Nassau - Behind the Curtain
I've been very fortunate that my career has taken me to some truly beautiful and interesting places. I've met many amazing people along the way and I've seen many unforgettable events; some so beautiful as to take your breath away - others so tragic as to break your heart.
In March of 2011 I was visiting the island of Nassau in the Bahamas. While I was there I did my best to alienate and thoroughly piss off a tourism official and representative working for the government.
Her job was to show us visiting journalists and professional photographers/cinematographers why her island was an ideal place to come and do photo/video/film shoots.
I'm a photojournalist at heart and I want my photos to tell the story of what I've seen. A friend of mine saw a portrait of me - shot by another journalist there and he said that I looked like a "war correspondent" and really; I felt like one.
What's interesting is that as beautiful as any of the topical islands are the amount of poverty present is staggering. A few of the "shortcuts" our guide took us on through back streets and neighborhoods off the beaten path looked war-torn.
Several times our guide got angry with me for stopping to shoot photos of the economic carnage. "NO! NOT HERE! Don't take these photos!!!!"
When I asked why she said, "Because I don't want my home being represented this way! You need to show why people want to come here!"
My response was, "But these photos tell the story of what is happening behind the scenes on your island. And yes there may be people who see them and think they won't like to visit. But for every one of them, a dozen more will see the unfair way your people are being treated and want to help."
I told her that I want to tell the true story of how small controlling groups of foreign investors have profited from the resorts and tourism and most of the rest of the people on the island are still living in abject poverty.
She looked into my eyes and then gave me a nod and a smile. It was totally unexpected. "Take whatever photos you want. But you tell people that we are kind and good people here!"
And they are. I never felt threatened or in danger. And I walked through some pretty scary places that day. Outside of the resorts I was just a guy with a camera. Inside the resorts I was one of "them"; the elitist tourists who come and act entitled and litter their beaches while talking down to them as if they are children.
If I ever go back, and I want to, I'll not stay in one of the resorts. The real treasure of this island is it's people. They are warm-hearted and earnest; I saw several of the most beautiful smiles I've ever seen while I was there - from children playing barefoot in streets littered with broken glass and rubble.