Sunday, 8 February 2009

Saying Goodbye

I am scheduled to ride the air taxi for the RMS today at 4:30 p.m. I am so sorry to leave the friends I've met, but looking forward to being reunited with my family in one week. 

Yesterday, I was asked by a bunch of men drinking under the Evergreen tree if I liked it here and I said, "Yes, I love it here." Then I was asked if I could bring my family and raise my kids here. My reply to the Saint was that I've given that some thought and that they all have family here, and I would want that for my own children. Another Saint told me, "Us will be there family." Right then the humidity started bothering my eyes. They told me to come back to St Helena and bring my family with me. I didn't expect something so sweet to come from the mouths of a bunch of young men drinking under a tree, but that's a Saint for you. 



Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Making Tracks

I came across "Ray Mouse" painting the lines on the road outside of Plantation House. This is just another example of what island life is like. It's not a backward society in the least, and I hope people don't take that from my photos. I think of St Helena as old-fashioned and that Saints are more concerned about what really matters. Like the guy's shoes in the next posting. The top ripped from the clutch of his truck. So what--the sole is still good. Why on earth would the island need a piece of equipment that paints lines on the road? Ray Mouse can do it. 

The next photo is of Layla in the cemetery. Her Papa was buried here a couple weeks ago. I did not see him in the viewing, but I think they put coins on the eyes of the dead. Surely she saw that. Layla had just had a discussion with her Uncle "Johnny" about the body rotting and as we walked away, I saw her put these pieces of candy over her eyes before popping them in her mouth. I didn't have time to think, just click. 

Shane Crowie is the most photogenic person I've ever photographed. Just a casual look from him is perfect. None of the photos I took of him were planned--he would just look up while speaking and I'd click the shutter. Here he's at Saint FM during his show on Friday afternoon. 

I was interviewed this morning on Saint FM by the station owner Mike. It was my first live interview. I hope I didn't sound like an idiot, but it's hard to tell. 


Saturday, 31 January 2009

Sending Donkeys from the South Atlantic

I've been too busy to update the blog. I'm still having fun shooting, but missing my family a lot. I can't wait to hug, kiss and cuddle Zane, Tessa and Billy.

Here are a several photos I shot this week. Since William and Robbie were so interested in the donkeys from Ascension, I thought I'd show them another one. These are my five favorite portraits.


Saturday, 24 January 2009

Still Waiting for the Week to End

After such an awful week, I decided to do something fun. This morning I drove over to Prince Andrew's School, the secondary school on the island, to shoot some Saints enjoying one of their favorite past-times…cricket. Right after I arrived, I dropped one of my cameras about 6-inches cracking the lens and breaking the camera. Obviously this was upsetting. Not only are the cameras and lenses expensive, but now I am down to one camera body and without a 50mm lens.

Trying not to let this setback bother me, I continued shooting. I had several other lenses in my small rucksack and my audio equipment for recording sound on site. I grabbed the bag to begin recording and my 70-200mm lens flew out onto the ground. Nearly in tears, I picked up the lens and put it on the good camera body straightaway. I guess it was a lucky bounce, as nothing appears to be wrong. This heavy lens dropped 3-feet and nothing happened.

Being extremely careful, I continued shooting the cricket game, though with a lot less enthusiasm than on the RMS.

Back at the house now and looking at the camera, I discovered it isn’t the camera body that is broken, but the lens. I tried using another lens on the camera body and it appears to be fine. Although the lens is not working properly, the glass is not cracked, only the clear filter. While I cannot use the lens here, it may be repairable.

It is raining now and I can’t seem to find anyone at home. If it were any later then I’d consider calling it a day, but it isn’t even noon yet.

As the week ends, I have a whole new outlook and will not let these setbacks bother me.

I drove around the island today to see some of the towns I’ve not seen since being back in St Helena. I dropped two ladies off in Longwood and drove over to Sandy Bay. This part of the island is very different from the barren rocky side where Jamestown is located. This drive made me decide to interview a farmer that I met last week.

Longwood, where Napoleon was imprisoned between 1815-1821, is a damp part of the island, as it seems to have a permanent cloud resting in the village. The landscape is quite lush and the green grass contrasts with the dark wet rocks surrounding the area. Despite the perpetual dampness the ladies I dropped off say they love living in Longwood.

Sandy Bay is more rocky than sandy, but quite spectacular regardless of the misnomer. The sand is black like the rocks that tower over the small bay. The bay is exposed to the SE trade winds and has waves constantly coming in to claim what would otherwise be a nice anchorage. A fortified wall and cannon embankment protect the bay from invasion; however, I doubt any cannon balls or gunpowder remain on the island.

This evening I shot some of my story, but tomorrow will be a full day as Saints spend time with their families on Sundays—I’ve been invited to picnics, swimming and a party. Saints with their families are the best times to take pictures—everyone is so happy.


Friday, 23 January 2009

Wits end

What a day. What a week. I am happy to put this one behind me. I’ve had some set backs and some frustrations this week—they just seem to kept coming.

First, I spent most of the week trying to catch up with one of the subjects of the documentary, but he seemed to be avoiding me.

Wednesday, the RMS was in town so I went to the wharf to shoot it as it left the harbor. As I was leaving the wharf, I dropped my sunglasses without realizing it. Retracing my steps I found a my sunglasses smashed into a thousand pieces—they’d been run over by the shuttle that brings the passengers from customs to the wharf. My eyes are sensitive to bright light so I tried to buy a new pair, but all the dark ones have been sold. Now, I am just squinting.

The next day, I was driving down Ladder Hill and my car cut off three times. Ladder Hill is a steep road on a mountain above Jamestown. Many parts of Ladder Hill are just one lane, so there are a few designated spots where cars can pull over to let uphill traffic pass. After the third time, I figured out that the car cut off whenever it was in idle. It was a bit terrifying driving down the mountainside, so I had the car taken care of straight away. It ended up being an issue with a pressurized hose that connects to the choke.

Also on Thursday, a cruise ship was in the harbor with 1,800 passengers and crew. I couldn’t wait to see what this was going to look like. Even if only 300 came to shore, Jamestown would be quite a hopping place. The seas were rough and the captain of the ship decided not to send launches of tourists to the wharf where the water rises and falls 3-4 feet with each passing swell. Many on the island were disappointed by the missed opportunity for revenue, but mostly people just laughed apathetically and said it happens all the time. This is actually the second time this cruise ship has called on St Helena, and it’s the second time its passengers were unable to come to shore. Since the airport has been place on hold, many want to see the improvements made to the wharf so cruise ships can land passengers. Cruise ships might not bring significant lasting revenues to islands, but for a place as remote as St Helena, any revenue increase is needed. I don’t know how much improvements to the wharf would cost, but I doubt potential cruise ship and yachtie revenue could come close to offsetting the investment. For yachts, St Helena is already an expensive place to hail with anchorage fees, immigration fees and even fees for health insurance while on the island.

Today it became obvious that my main subject doesn’t get what I am trying to document. When I approached him on the ship about him being the subject of the documentary, I explained that I would be around all the time documenting his life. I told him that he could think about whether this was okay and get back to me. I waited a day and caught up with him. He said it would be fine, but I don’t think he understood quite how much documenting I would be doing. I am clearly making him uncomfortable so I am going to back off and his story will play a smaller part in the documentary.

I was upset at first, but this is the right thing to do. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable, and the other two people I’m working on don’t have any qualms about when and where I start taking pictures. One of the women totally gets exactly what I’m doing and is quite helpful--letting me know when everything is going on and such. Now I just need to find a couple more people who will have a good understanding of what I’m after so we can get on with the documenting. I have a couple of people in mind, so I’m not out in the cold just yet.


Tuesday, 20 January 2009

First Saturday and Sunday

I spent the weekend shooting and interviewing Saints and sailors. On Saturday, the Governor’s Cup racers invited Saints out on their yachts to sail around the harbor. I joined a yacht from South Africa and shot the three Saint children onboard a sailboat for their first time. The children were accompanied by their fathers, and sailors and Saints alike seemed to have a great time.

Sundays are completely dead in Jamestown. Shops are closed, no cars are in the lot—even the birds don’t seem to move. People are out picnicking, riding motorcycles or swimming in the bay. I did some shooting and much needed editing, as the photo folder has been expanding to unwieldy proportions.

I also saw Oakland cottage where John Thurlow stays. The house is ancient, but no one knows how old. At one time the house was made into a small hotel with toilets, sinks and showers thrown into previously large bedrooms. In many cases the new en suites were enclosed by wooden panels--it was a bizarre decorating concept and one that should avoid being duplicated. The house has some wonderful traits, but I’m afraid to think how much investment it would take to bring the place to its former glory, and the roof is made of asbestos. Yikes.

Monday I caught up with Sally and her children as well as Tara and Tom. Sally seems to be doing well and is enjoying her time at home with her mom. Her sister has been reunited with her 8-month-old daughter after four months, so she’s been having a ball with the little one.

At Sally’s mom’s house, I met two ladies. One is an older lady who seems to be a little different from most Saints. She wears all black and has long dyed black hair. Some call her Frenchy and I see her sitting next to Jacob’s Ladder, across the street from Sally’s mom’s house. Her voice is rough and she says she spent nearly 20 years living in South Florida—everyone on St Helena seems to have a family member living in Florida. One can tell from her face and voice that she’d had a rough life.

Today I saw Frenchy by Jacob’s Ladder and she and her boyfriend were drunk. I guess this is what they do everyday when he gets off work.

The big thing that I accomplished today was shooting video b-roll of passengers and the RMS leaving port again. Last week the ship left for Ascension and it has come back before going to Walvis Bay and on to Cape Town. The RMS will then return again on Feb. 8, which is when I will say goodbye.

The supplies in the stores are looking pretty barren. Imported vegetables are looking a little rotten and shelf supplies are getting low. I can’t seem to buy any decent batteries on the island. I was going to switch to rechargeable ones, but all the stores on the island are out of chargers.

I bought some refrozen vegetables the other day out of desperation. They were in about a 2-pound block of ice as they’d been frozen and refrozen perhaps several times.

Don’t misunderstand, the island life is great here, but one has to have less expectations. Battery chargers will probably be on the next ship, as will vegetables. It won’t do me any good, but that’s fine. It’s all part of the life here, and part of the documentary.


Friday, 16 January 2009

Friday Night Lights

Today I interviewed some yachties from Canada. Donna and Mike sail an Oyster 56, Baccalieu III, and have Andy and Ray aboard as crew. The foursome joined the ARC World Cruise in September in Darwin, Australia for this “leg” to St. Lucia. They say they enjoy rallies, but indicated they like their time sailing individually a little more.

I hooked up with Anthony George today, too. He’s the 32-year-old guy that works on Ascension and is home on leave to visit his 8-year-old son, Teejay. Anthony lives in Thompson’s Hill, but was going to meet me at Rosemary Plain, as directions are impossible to his house. I’ve done well with directions considering most roads do not have street names until trying to drive to Rosemary Plain. I ended up at Anthony’s house by following a shuttle driver--I even got a little lost driving home.

Anthony built his house in 2005 and is in the process of finishing the inside and putting up a wall to prevent further erosion from the front of his property. The only room fully finished is the bathroom, which has a giant bathtub and low-flush toilet. The modern designed kitchen is nearly complete, as well. His 20-year-old girlfriend, Rickie, was there with her niece and Tommy-Lee—a 17-year-old who was also on the RMS. Rickie is Tommy-Lee’s aunt, yet they are only three years apart. It seems that everyone is someone’s aunt, uncle or half-brother on the island, which brings me to another point: free love.

It almost seems a traditional, faithful marriage is taboo on the island. I mentioned this to Rickie after Tommy-Lee explained his family to me. Not one person I have met has only been with one partner, yet Rickie says that the divorce rate on the island is less than 50 percent. I am going to have to follow up with some stats on this.

Another interesting thing on the island is that there are four deaf/mute people that live here. I met one, Calvin, at Anthony’s house. I’d say Calvin is thirty-something with fairer skin than most Saints. He is on the three-day workweek, which is the welfare system here. The government pays people to clean up the island and for other service work. Those on three-day do not get paid unless they work. Calvin works other days as a handyman. Anthony says he is a good worker, but by the time I arrived at half-four, Calvin was drinking beer and Vodka and cokes. He was smashed by half-five.

Apparently, the four deaf/mute (Calvin is only mute) are from different parts of the island and from different families, so there is no explanation for their condition. Anthony said three of the four went to England as part of their special needs education, but the fourth person was a Jehovah Witness and the parents wouldn’t let the child go. Calvin and the others know sign language, but pantomime with others to communicate. Calvin was quite efficient at getting his message across, until he became drunk. The main thing he was communicating was a fantasy that he had been in the military as a sniper. He showed us his camouflage jacket, army green rucksack and tracking an imaginary target with his fingers as if holding a rifle. The others said the only time he has ever left the island was for a field trip with school.

It seems that the community does not ostracize people with special needs or deficiencies; instead they encourage them when appropriate and tolerate any other behavior—similar to the way an extended family would. I noticed this on the RMS with a slow guy named Eugene. Saints cheered and encouraged Eugene more than anyone else on when it was his turn for Deck Quoits.

Once Calvin became too drunk, no one made fun of him. Instead a friend just drove him away—presumably home.

I met Tara, Tom and Tara’s four girlfriends out at dinner. Everyone in the party is 24, or just turning 24. The girls were dressed in black skimpy dresses and stiletto heels and smoking Marlboro Lights. It is obvious these girls are part of the wealthier class on the island, and most studied college in the UK—one is finishing her Master’s. This is the first night they’ve all been out in quite a while, and the first time they’ve met Tom.

After dinner, everyone went to Bayside, a recently opened discothèque near the wharf. The dance club seems to be one of the most popular places on the island for younger people. Typical of many dance clubs, people arrived around 11 p.m. and left well after 1 a.m. Tara’s parents were also there dancing and many yachties were out on the deck socializing with each other.

I met Shane Crowie and plan to interview him next week on what it means to be a Saint. I chose him before I left because of an interview of him after a rock fall incident in August 2008. Watch “Major Rock Fall” at: This guy is really funny.

Drinking and driving is a problem on the island and there were several cops in the car park watching people. One guy in a helmet trying to mount a motorcycle fell and dropped his motorcycle. The cops stood where they were and watched him. Several people helped him pick it up and the guy failed in a second attempt to mount the bike. The cops then came over and helped him push it to the side. I don’t know what happened after that.

After the bar closed, half the partygoers walked passed the cops down along the wharf. Tara informed me that this is the “after party.” Her girlfriends said this is where they sit on the ground and sober up before driving home, yet most of them were dancing and started drinking the cold beers Tara bought from the bar. Others were gathered under a tree smoking pot and everyone seemed to have their car radios on competing with other “after partygoers” with the loudest music.

Since there are so many single-lane roads and high cliffs on my route home, I decided it would be prudent for me to go ahead and drive home while people were at the after party.