On a recent trip to Port of Spain, Trinidad, I found a little piece of Britain dropped into the sunny Caribbean Sea.
Everything from the street names – Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Whitehall, even an Albion Street – to the black and white traffic poles, to the names of the public institutions, such as the Queen’s Royal College (main image), made it seem as if the British were still here. Yet, Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from the UK in 1962.
You’d never know it.
While some things about Trinidad where as I had expected – the sunshine, the palms trees, the relaxed people, the sound of reggae music filling the air – there were two factors that surprised me: the level of poverty and the feeling of insecurity.
Walking around the streets of Port of Spain, even during daylight hours, I never felt safe.
The streets seemed to have been taken over by wild-eyed crazy guys, men in filthy clothes roaming aimlessly, obviously under the influence of drink or drugs.
When I would cross the street to avoid one of them, he would cross the street to follow me.
Understandably, therefore, I took very few photos: I simply didn’t feel safe standing in one spot for too long, setting up my tripod and pulling out an expensive-looking camera.
On the couple of occasions when I did, I could feel eyes boring into me, so I would rattle off a couple of frames, collapse my tripod, then pack my gear away into my backpack as quickly as possible and move on.
I shot mostly with my iPhone and with my little Canon G-12 point and shoot.
While there can never be an advantage to poverty, one of the photographic benefits of the sorry state of the country’s economy was the number of dilapidated and abandoned buildings, such as those in the third and fourth images. The fact that these buildings had once been painted in bright, even garish colours – pinks, yellows and bright blues, sometimes with polka dots – made them visually appealing in their decay.
The grandeur of the public buildings, obviously built, named and left behind by the British, stood in stark, depressing contrast to the dreadful conditions in which many Trinidadians seemed to be living.
Photographing in the streets of Port of Spain was further complicated by the extraordinarily cramped conditions – the buildings were crammed in next to each other and every one seemed to be tightly encircled by a metal fence – the ubiquitous hanging electrical cables and the bright, hot sunlight. The sun seemed to climb high in the sky within just a few minutes of rising and beat down all day long, usually in a bald, cloudless sky.
There seemed to be no such thing as the blue hour and no sweet morning light in the southern Caribbean.