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Pope receives photobook from popular T&T photographer

By Kaelanne Jordan

“I was on a high for two days. I couldn’t stop talking about it,” local photographer Chris Anderson told The Catholic News of his photobook Journey Trinidad and Tobago being gifted to Pope Francis by his friend Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez while in Rome, May 25.

“I like this Pope a lot too, so that makes it special. And I’m joking he’s going to call me and anybody I know I’ll put in a word for them,” Anderson said, laughing.

“Next time I see Joel, I’ll probably give him a big hug.”

For over a decade, Anderson has travelled the length and breadth of Trinidad and Tobago on his motorbike, creating exquisite photographs of the sights around him in new and creative ways.

Journey Trinidad and Tobago documents the first 15 years of Anderson’s journey in learning photography and striving to become proficient in the field. It is a hard cover 11” by 13” coffee table book with over 180 images of the history, culture, nature, architecture and landscapes of Trinidad and Tobago.

Anderson is a self-taught photographer who always “dabbled” in the arts, having been involved in jewellery making since he was 17 years old.

His venture into digital photography, however, came later in his 50s. He initially tried film photography, but the technical aspect proved “too difficult. I just couldn’t learn the craft. Maybe it wasn’t the right time.”

It was around 2008, experimenting with a “little point-and-shoot” camera that “just changed my whole life.” He said he read as many magazines and books on photography, “and I just loved it.”

It was then Anderson’s passion for jewellery designing eventually “slowed” down and he relinquished the business to his wife.

“Of course, she wasn’t in total agreement with that change but when she saw how good I was at it, and how people loved my work…. I was able to eke out an okay living for myself.”

Anderson’s images have become avidly sought after and can be found in local art galleries, corporations, and homes.

He spoke with excitement of retiring to bed every night fantasising of the nine-hour road trip – 3 a.m. to noon – ahead.

While Anderson enjoys shooting a wide variety of stock, his favourite genre is capturing the beauty of nature: sunrises and sunsets, landscapes and seascapes. He has an affinity for people, culture, environmental portraiture, rituals, and old houses.

He elaborated on his love of old houses. “I’m not going into an area with million-dollar homes, there’s no interest…all these old houses have so much character…”

Awakening collective consciousness

Anderson acknowledged though it is difficult to see the beauty of T&T amidst the high crime rate, documenting the natural beauty of our country in photos can make a positive impact to our collective consciousness.

He underscored his work is aimed at making people more conscious of where they come from, to preserve what they have, to look a little “deeper” and give respect and gratitude for the wonderful stories that give people hope.

“I know that from the feedback I get from people who look at my work…. people tell me things, that it moves them. And I realise wow, there’s a deeper meaning behind the photos. Somebody told me they felt proud. They left Trinidad 20 years ago. After looking at the book, they felt proud to be a Trinidadian and I thought that was the greatest compliment,” Anderson shared.

He spoke of one photo on page 10 of his book, an older lady and granddaughter “dressed in their Sunday best” in Moriah, Tobago.

“And that photo I had for over ten years before I posted it [on Facebook]. A young gentleman called me from Tobago and said I brought tears to his eyes. He couldn’t believe when he saw his granny… and the young girl is now in New York, so that’s one of those stories that makes me feel like it’s worthwhile,” Anderson said.

He said while his fans on Facebook always “nudged” him to publish a photobook, the decision was cemented during the pandemic as it provided the “perfect” mix of quiet and ease of movement.

He admitted feedback from the book has been exceptional, but he almost had a nervous breakdown when he realised how many books were printed: 800.

Dangerous beauty

Anderson told this reporter he got “goosebumps” as he surveyed the antique houses while en route for the interview at the RC Belmont Pastoral Campus. Laventille and Belmont are on his bucket list of places to capture.

He commented taking a photo of someone, “it’s like you have a machine gun; people get upset.” He said he allays the initial apprehension with a broad smile and the declaration: “I’m a Trini.”

During his career, Anderson has risked his life for the perfect shot. He was attacked by gangsters in La Brea. He was warned earlier to not take photos of the community life.

“They came with some bottles and they kind of roughed me up for an hour…. I was trembling. He made me go through every photo I took there and delete them. I couldn’t eat for two days,” he said.

Yet he asserts he was not deterred. “It’s all part of it, I guess.”

Anderson recalled another incident where his inquisitiveness led him to a board house situated on a riverbank. He suddenly stumbled upon a female dog and her litter of pups.

“And she was ferocious. She had hair two inches standing up on her back and all the dogs in the village came. And if it wasn’t for my camera strap, which they didn’t like…. I was just screaming help.”

Perusing the pages of his book, Anderson revealed downsizing to six chapters was not that difficult.

“Because I had my faves [favourites] and I had to leave some out. The faves kind of stand out. Sometimes it might be something that’s unusual, rare to see.”

Pointing to the graphic on page 15, Anderson explained, “So I found this was unusual, the incense with Jesus printed on it, the cocoyea broom….”

A spiritual experience

It was Martinez’ wife Marcelle D’Abadie-Martinez who inspired him to gift Journey to the Pope as she thought it represented a pictorial view of Trinidad and Tobago and that it also reflected a true photographic journey of the people and places of the country.

This was Martinez’ (J) second visit to the Vatican having visited in 2016. He shared that having been invited by CAF development bank of Latin America to visit the Vatican City in an official capacity as the Mayor of Port of Spain and participate in the Scholas programme, he knew there was a possibility he would be able to see the Holy Father in person.

“So, when the moment arrived, I knew and felt that this moment was going to be a special one. Just his presence in the room was electrifying and most of all he made us feel so comfortable when he shared his wisdom and gratitude toward the participants in the Scholas programme,” Martinez said.

Journey was presented when Martinez was invited to shake the Pope’s hand.

He shared, “I introduced myself and asked him if he knew of Trinidad and Tobago and he said ‘of course’. And I told him I wrote a little note to him on the inside of the cover and hoped he would read it and view the beauty of our islands. He said, ‘I will definitely do so’.”

Martinez described the moment as a very euphoric experience. “It was a very spiritual moment. And one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

Journey Trinidad and Tobago is available at local bookstores and gift shops. Persons interested in purchasing can contact Chris Anderson at 293-9105, visit his website or purchase online with free delivery