(Fenton B. Sands photo)
By Nicosia Smith
Call it the proverbial ‘bird’s eye view’ or ‘being in the center of it all’.
Fenton B. Sands, an economic development specialist, has let his lens tell the complex stories of the multi-cultural Guyana. Sands, a former USAID Mission Director to Guyana, spent a little more than two years in the country and his personal photos are the basis of Reflections of Guyana – The Quintessential Book. The book (52 pages over 100 pictures) available for sale December 15, is a juxtaposition of religion, architecture, natural and cultural themes. The following is an edited Q &A of Sands’ journey towards publication.
How did you come to the decision to publish a book on Guyana?
I came to the decision in stages. But let me pick it up from the fact, that I took a lot of pictures in Guyana, thousands of pictures.
When I got to Guyana, I was immediately struck by the vibrant, clear images I saw, that were different from the other places I have lived and traveled as a foreign-service officer. For one thing, the environment made the pictures clear, crisp, and sharp. This was a different country, culturally, socially and somewhat geographically too – which also drew my attention. Eventually I had quite a catalogue of pictures, which I showed people in Guyana; family; and friends that had also traveled a lot in the foreign-service. Many of them liked my pictures.
Several Guyanese friends kept telling me I should put my pictures together in a book – and one friend in particular kept pressing me to do that. So when I had the time, I self-publish a small book titled, “Among my Best Pictures of Guyana”. I learned a lot about how to do page layouts, pick good pictures, and prepare images for top quality printing. Again, people kept saying they liked what they saw and encouraged me to publish a bigger table-top picture book.
Therefore, with this encouragement and after doing a lot of research on publishing, I got the courage and felt confident enough to publish a nice book on Guyana.
What were some of your other influences for this book?
The answer to this is tied to the background on how I got into photography. It all goes back to my father, who had an illustrative career as an agricultural expert. He lived and travelled all over the world, but mainly in Africa. I remember the excitement of my extended family in the States, when we returned from countries like Liberia, Nigeria, Sudan, etc. and my father showed them pictures from these places. This inspired me to do the same thing, when I followed pretty much the same career path as my father, working and traveling overseas, mainly in Africa.
However, about eight years prior to coming to Guyana, I had literally put down my camera, because there wasn’t much that interested me (photographically). Except on some occasions, when I got to witness and take pictures of great cultural events in Ghana, where I had been living and working for five of those eight years. At the same time, I was forced to make the transition from using a film-based 35 mm camera to using a digital 35 mm camera (which is another story). And I also began learning about and using computer software to manage and modify digital images – something I had done before in a darkroom.
So as I mentioned above, I have lots of good pictures of Guyana and I felt like sharing my impressions of this beautiful, interesting country. I also felt like providing a positive image of Guyana with good quality images. Despite some of the not-so-nice things people see and hear about the country – including Guyanese themselves. I often got a kick out of people wondering where I took a certain picture, sometimes from people living in Guyana or elsewhere.
Were there pictures you wanted to include but did not get a chance to?
Yes indeed! Culling and selecting pictures was one of the toughest jobs. So I have hundreds of other pictures I left out. Part of the reason for leaving some pictures out, had to do with the number of pages in the book. I didn’t want to invest too much time and effort (plus money) in having a book printed that in the end, people weren’t that interested in.
Explain your selection process, was it agonizing, knowing you could not include all the photos you took?
I wanted the pictures to flow. So that affected my selection process, as well as, wanting to pick good quality images. I thought it important to have informative captions for the pictures, which is one thing people said that they would appreciate, after seeing the prototype of the earlier self-published book. I wanted to have more architectural pictures with interesting descriptions, but couldn’t get a lot of information. It was disappointing and I left many of those pictures out. In general, I thought it important to have input from Guyanese for the captions, but to my surprise, very few people were forthcoming with help on this – except for one great friend. He is an authority on Guyana’s landscape and geography.
What themes if any, you wanted to base this book on?
I based the book on several themes – and that’s what you would see. Since Guyana is a country of six races, I naturally focused on people to show the variety of the country’s ethnic makeup. Guyanese cultural events and a mixture of religious practices are related themes in the book as well; followed by images of the country’s fantastic natural and geographical features and its architecture, such as houses on stilts.
What were some of your concerns if any, publishing a book about Guyana, having lived in the country only two years?
Well, I certainly didn’t want to come across as pretending I know everything about the country, or that I have pictures that cover every aspect of Guyana; especially having been there for only two years. I am a serious non-professional photographer. So, often, I could only take pictures within the context of doing my job as an economic development specialist (the reason why I was in Guyana) and I didn’t always have the opportunity to move freely about to take pictures. Yet on occasions, I did get around and specifically try to capture scenes like the awesome colorful sunsets or the vibrant cultural kite flying scenes on Easter Sunday that is quite a sight.
How is this different from your other works?
I’m new at this so I don’t have a lot of other books. As I mentioned above, I have self-published a few smaller books entitled “Among My Best Pictures of Guyana”, and “Among My Best Pictures” (that includes pictures of Guyana and Ghana). Those works are very similar to this book.
However, I also recently self-published a book with pictures and commentary about my father entitled: “A Tuskegee Airman and More”. He led an extraordinary life. Growing up a poor city-boy in Harlem, New York, he became one of the elite pioneering black men known as the Tuskegee Airmen. After this experience he became a top-flight expert in tropical agriculture and traveled around the developing world. Starting first in Liberia, where he went in the 1940s with my mother and where I was born.
Say how buyers will get to know Guyana from this book?
Following the many photographic themes in the book, people will get a glimpse of the different features of Guyana. I hope that people of Guyanese decent, primarily those who have either never been to the country, or haven’t been there in many years, will be impressed with how nice the country is. I know, from the reaction I’ve gotten from people who don’t know about Guyana, some pictures will surprise and maybe even awe them (the Guyanese Diaspora). And perhaps make them want to visit this country, with such a natural environment and Caribbean culture, full of interesting, friendly, and attractive people.