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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Not Your Average Paradisal Photography

From left: Marvin Bartley, Marlon James, Alex Smailes, Abigail Hadeed, O'Neil Lawrence, Rodell Warner. Photographers featured in the new Caribbean photography book, Pictures From Paradise

Learn more about these guys and the book launch from my article published in May 6, Sunday's edition of the Jamaica Gleaner

Friday, May 4, 2012

Six Days of Trinidad and Tobago—A time well spent

After clearing customs, having our luggage scanned then hand checked by security, Marvin Bartley and I exited the airport in Port of Spain, Trinidad to be greeted by one of our lovely hosts, Richard, who along with Mariel, offered us a place to rest our weary heads.

And, the reason for our visit? Marvin’s work has been featured in a new book called Pictures From Paradise: A Survey of Contemporary Caribbean Photography and we were there for the book launch. The book was made possible by a Trinidadian team: Co-edited by Melanie Archer and Mariel Brown, designed by Richard Mark Rawlins, published by Robert and Christopher Publishers, and has a beautiful opening essay by Jamaican Assistant Curator to the National Gallery of Jamaica, O’Neil Lawrence, whose work is also featured. 
At the launch of Pictures From Paradise photography book, Medulla Art Gallery
From left, back: Marvin Bartley, Marlon James, O'Neil Lawrence, Alex Smailes, Mariel Brown
From left, front: Melanie Archer, Abigail Hadeed, Richard Mark Rawlins
Pictures From Paradise still sealed in their packages during the book launch
From left: O'Neil Lawrence, Marvin Bartley, and Abigail Hadeed offer their signatures to book buyers

Get a peek at the pages here:

Three of the Jamaican photographers out of the six that have been featured were decked in their sharpest for the night of the launch that was held at the Medulla Art Gallery on Fitt Street on Thursday April 26, 2012. The reception and support was overwhelming and Marvin (M), O’Neil Lawrence, and Marlon James shined, modestly signing signatures and posing for photographs. We also managed to make a few friends, chatting up with the other featured photographers that were in attendance, namely Alex Smailes, Abigail Hadeed, and Rodell Warner, all of Trinidad origin or by familial affiliation.
Three of Jamaica's finest photographers show their mirth at the Medulla Gallery, Port of Spain
What's up with the gun salute guys?? 
After the launch M and I took advantage of the NGC Bocas Literary Festival, which ran for four days from Thursday to Sunday, and were chaperoned by Mariel, Richard, Rodell, and Brianna McCarthy. We had the pleasure of meeting celebrated authors like Kei Miller and Earl Lovelace.

What we noticed about Port of Spain, Trinidad:
The country prides itself on huge land space, but their roads are particularly narrow! And narrow roads spell very skilled and polite drivers. Everyone is surprisingly courteous. So much so, that one day as M and I took our promenade through the neighbourhood’s skinny road, we were verbally attacked with a powerful “Good morning!” from a woman who was quite offended we didn’t address her first. To my defence, even today, I have no idea what she looks like, because I didn’t see her. Nonetheless, we continued our stroll and readily greeted everyone we passed and, naturally, they responded.

I really wanted a better shot of these cute girls, but didn't want come off as creepy. So I stood my distance
Nearly everything is cheaper when compared to the Jamaican and US dollar. There are beautiful modern and antique buildings and for some reason the inhabitants never turn their lights off. When we queried this—because we could never dream of doing this in Jamaica—we were told that the electricity bill is moderately low. Yes, so low that we can stand across the street from a department store called Francis Fashion, which has four sets of continuously running escalators, and literally feel the heavy chill of the AC that was blasting through the almost-never-closed glass doors. The benefits of the country owning oil and natural gas rigs.

Double Take!
The highlight of my trip, apart from hanging with some cool peeps, was this young and hip fashion store (which reminded me of Forever 21) called Bang Bang, where I got a pair of aqua blue skinny jeans and bangles. Then there were the delicious roadside delights like “Doubles” and “Gyros” from friendly vendors, who take hygiene very seriously. Finally, I enjoyed soaking in the sing-song accents and expressions of exclamation, like “Eh Eh!” and natives ending their sentences with “boy.”

Chicken Gyro (aka chicken wrap)
My fave, "Doubles!"
IMPORTANT TIP: How to eat Doubles.
Step 1: Roll it up like so.... Then devour it like a real Trinidadian would. Also if you have it spicy, ensure to spread the sauce around before you roll.
Step 2: Roll that paper into a tiny crumple and discard it in a bin. 
Step 3: After successfully not making a mess, celebrate with your friends.
Step 4: Then wash your hands!

 Roadside sanitation at its best! A creation by a Doubles vendor on Ariapita Ave
Now that you’ve read my experience, what was yours like? And if you have none, you should definitely visit this lovely country. I endorse it!

Here are some more Pictorial Highlights. 
The Cool Buildings!

The Red Building (abandoned House of Parliament building under renovation, for a while now...) 
Looking up, up, up, into the National Library of T&T
The Medulla Art Gallery

The crazy cool friends and our fashion!
Me and Trinidadian artist, Brianna McCarthy
Casual Funk
From left: Marvin, moi, Brianna, Rodell in the basement of the Medulla Art Gallery, Port of Spain

O'Neil in the middle
If you're friends with me on Facebook, you can find the rest of my images there!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Photographer's Fashion Sense:

Marvin Bartley's Fashion Photography, and more... 

"I always knew what I wanted...where my life is concerned."
Marvin Bartley steps in front of the camera gracing us with a few poses, some of which he’s taught models to use. 

Believe me, it was as easy to get the photographer to agree to this shoot as it was for him to stop himself from directing it. Some habits are just too hard to break. With his camera pre-set, the lighting adjusted, and a few awkward moments aside, the shoot picked up pace. Two outfits later it was finished. Like most photo shoots, we check the images to see what we’ve got and for a someone who’s spent years looking through the other side of the lens, most of the images were pretty impressive. The hard part was really narrowing down.

In keeping with the shoot I got a chance to delve into Bartley’s fashionable side. In my previous interview with the photographer for ARC Magazine, I focused on his first love—fine art photography, but I’ve summoned some detail about his second favourite, which is fashion.

Bartley claims he’s always been fascinated with this genre of photography. Fashion magazines were always stacked in bundles in his dorm room at Edna Manley College, all with the intention that one day he would have an opportunity to create images that mirrored high-fashion and editorials campaigns. At first he would practice with his friends, who would offer their own level of modeling, but the determination to be great pushed him to eventually work with models, musicians, commercial clients, and the occasional individual looking for a physical upgrade. He started teaming with one of Jamaica’s multitalented household names, Dexter Pottinger, who easily exposed him to a few tips to improving the way he captured high fashion images, while referring a few styling ideas to the photographer’s personal style. 

These days, fashion photography is what the young Jamaican does to relax, especially when he wants an escape from the rigid commercial world.

“My goal for this year is to move my fashion photography into a very unique expression as I found with the direction I have in fine art,” Bartley explained, “Because those are the things that make a difference; when no one else is doing what you do.”

So far, Bartley has proven that his technical style and approach can co-exist in all sectors of photography, where his fine art, fashion and commercial work influence each other. One example is Etana's album "Free Expressions." 

His repertoire includes shooting for magazines such as SHE Caribbean, Jamaque, Iconography, XO Mag, German Playboy, and Ocean Style. Some of his other clients include Musicians such as, Tifa, I-Octane, Gyptian, Alaine, Shaggy, Sean Paul, Tarrus Riley, and Richie Spice.

However, the ardent photographer feels his journey is only beginning. He plans on catapulting not only his fashion and commercial work, but his fine art as well, claiming top clients, and the not-so-high ones, who are willing to give him a chance.

I wanted my readers to get to know the 29 year-old a little better and Bartley graciously shared with me his routine and his thoughts about this whole business of “fashion.”

What’s the first thing you usually do when you wake in the morning?
I reach for my iPad, put it on Calvary Chapel, and while that is playing, I generally look on the images for a project I’m working on then check my email. I’m a gear head. While editing, I’m usually watching something on photography and the latest gears on my second screen.

What can’t you leave the house without?
My iPhone and, occasionally, my iPad

Do you believe you have found your calling and when did you realize that?
Yes. Ever since I got good at it.

Have you crossed paths with anyone famous or intriguing in your career? What was that experience like?
Even though I’ve met a few celebrities, like Sean Paul and Shaggy, meeting RenĂ©e Cox was the most memorable. It was a big deal to meet an artist I’ve been researching and whose work deals with issues that I care about. She’s a very artistic person in both her works and personality, so it was very exciting. To have her tell me, after viewing my fine art, that I was unto something good, is definitely reassuring. Even today she’s still encourages me.

Who do you hope to meet or work with one day? And why?
Joel-Peter Witkin. He’s the only photographer that I can identify with in the kind of photography that matters most to me. I would like to be in the same space with him, or even watch him work, because, outside of reading about it, that’s the best way to understand his creative process.

Left to right: Jamaican artistes Tami Chynn, Gyptian, Tifa
How do you usually end your day?
No matter how late I work, I will still take time out to browse photo-related sites like Digital Photography Review and DigitalRev TV.

Is there anything that has happened to you in your life that has sobered you up, or has impacted on your life today?
I always knew what I wanted. I’m very patient when working towards a particular goal. It’s safe to say that I’ve never been drunk, where my life is concerned.

What philosophy do you live by?
“Do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” I heard that at a high school graduation in 1999, and that philosophy has stuck with me since.
What excites you the most about fashion photo shoots?
I like doing shoots that involve a team, like a make-up artist, designer, and stylist. When everyone plays a separate role, they tend to dedicate meticulous time to it. I believe such collaborations create beautiful outcomes. I also like the ones that are planned way in advance and the ones that are impromptu. A model is on hand, the outfits are materialized out of nowhere and the make-up is ready. Spontaneous moments like these make the work exciting.

What kind of models do you prefer to work with?
For the women, I like working with tall elegant models, who are effortless in their gestures and body language. I like the facial features to be Afro-European (think Liya Kebede). Sometimes, I appreciate the angular facial features, a kind of strangeness that can appear alien.

For guys I like working with men that are just as tall as me. I’m 6ft 5”, so at times I find it strange to shoot someone who is below 6ft in height. However, if the model has strong facial features and is very good, I can easily overlook that.
 Female model wearing Chantell Walters. Male model wearing Romero Bryan for Iconography Magazine
Do you have any tips for aspiring photographers?
Don’t just know all the technical things. Just do it. Don’t just buy all the equipment you can buy. Use them.

What is your fashion sense?
Anything that’s not what you see every day. I don’t like trends or the idea of everybody wearing or doing the same thing. I like when people have some originality. The fact is everything has already been done and having a fashion sense is finding out what works for you, your body type, your personality and making the most of it. It really doesn’t change that much once you find it. That’s when you have your “sense” and not what everyone dictates.

See More Images from Marvin Bartley's Portfolio:
Also, catch up with the photographer at his blog space to see what he's been up to lately!

Model wearing Catalin Botezatu for SHE Caribbean 
Model wearing Barry Moncrieffe for XO Magazine
Image left for Jamaque Magazine
Model wearing Sushma Patel for SHE Caribbean
Editorial Page for Jamaque Magazine

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Captured By A Quiet Soul

Images by Shameer Khan

"...focus on the positive things in life"

We meet outside the Starbucks on 14th Street and introduce ourselves. He gives me a gentle hug and smiles. I smile back. After luckily finding a free table we sit across from each other. His eyes suddenly squint in seriousness and he stares me down. Somehow I feel like an ant being examined by a zealous teenager with a magnifying glass. I want to look away, but I know that I shouldn’t.

This scoping of my face goes on for seconds, though it feels like minutes. In a subtle voice he instructs me to turn my head slightly to the side. I do that and his thick eyebrows wrinkle. He's pensive. I’m told to turn my head to the other side, but his expression doesn’t change. I'm thinking this meeting is going so well. Maybe I'm not as striking.  Finally I'm told to suck in my inner cheeks. “Like this,” he says and assumes the perfect angular face with pouted lips.

Inwardly I’m saying to myself, this guy is crazy! But he seems to know what he’s doing and trustingly, I try it. Those black brows wrinkle, animatedly again, as he shakes his head no. Apparently I’m trying too hard. “Like this,” he re-demonstrates. I make another attempt and this time he nods with satisfaction.

“Okay good.  Let’s go,” he finishes.

I follow him out the Starbucks and seconds later we enter a building that’s his friend’s studio. The temperature has dropped tremendously so it’s too cold to shoot outside.

His name is Shameer Khan, a Trinidadian native living in New York. At the time we met, he was on the cusp of his teenage years. For his age he is extremely knowledgeable about the fashion industry, in particular—what model agents want. He reels out—in a non-bragging fashion—a list of girls he got signed with agencies like Elite and IMG. There's something about his photographs that captures the pure essence of a model, even the ones with the slightest potential. Now these agencies send him their models when they need development test shoots done.

As I was instructed, I keep my puffy extensions straightened. The weave is so well done, that it looks like I was born with that full head of hair. He presents an H&M bag with clothes he bought from the store and I dress in an orange leotard and black leggings. This outfit is much simpler than my usual shoots, but he reminds me that it’s about my body, not about the clothes. I already have on a light foundation, but Shameer applies an extra layer, still enough to look natural, and surprisingly, applies my eyeliner, lip gloss and uses the eyeliner to contour the sides of my face. Taken by the comfort of his actions, I ask him where he learnt all this. He explains that sometimes stylists and make-up artists are a no-show to his test shoots and so, eventually, he learned to do everything himself. I am very impressed.

The end result of my shoot with Shameer
He patiently directs me into the poses, in an almost-soft-spoken voice. The movements are not sudden or dramatic. Very simple. Just enough to highlight my length, my features and that I can, at least, pose. I suck in my cheeks just like we practiced and he snaps away. The easy-going Shameer is smiling and that is a sure sign that the images are good. After a few changes the shoot is over and I’m looking forward to the possibilities.

It’s hard to count how many models Shameer has discovered, but it’s safe to say at least twenty—males and females combined, and that’s just being modest. One of his greatest finds is Diandra Forrest, an albinistic model, who captivated interests by fashion agents right away.

In no time the Trinidadian born photographer realized that he was good at what he did. When others took notice, he quickly became a respected name in the New York fashion niche, receiving special features on and publishing editorials in UMag, Hommestar—The Pop Magazine, and Highlights Magazine, just to name a few.


What’s the first thing you usually do when you wake in the morning?
First, I thank God that I am alive, then I reach for my phone!

What can’t you leave the house without?
Can’t leave without putting on my Chanel Homme Sport cologne that I got as a gift from one of the models I work with, Michelene.

From left: Oscar Reyes, Iman, Shameer, Joan Smalls
Give us an idea of your typical day?
Wake up, brush my teeth, make coffee, check my emails, visit my favorite blogs, then plan out my day, jump in the shower, get ready and head to the city. Some days I may have a shoot, other days—a meeting, or maybe just shopping or something.

Do you believe you have found your calling and when did you realize that?
Yes I think I have. When I was 16 years old I got my first camera from an MTV event and I fell in love with photography. Unfortunately I was robbed and that camera was stolen, but eventually, my parents later got me a professional camera because they saw how much I loved photography.  I still us that camera today. I never liked school so I didn't apply to college because I knew that this is what I wanted to do, for sure.

Anybody famous or intriguing you’ve met or come across in your career/life? What was that experience like?
I’ve met Tyra Banks through a very good friend of mine Oscar Reyes, who was her agent at Elite. She took us out for Frozen Yogurt and then to a comedy club. It was fun. She's actually an amazing person.

Who do you hope to meet or work with one day? And why?
I hope to work with Nicki Minaj lolll… I would love to shoot her one day. We are both from Trinidad and both grew up in the same neighborhood (Southside Jamaica Queens)

How do you usually end your day?
I just grab my favorite snacks, chocolate, and soda, jump on the couch and fall asleep watching TV.

Is there anything that has happened to you in your life that has sobered you up, or has impacted on your life today?
Just moving to this country at the age of 9, and going through a lot of struggles when my family and I got here, my parents sacrificed a lot to give me and my brother a better life.

What philosophy do you live by?
Take life one day at a time and focus on the positive things in life; and forget about all the negative things.

Any closing words from your awesome self? Like maybe your goals for 2012 and beyond? Anything!
My goal for this year is to travel and see the world. I haven’t been back to my country in 13 years and I plan to go very soon to see my family. Then I plan on going to Europe! Especially London and Paris, because I have a lot of friends there :)

Shameer's Portfolio:

See more of Shameer's work @