received an e-mail from a photojournalist whom I knew from my post student
days in London. He has a cool name. Zed Nelson. I knew him as Zik.
remembered I was enthralled by his unstoppable ambition, his seemingly
insatiable need to witness, record and mirror everything quirky about
human nature through his lens.
didn’t know it then but I now think perhaps it was his way of
understanding the world. If you capture human beings in black and white
and colour, doing strange things and hold the image up against the light,
then maybe it will go some way in unravelling the mystery of why they do
what they do.
here he was, 18 years later writing to me asking for a stamp of Wendy
did what you do with people you have known in the past. Googled him. I
learned he was now an award-winning journalist who worked with Time
Magazine. He had published a book, Gun Nation, to wide acclaim and awards.
review read: “This hard-hitting visual essay, shot throughout the United
States over a three-year period, shows how deeply guns are ingrained in
the American way of life. Haunting photographs of ordinary people living
ordinary lives reveal a world where firearms have become as American as
apple pie, where Magnums and Uzis replace pitchforks and bibles as
national symbols of freedom; here large sectors of society are as naked
without their weapons as they’d be without their cars.”
all edit our lives in some way. We all have blind spots. We don’t see
ourselves clearly. But artists force us to. And as a photojournalist Zed
forced Americans to acknowledge that the menace of a gun had penetrated
the American dream.
wrote: “I really want to photograph the stamp for my Beauty Project
about cultural obsession with youth and beauty. Is it easy to find this
stamp, as mentioned in the extract below?”
“extract” read like this:
1998 winner of Miss Universe was Wendy Fitzwilliam, a law student from
Trinidad and Tobago, and has become a national heroine. She appears on
postage stamps and has a street, a city park, and a hospital wing after
her, this in a country whose most famous writer, the Nobel Prize winner
Sir VS Naipaul, (has) been accorded no such honour.”
bald detached description of us was startling.
made me feel as if we Trinidadians and what we represent are simply one of
Zeds “subjects,” worthy of mention because we are just that, strange.
that isolated statement hit me hard because it didn’t pretend to have
any deep understanding of our steaming complex society, didn’t have an
agenda, but was the simple truth as the world saw us.
that truth was sad.
is great. Wendy is a strong professional role model. Wendy is a beauty
queen with fantastic genetics. If she were a hunch-backed she wouldn’t
have been famous for her law degree or her strength of character. We like
her because she’s beautiful.
you can’t compare what you absorb from a book, with what you absorb from
a photo of a beauty queen. You can’t compare Nobel Laureates Derek
Walcott and Sir Vidia Naipaul, and CLR James, Sam Selvon, Earl Lovelace,
with Miss Trinidad and Tobago, Miss World or Miss Universe.
great writers force us confront ourselves, to expand our minds, to
discover endless worlds in a way a bikini never can. They allow us, as do
photographers, to see ourselves as we really are, to discover our
commonality with people in continents everywhere from a slum in Calcutta
to a sleek street in Belgium. Books reflect our particular beauty, menace
fear that microscopic gaze on us. Fear that it will find us vacuous,
lightweight, and illiterate, because that is not what we are at all. Not