No. 18: The Haiku Photo Issue

Published: Jan/Feb 2006
Theme: Writers’ responses to photographic images
Cover: Haiku by Linda M. Deane; photograph from The Fruit Series by Carl Dottin
Contributors: Walter Bailey, Maxi Baldeo, Aguinaldo Belgrave, Hugh Corbin, Carl Dottin, Katy Gash, Dana Gilkes, Claire Ince, Esther Phillips, Nick Whittle

Back Page Say #18
The glory of the amateur
By Nick Whittle

There are few things so simple. Aim, press a button and you have captured a visual record of the person, object or view in front of you. Whether on traditional film or digital media, the cameras of today make it easier for everyone to document their lives. In photography, we have witnessed the true democratization of visual production.

But not everyone is happy with this development. There are those who believe that real photography is something produced by hand in black and white, rather than through a commercial processing lab or computer software.

Within photography, and most areas of cultural production in Barbados, there are the divisive distinctions between amateur and professional. Entries in all disciplines for the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) are categorized in these terms, but do these separations serve any constructive purpose in our national development in the 21st century?

In my experience, the true amateur as defined by music critic Ivan Hewett is unfortunately on his deathbed. “The glory of [the] amateur is that it’s done for love, away from the spotlight. The people who do it don’t care about rank orders, or who’s done better than whom. And the reason they don’t care is that they know [what they have produced] has immense value in itself.”

Qualifications and the ability to generate an income from work are part of the criteria employed to define the professional. But we all recognize people who have all the qualifications and produce nothing of interest, and those who make a comfortable living from the sale of work that will probably be forgotten in a few years. Conversely, there are those who just pick up a camera or set of paints and create something that forever defines an experience or moment in time.

The democratization of creative production, whether in the visual or literary arts, has not been welcomed by everyone. During a recent discussion on poetry in England, a quarrel developed between those dedicated to preserving the craft of writing poetry and those who produce “chicken soup” anthologies. Noted poet George Szirtes had this to say: “I don’t see why anyone should have a problem with chicken soup. Nor would anyone who was genuinely hungry. What are they supposed to do? Starve until they can eat what the committee has chosen to call cake?”

—Nick Whittle is an artist and poet. His paintings are part of the National Art Collection.