We spent a week over Christmas in the beautiful Turks and Caicos Islands which are not really in the Caribbean but lie south of the Bahamas in the North Atlantic. Despite this geographical inconvenience the people, ambiance, climate and culture is distinctly West Indian Caribbean. During this, all too short, break from floods and piped Christmas music I filled a few flash cards with photos that will hopefully enable me to complete the second part of TAOP including assignment 2.
Until now Turks and Caicos (TCI) has not been excessively developed and is a comparatively quiet destination compared with The Bahamas, Jamaica, Antigua or Barbados so it is not necessarily a place that everyone would recognise from a photograph, but its similarity to many of those more popular destinations means that potential photographic clichés abound. In fact it has some especially white beaches with obligatory palm trees and shallow turquoise seas so, in that regard at least, offers more clichés than most.
When looking for subjects that fitted my current TAOP briefs and that offered strong images I was seeking to capture my own view of the place. The more I considered this idea the harder it became to define “my view”, let alone to realise it. Holiday photographs are a cliché, white beaches and palm trees are specific clichés of this type of location as are sea shells, yachts, and, well, the list is endless. So does this mean that my view cannot include holiday photographs, white beaches or the rest of the list? My conclusion was, and is, that my view was what I saw and what I wanted to photograph, if I saw the perfect white beach and palm tree and it was part of my visual description of the islands then it was part of my view even it was a cliché.
On location there were a few discoveries that helped the process. Firstly the weather; one of the appeals of the region is the rapidly changing weather and, at Christmas, this is aided by high winds that rush the local weather patterns across these low lying islands. As a result there were dramatic skies and racing shadows and not many periods of clear blue, boring sky-scapes.
Secondly the weather again; this part of the world suffers from hurricanes, not that frequently, but they cause serious damage when they do hit. These storms have left damaged and abandoned buildings in their wake and these offered a different perspective on the Caribbean. Lastly the zoning; because the most famous beach is also the most accessible and is backed by flat land the tourist industry is very concentrated into one main area on one island and this has left the indigenous population where it has always been and left miles of less accessible beaches nearly unspoilt.
I don’t pretend to know this part of the world well but we sailed here as a family in the late nineties and early noughties and saw many islands both large and small, developed and remote, populated and deserted. Visiting TCI for the first time I wasn’t sure what to expect, there are very few guidebooks available and the internet is thin on detail. What we found was a place where the old industries have not just declined but completely gone leaving the residents reliant on tourism and a bit of off-shore banking. Off-shore banking is not a great wealth generator for indigenous populations so all the bets are on tourism. This comes in different flavours with classic beach-side hotels at one end of the spectrum and the development of holiday or retirement homes at the other end with, diving, fishing and sailing in between. Great tracts of land are zoned for development and estate agents are offering the perfect hide-away from building plots at $100,000 to waterfront mansions at $20,000,000, it’s just a matter of how many bathrooms you need and how many boats you want to moor up at the end of your garden. My sense is that it has become a poor man’s Bahamas, your $20,000,000 will go a lot further here.
However, my main observation was that the islands have been unintentionally divided into three zones. Zone 1 being where the beach hotels, condominiums and dive shops are clustered in the centre of the 12 mile, Grace Bay Beach. Zone 2 is the hitherto useless, shrub covered, coral rock that makes up 90% of the dry land and which is being systematically divided into 1 acre plots for development.
This leaves zone 3 which is where the local population lives. It was probably once the best land, the land that something could be just about be grown on and the land that is near to the old salt ponds that were the original and only industry. The tourist hotels are one world and the local towns and villages another. Presumably most of the staff in the hotels come from the local world as do the builders, plumbers, carpenters and electricians who are working on the new builds. But whilst all the Caribbean has these contrasts here there is a greater sense of divorce and distance than I have felt before. Partly, I think, because there is a significant geographic distance between the two. On the main island there is 8 to 10 miles separating the tourists and the locals and the many other islands and communities are further separated by the sea. Elsewhere in the Caribbean you will often see communities adjacent to the tourist resorts because the resorts often grew up near to the original settlements
So, this defines my view. I saw the beaches and turquoise seas that attracted the tourists, including my wife and me (albeit to the quiet side of the main island), I saw the hurricane damage and decay, I saw the historic caribbean architecture of the homes and business premises close to the old salt ponds and I saw the local communities living where they have always lived, living a parallel life along side but not quite touching the foreign tourists.
Will some of my photographs be clichéd? Probably, because the clichés were there. Will my photographs be personal? Hopefully, because it was what I saw and my seeing it and photographing it makes it personal. Will some of my photographs be original? Not if the measure is whether the subject has been photographed before but yes, some might be original because they are my view.