From Finance to Photography

So it’s been two weeks of posts, featuring both personal and professional highlights of my life. I now want to share some events that led me to become a photographer and my need to come out of my (dis)comfort zone.

The year was 1997. I had already spent four years in the financial sector, and had been in photography for nearly ten years.  How’d I end-up in finance? Well, after high school I took two years off and ended up working in a commercial bank. After leaving university I couldn’t find work in my field, so in 1993 my former boss called me back in. By the summer of 1997 I was a 28 year old operations manager at the bank’s stockbroking firm, in charge of money market operations. Interest rates in fixed income securities were at an all-time high (50% p.a.) and everyday was crazy and chaotic with new investors looking for new investments. And I oversaw all of that – deadlines, deals, trades, securities, and making sure that every aspect of these multi-million dollar transactions was neatly tied-up. If I messed up….thank God I never found out what the consequences were.

How did I feel about the job? When I was offered the position in 1996 I got a buzz, eager to meet a new challenge. I was a licenced investment advisor, having successfully passed the Jamaican Securities Course, and the position came with all the perks – allowances and company car.  However, one year into the job, I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. Early mornings and late hours at my desk resulted in me acquiring the complexion of the wall. When I parked my car in the morning, I sat for minutes, waiting for the chest pains to subside before I trudged upstairs to my office. I had to get out…but where to?

Les Pitons, Soufriere, St. Lucia

While working in finance over the years, I had managed to squeeze out time for photography and writing travel articles for SkyWritings and UNFOLD magazine. The former was the in-flight magazine for the now-defunct Air Jamaica, and UNFOLD magazine was a Caribbean magazine based in New York. So I started thinking….could I possibly? The turning point was a week in November that was spent in St. Lucia for SkyWritings. The first day there – hiking and photographing along the south coast near Vieux Fort – I knew that this was what I had to do with my life.

Thinking about leaving the security of a job in the finance industry and actually doing it, is a process. Another key moment was a lunch-time talk with a dear friend, Marcelle Smart in early 1998. I told her how I felt about my job, shared my thoughts about my future and told her that I didn’t want to live with regrets. She told me to just do it – leave and pursue photography. That talk accelerated the process of leaving finance for photography. 

At this time, my Christian faith wasn’t was it used to be, or what it is now. However with such a major decision, I knew that divine guidance was required. So I prayed and prayed. It was another few months before I resigned, leading to another chapter of my life, filled with multiple challenges…..but that’s for another time.

Barbados Morn

Last month I was fortunate to find myself in the neighbouring Caribbean island of Barbados, somewhere that I have always wanted to visit. Although I was there for only two days of non-photographic work, I had to take a few hours to explore the environs around my hotel. Fortunately, these environs encompassed the UNESCO World Heritage site known as The Garrison. Needless to say, those two hours reminded me of the simple pleasures that can be had with a Nikon in hand.

The Main Guard of the Barbados Garrison, built in 1804

The Main Guard of the Barbados Garrison, built in 1804

The Garrison was designated a World Heritage Site (WHS) in 2011 by UNESCO. According to the UNESCO WHS website, this is due to the “outstanding example of British colonial architecture consisting of a well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.”

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A private building located in the Garrison World Heritage Site.

A private building located in the Garrison World Heritage Site.

From what I was able to see – which was centred around the Garrison Savannah race course – I was quite impressed with the preservation and usage of the buildings. Some were still used by the Barbados Defence Force, while others were private homes, some were museums and others were used by various government agencies.

Although I was impressed by the pride that our Barbadian neighbours have in their historical structures, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of “what if?” What if Jamaica invested in their built heritage sites in the same way that Barbados has invested in The Garrison? In historical Spanish Town there are numerous structures which date to the 16th century when it was known as Villa de la Vega and was Jamaica’s capital under the Spanish occupancy. A similar historical zone centred on Emancipation Square and the Cathedral could have been created. My uncle who was raised in Spanish Town, says that when he was growing up there was a large Brick Barracks that was used as a school – until it fell into disrepair. Such is Jamaica’s story…..

The Soldiers Brick Barracks, built in 1808

The Soldiers Brick Barracks, built in 1808

However, my task that day was not to mourn the deficiencies of my own country, but to celebrate and document how Barbados has been able to harmoniously make the past a part of their present and future.

The Barbados Light & Power building, formerly the Commissariat Provision Store and then the Garrison Theatre.

The Barbados Light & Power building, formerly the Commissariat Provision Store and then the Garrison Theatre.

 

 

 

 

Round About Bonn

A week in Bonn. I was fortunate to experience this a few weeks ago thanks to UNESCO-UNEVOC who invited me to attend a panel discussion on TVET skills and heritage preservation that coincided with the meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in July. During this week I was able to balance work with some sightseeing, photography and I admit, eating like a tourist.

Let me explain. I believe that when travelling to a foreign country, you should experience the culture, and one of the best ways to do so is to eat like a native, not as a tourist. Unfortunately I was unable to do so due to my limited (non-existent) grasp of the language. I admit the reason for this is solely my own. In spite of valiant attempts by a colleague to teach me usable German so that I could at least help myself in basic communication and experience the local cuisine, I failed miserably.

A view of the Rhine River from the UN Campus

A view of the Rhine River from the UN Campus

On the evening that I arrived, my search for dinner ended up at “Pizza Boy”. Yes the menu was in German, but I saw a name was quite familiar: “Hawaiian”. I pointed, nodded my head to the query of “beer?” and that was my first meal in Germany.  For the next two days, I repeated this pattern with minor variations. On day two I substituted “Hawaiian” with “Boston” and on day three I was adventurous, and ordered a pizza without at English name. I have no idea what it was but it had the number “4” in it, which I assume referred to the number of different meats on the pizza. I also substituted the beer with apple juice.  In my defence Pizza Boy was one of the few eateries that wasn’t chock full of smokers. I admit that I will eat moderately unhealthily at times, but I draw the line at second-hand smoke. After all, my body is a temple. One that is in need of more maintenance as the years go by, but still…..

Beethoven's statue.

Beethoven’s statue.

Running along the Rhine

Running along the Rhine

After three days of work, pizza and the hotel’s standard breakfast of sausages, toast, eggs and bacon, I was able to do some sightseeing in the Bonn city centre. The centre reflects the history, culture and pride of the former capital of West Germany. Home of Beethoven, his imposing statue glowers from pride of place in front of the Postamt building. The centre itself is deceptively large due to how compact the streets and buildings are arranged. Just when I thought I had seen everywhere, I made a turn into an unknown location that required exploration. This ended up being an intriguing mix of upscale shops and historical monuments and buildings, many of which were undergoing repairs.

One such structure was the Basilica of St. Cassius & Florentius, which dates to the 13th century. I spent some time walking around it, trying to get a suitable angle that didn’t involve restoration work and was not satisfied with my results. Then I noticed something…people were exiting the church. Needless to say, I entered. Immediately I was enveloped by the quiet and cool, dim light of the interior, which possesses Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque elements. This juxtaposed with the heat of the European summer as well as the bustle of the city centre.

After spending a few minutes to relax and offering up a prayer I made my way back out. An evening meal was becoming a priority and I decided to try something different. I found a restaurant and  ordered and ordered ..not pizza but pasta – without the beer! Okay, I will admit…it was a Pizza Hut restaurant.

Details from a wall on the streets of Bonn

Details from a wall on the streets of Bonn

The High Altar of the Basilica, completed in 1865

The High Altar of the Basilica, completed in 1865

So after an eventful week in Bonn I now need to restart my running regime and get back in shape. My desire is not fueled by all of the bicyclists that rode past me on the streets, nor by the fit looking runners that strode past me in the heat of the day.  It is none of these reasons. The reason why I have been inspired to return to fitness after a week in Germany is really very simple. Eating badly in Bonn.