Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes sat down this week with a small group of people involved in a very ambitious project – to create, exhibit and make available to the wider world the faces that make up the soul and spirit of the Bahamian people.
“This is a wonderful idea,” said Sir Arthur, applauding what is known by its working name as the Bahamian Project and will become, by the time it is unveiled to the public, The Bahamian Collection. “Look at the quality of the work and the printing,” the Governor General said, studying an image of legendary drummer Peanuts Taylor. Like all of the photographs that will comprise the Bahamian Collection, it is an intense study in black and white printed on canvas, a touch that did not escape the Governor General’s notice. “Better for texturization, gives it a richer feel,” he said.
The Bahamian Collection is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team of photographers and online news (B2B News) publishers Duke and Lisa Wells. He does the shooting, she records the moments in still, video and voice, keeping a living online history of their history-making work. They enlisted the support of two other partners, The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) and Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts. The NAGB will unveil the exhibit of the first 60 framed portraits on July 11, 2013, after which other photographers will be invited to submit and contribute the faces that make The Bahamas what it is.
“What better way to celebrate our 40th anniversary of Independence than to recognise those people who truly are the soul of the country?” said NAGB Director Amanda Coulson. “We were excited about the project from the first moment they brought the idea to us not just because we know the extent of the talent we are dealing with but because they did not just want to portray the leaders and those faces that are always out there; they wanted to portray the real Bahamas.”
Lisa Wells explains. “Some of the best faces are those we call diamonds in the rough, so while we are photographing the people you would expect, we are equally interested in capturing Coconut, the man who climbs coconut trees barefoot and bare-chested and lives on a little boat in Montagu Bay, and Potcake, the cardboard sign street philosopher and the one who is always cheerful, happy and smiling, who makes everybody feel better just for seeing him – the man who sells phone cards and newspapers on Shirley Street near the old post office.”
The other person assisting is writer Diane Phillips, who is providing pro bono services to promote the project. “I’ve been to the studio at Popopstudios to watch them work and the intensity they bring to each portrait demonstrates the commitment to creating this body of work that truly tells the story of The Bahamas, which is the story of its people.”
For Lisa and Duke Wells, who are still searching for a major corporate partner, the concern is how fast the faces they want to include are vanishing. “Just last week we lost Roy Bowe,” said Duke Wells. “He was supposed to be part of the Bahamian Collection. In the past year, it’s been Jackson Burnside, Paul Adderley, too many good people to mention. You feel the pressure to get these people down on paper so the children of the future and their children will appreciate the people who made this country what it is.”
The National Art Gallery hopes that once the exhibit has run its three months in Nassau, it will travel. “We hope the U.K.,” said Director Coulson, “and maybe the U.S.” As for the Wells, creating the National Portrait Collection has its spin-offs.
“We want to put a disposable camera in the hands of every young person who does not have access to a phone with a camera and ask them at Mother’s Day to take a photo of the woman who has been the most important woman in their lives and at Father’s Day, the man who has taught them the valuable lessons a father would teach whether it is a biological parent or not. You can do so much with a camera. We want to share and spread this excitement, to help make moments and memories and at the same time, create a record of Bahamian faces forever,” says Duke Wells.
Diane Phillips and Associates
Caption: DRUM ROLL – Governor General Sir Arthur Foulkes admires the photograph of legendary drummer Peanuts Taylor, a sample of the intense portraiture of the first works of photographic art that will make up the Bahamian Collection, the National Portrait Gallery. Lisa Wells is pictured holding portrait. The idea is supported by National Art Gallery of The Bahamas whose Director Amanda Coulson, left, joined the courtesy call at Government House, and public relations executive Diane Phillips, 2nd from right. (Photo by Derek Smith for BIS)