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Photography


"You use a glass mirror to see your face,

but you use works of art to see your soul."

George Bernard Shaw


Before Man and Nature by George Perkins Marsh, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Progressivism of Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the environmental consciousness of the 1970s in America, there was the King's Hill Enclosure Act, which was passed in the Caribbean on the island of Saint Vincent in 1791. This piece of legislation was based on the novel concept that deforestation might cause a decline in rainfall. As extraordinary as this was, it is even more remarkable that this continues to be a well-kept secret, that no record of the Act can be found in environmental legislation textbooks; and that today, Vincentian nationals remain largely unaware of its existence.           

Even before the King's Hill Forest Act, in 1765, twenty acres of land were located in the West Indies and cleared for the cultivation of plants which were thought to be useful medically and profitable commercially. Nurseries of plants from Asia and other faraway lands were also established for the benefit of the British colonisers and their colonies. This patch of green on which the first Botanical Gardens were created in the Western Hemisphere is also to be found in Saint Vincent.       

Saint Vincent is a small rugged island rising quickly to its volcanically active peak, La Soufrière, some four thousand feet above the sea. This small area of land, the largest in the multi-island state to which it belongs, and located toward the southern end of the Caribbean island chain, occupies a pivotal place in the origins of environmentalism. Within these historical facts lies a confluence of ideas pertinent to our times. According to the environmental historian, Richard H. Grove, the King's Hill Act is relevant, not only for its later influence on colonial environmental legislation, but also to the environmental crisis today and to the special contribution which islands have played in the conceptualization of environmental problems both locally and globally. Although the first piece of legislation was enacted on Saint Vincent, it is important to note that four other islands, Tobago, St. Helena, Mauritius and Ascension Island, were also a part of this early movement. Relevant also, Grove claims, are the mental constraints imposed by the island’s geography and its geological and climatic history: the vulnerability of its population to extreme events such as volcanic eruptions and hurricanes.     

Finding and assigning meaning and purpose has been my life’s preoccupation. So my interest in these historical facts is consistent with this inclination. What could and should they mean today for this multi-island state—or the rest of the world, for that matter? How do we build on this foundation? Could they lend a greater and more focused purpose to such vulnerable and tiny islands? I see opportunity. I see the possibility of new ideas which will allow us to break free of the shackles of consumerism and set us on the path to rethinking the meaning of the good life. I see opportunity for the creation of a lifestyle more in sync with the glorious peculiarities of our natural environment. Effort is being made but soulful awareness lags woefully behind, retarding the pace at which we move.          

Of particular interest to me are the mental constraints imposed by the island’s geography. How can I awaken those around me to this rich legacy of green, to a greater appreciation of this heritage, to the potential locked therein? Elsewhere I have collected two historical documents and some two hundred photographs, which depict the lay of the land in question, in a book entitled The Green Legacy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. With photographic images I turn my attention to the sky which hangs over these historic patches of green, the sea which surrounds it and the green contained within it.

 “Art,” Agnes Repplier admonishes, “is never didactic, does not take kindly to facts, is helpless to grapple with theories and is killed outright by a sermon.”  To capture the beauty of nature’s art, to transmit the power and the tranquility locked within the sky which covers us was the next thing to do. An awesome reverence engulfs me every time I look up into the sky, or out on to the sea which reflects the magnificence and vicissitudes of the activities taking place in the sky, or at the bursts of inspiration created where sky meets sea or land! The emotions are too grand, they transcend language; there is no need for a sermon. "You use a glass mirror to see your face," says George Bernard Shaw, but, "you use works of art to see your soul."

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