Perfect shot, tragic image


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 10 Nov 03

I read somewhere that when photography gets underneath a person's skin they can spend an entire lifetime shooting for that one image, that one photograph that is going to capture not just an arresting physical image but an intangible piercing truth. I read too, that photographers have even been known to take their own lives if they repeatedly fail to get at this.


Extreme, yes, but photography is a way of looking at the world from different angles to find a definitive reality, a view of the world that makes sense, to find a nugget of truth in the chaos.


To someone from Cambodia, Trinidad is a dot, probably doesn't exist. To the broker working in the City in London, someone living inside a tire in one of the slums of Calcutta is bizarre and unreal, a mere detail on a page from National Geographic magazine glanced at during the tube ride.


Closer to home, take the clusters of children huddled in a tiny house in Caroni surrounded by fields, cowering perhaps from an episode of incest, or watching their father sitting in shocked listlessness at being retrenched from a job he held for 15, 20 years; or a group of youngsters lolling in a dark room in Laventille with images of violence, neglect or sheer boredom. These kids have absolutely no reference point to privileged, cherished children who are as articulate as any adult, who already understand that the world is small, that learning, ideas, language, words, can make it theirs for the asking.


That's the thing about life. There are so few absolutes and a photographer's frustration is probably over the fact that absolutes are elusive, that it is only possible to penetrate the truth with snapshots of life.


This week I was privy to several angles at the "situation in Trinidad'. Take the angle of Selwyn Cudjoe, a raging frothing at the mouth man whose angle is so blurred, so far from the truth, one can barely recognize it as legible. No one, he raved, is looking out for the "black" man. When I pointed out to him that problems of illiteracy are actually higher in the East Indian population, that our government is ostensibly or ought to be serving the needs of all our people he shrugged as if to say “well that’s their lookout.” As if human suffering and ignorance should be recognised only in one colour, only in one race, as if the common thread of humanity doesn’t exist; and this attitude in the new world where we are just beginning to build a society. Sad.


Then there was the position of opposition chief whip Ganga Singh who roared “race” when he came across the Budget document that said COSTATT would specifically target young African men between the ages of 17-24 for training. Another blurred image. Instead of acknowledging the fact that young men of Afro decent need help because they are a product of our society and we need to take care of them, instead of suggesting an additional programme to also pull up the poor illiterate and East Indians living in rural areas, he screams race and nobody is better off with his contribution.


Then there was the birds eye view the one snapshot that put everything into perspective, and was the closest to the truth you could get. The composition of the picture was this: the generally hostile reaction to the fact that CLICO invited former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani to speak from some key quarters. Why? Ostensibly because those in power feel that if CLICO was going to “solve” the crime problem the money would be better invested in people at home.


Well CLICO never made that claim but we can understand why people, especially our politicians, feel threatened by the likes of Giuliani and his former police chief Bernard Kerick. Between them they reduced crime in New York by 63 percent in ten years. The 2,245 cases of murder in 1990 plummeted to 671 in 2000. Jail assaults by inmates were reduced by 1,200 to 12 in one year. Say what you want, these people are management and performance driven. And that’s what we are afraid of. We are insecure - afraid of being shown up.


A government that doesn’t acknowledge the depth of the problem, an opposition that simply opposes instead of offering solutions, a society that is bent on dividing up the pie and swallowing it whole rather than creating people who can build a society and generate wealth for all. Lloyd Best was never more relevant. Naipaul never more right about our half made society. Now more than ever we need ideas so we can get out of the mess we’re in.


Our politicians don’t even know the context they live in. They look shocked when they are told the statistics of the country over which they preside – more than 300,000 people live under the poverty line, more than 600,000 are barely able to read and understand newspapers, some 250,000 totally illiterate, some 9,000 students currently in the school system can’t read at all, an alarming public debt that cancels out our “mini boom”.


We have no plan for Caroni other than to divvy up the land, the spoils, no plan for CECEP (except that it throws money at people making them dependent) no plan for tourism which experts say can create up to 70,000 jobs in the next five years, no plan for cleaning up our slummy streets, no plan to get kids reading in schools or adults out of it, certainly no plausible crime plan.


So that’s the birds eye snapshot.


But for me the one moment of truth – the equivalent of the photographers epiphany came when New York’s former police commissioner Gerard Kerick said the minimum requirements to become a police officer was up to two years of tertiary or college education. A NY state policeman is more qualified than a teacher in T&T who simply needs five CXC O’ Levels (the requirement has been lowered to make grade 3 a pass). No wonder we are stuck, worse, sinking.


Perfect Shot. Tragic image.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur