Gajraj and similar artistes of the Chutney field did very well for a period.   There was a period in the 1980s when there were a lot of Bands, and while many were mostly cover bands some were striving to get original songs on the airwaves and played publicly; these included the Yoruba Singers (out of which came Charmaine Blackman), Mingles Sound Machine and EC Connection, to my ear, EC Connection had a different sound to many other performing bands across the region, likely due to the compositions of Burchmore Simon.  Here’s my opinion on the Guyana Sound that we seem to be looking for, you can’t necessarily develop it, it has to be born then nurtured; encourage musicians to create, encourage them to be the drive that the industry needs, this is where the DJs come in, they simply play more to the imported music, understandable, but they need to be creative themselves and help make the sounds of Guyanese heard here.

I was going to try posing a “plan” for a weekly event for musicians, but that will have to be a different forum I think…

Another local blogger raised a question recently asking about where or when is Guyana’s Renaissance happening…   I think it is now.

We are living in a time of change, of relative hardship, of freedom of expression, of creativity.  Nothing is going to be handed to us, so stop expecting the government to give you something, or the corporations to want to give you contracts just because you say you’re an artist.  The arts collectively cannot have one plan to do this together, that is impractical, the needs and the development of each genre is different and diverse, but I also say we cannot each do it alone, we must be supportive of the other, to work together when possible, and to let creativity be the driving force as individuals, but the love for art be the driving force collectively.

Copyright and Intellectual Property rights are always touted as the factor that hinders the arts from progressing, while I agree that it forms a basis upon which the artists can earn from their work, the lack of proper legislation should not stop us from creating.  There is always a lot of talk about IP legislation, but little action, I have yet to see a group of advocates put forward the writings that may form the basis of any legislation, but I may be in error on this.  I think that now is the time for these advocates to act, to put forward the documents, the artists are eager to give voice.

This is the time of our Renaissance, we have musicians eager to perform with some breaking through, we have writers eager to be published, we have performance artists making headway on stage and on-screen, we have painters, sculptors, photographers and every type of visual artist expressing themselves daily through their work.  To everyone in the Visual arts, the performing arts and the literary arts, I say it is time to create, to get your work out there, we are the artists of Guyana’s Renaissance.


Geotube Groyne – Thomaslands, Georgetown.


If this photo has anything at all to do with what I’ve written is entirely up to each reader, if you are a member of the creative people of Guyana or simply like to see the works of the creatives, ask yourself what element would you be in this image…

Click on the image to see it in the Gallery along with the other photos for this year’s Deck Project.


Fame and Folly

2012  |  At Rest  | © Michael C. Lam


It’s not a local issue, but it’s one that many artists have to face in the developing world more than their contemporaries in the “first world” (not saying that they don’t face it too, just to a lesser degree)   –  “We want to use your work for free, you’ll get exposure”.

Every artist at some time thinks about “Fame”, we’d like to get our work out there, for one piece to cross that invisible line that separates the millions of works of art that go relatively unnoticed and the few that make it to the galleries, the collectors’ circles and the list of “masterpieces”, one that becomes instantly recognisable upon sight throughout the art-world.

Most artists will strive to get there, but few ever attain it, this often has little to do with skill or artistic expression, and it also has little to do with the “exposure” that the hungry marketers want us to believe will catapult us to fame.


2012  |  Last Stand  |  © Michael C. Lam


Each famous artist’s path to glory is different, and we as artists have to “work” at it, not expect it to be handed to us or to become a household name by having our work used by marketers for “exposure”, those marketers are making something out of it, the artist is not, and I’ve yet to hear of artists who got the call shortly after one of these “events” for a commission or for one of their pieces to be bought.

A photographer’s photo in your magazine will make the reading experience of your clientele a bit more enjoyable, but no one will read the fine print to find out who the photographer is so that they can “buy” any of their pieces,

A sculptor’s work that took several months to complete may look nice in your hotel lobby, but none of your guests will enquire who the sculptor is to commission a piece for themselves.

A painting in your foyer will make it more welcoming, but no one stops to ask who the painter is that they may acquire a piece just as beautiful.


2011  |  dry docked?  |  © Michael C. Lam


We are artists, our work is a product of our intellect, our imagination, our skill, our craft…  it is not yours to use for your own benefit while we receive promises of exposure, such promises are meaningless and degrading to the artist.

If you want that sculpture in the lobby, buy it, it is a product of blood, sweat and tears, not an idea brought to life on a whim in mere hours…  If you want that sketch of a building that caught your eye, buy it, don’t promise the artist that you’ll hang it prominently in your boardroom for “important” people to see it…  if you want my photograph for your publication that IS paying everyone else concerned with its production, then pay me, I invested in gear, I invested my time, I invested my skill, imagination and artistic vision in it.

I may never be famous, but it is folly to believe that I do not deserve to be paid for what is rightfully mine.


2011  |  Shooting the breeze  |  © Michael C. Lam


If you’ve reached this far down, thanks for reading my rant 🙂

Click on the images to see them in their respective galleries in the Collection.


Tree

Georgetown, the Garden City; our fair city, once replete with Victorian and Colonial architecture, dutch built and inspired drainage canals reminiscent of European cities, and tree-lined streets and avenues, now laughingly referred to by it’s denizens as the Garbage City, floods with the slightest rain, governed (I use that word as loosely as is possible) by a city council that was elected two decades ago (although faces have changed, but not through any democratic process that I know of), and, sadly, losing it’s trees through neglect, sabotage, and lack of foresight (or hindsight it seems).

Most of the trees lining our streets predate us, they were planted, nurtured and cared for by colonial masters (and slaves) before our independence, before the Republic came into being, before self-governance and the long road that led to where we are today.

As we have travelled that road through time, our leaders, our people, we ourselves have forgotten or ignored what it was, what it is that makes Georgetown a place we want to live in, to visit, to be proud of…  We as people, are not as welcoming as we should be, we as humans are not as caring of our environment as we should be.

Saving or replanting trees is not THE answer, but it’s a small part, one that is likely to go unnoticed or ignored.

Yesterday, Kamal Ramkarran wrote (on his own family’s place in our past and present):

As clichéd as it is, the lives of the six generations who followed them is the history of Guyana (from 1875 anyhow). All of us from here are, in a very real way, part of the history of this country. The history of Guyana is our own story, whether we know that story or not.

Since we are part of the story then, the story happening around us and through us, it ought to follow that we should make ourselves responsible for its present and future, just as we try to make ourselves responsible for the present and future of our own lives.

What part are we playing?  Will what we do stand the test of time as those trees still standing attest to the work and acre of our predecessors/ancestors?


2013 |  Tree in St Joseph Ursuline Convent compound, Camp and Church Streets.


Technically, the tree is in the portion of the compound now housing the St Angela’s primary school, the Ursuline compound also houses the St Rose’s Secondary School.  Schools once run by the Ursuline Sisters, but were “nationalised” under the PNC government.