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Sunday 17 November 2019
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An irregular soldier falls



LAST WEEK, Andre Alexander ended his long, painful and debilitating battle with cancer.

We first met in Tobago, when I dropped by the home of Jerry Llewelyn who was working as a photojournalist on the island and was near the end of his own battle with cancer.

“I wanted you to meet this fella,” Llewelyn said, introducing me to an absurdly young and keen Alexander, as lean and spindly as he would be all his life.

The young photographer (it turns out he was actually older than me, but enthusiasm counts) would go on to carve his own swath through local journalism.

Alexander would occupy an interesting space in the recent history of photojournalism in Trinidad and Tobago; bridging the gap between the stoic old-school photographers and today’s digitally enabled snappers.

When Alexander started doing reporting with his camera, the entrenched tradition of local newspaper photojournalism was undergoing its first major upheaval.

News photographers were shooting with 35mm cameras instead of the hefty twin-lens reflex boxes that were the norm for decades in the business.

If he carried himself with a sense of implied privilege, it was partly his background as a black Tobagonian – with all the sense of royalty typical of ambitious young men from that island – mixed with the position of advantage that news photographers, as the conduit to the front pages of the daily paper, enjoyed then.

If you could get two smiling people handing each other an envelope on the front page, you were a deity of the highest order and rewarded accordingly.

At Christmas, helpful photographers received huge hampers and boxes of premium booze in an avalanche of wrapping paper.

Alexander would ride that period of rapid evolution for almost half a century, going from the rather unscientific souping of Tri-X film to the digital age with casual panache and an approach that ranged from affable to fierce.

David Wears, who worked with him at the Guardian, remembers being called to a meeting about taking over his beat on Talk of Trinidad. Hesitant, he asked why and was shown a letter of complaint about Alexander from an ambassador.

Then he was shown another letter, received the next day from the same embassy, requesting Alexander’s presence at an upcoming event.

Wears and the editor had a laugh about the photographer’s “temperament,” an unassailably unique character and perspective on life.

“They all believed in his professionalism,” Wears said.

“I always respected his work.”

Andre Alexander loved women and sweet-talked them reflexively with well-honed chat. He loved drinks and consumed them with enthusiasm and appreciation.

He loved life and engaged it with an enthusiasm that was infectious and instructive.

But wherever you stood on his way of seeing the world, there was no denying his seriousness about his craft and his professionalism in executing it.

Alexander would find humour and amusement in many aspects of the business, but he never played the fool with his work or his coin.

Bernadette Williams, administrative assistant at the Guardian, remembers his claims as being “prompt.”

He wasn’t a talented photographer as we understand that term today, wreathed as it is in gimmickry and spastic displays of recently earned knowledge.

He was a newsman who reported with a camera and some words.

Eighteen years ago he unquestioningly took an assignment from editor Lenny Grant to photograph a wedding at Greyfriars Church. The photo of my wife and I walking down the aisle appeared in the next day’s Guardian.

“When I saw who it was, I nearly fall down man,” he told me outside the church.

Then, he hugged my wife and kissed her.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column is there, with five lessons for photographers drawn from Andre’s career

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