Photos courtesy Rachel Lee Young
KIERAN ANDREW KHAN
Born in the UK, Rachel Lee Young came to TT in 1999 with her then-husband to embark on a new chapter in her life. As an outsider looking in, she has taken her unique viewpoint to highlight and share the beauty of her adopted homeland.
“I studied at Cambridge in the field of electronic engineering and spent much of my earlier work years in procurement for the UK Ministry of Defence, and as an IT and business consultant in various countries conducting training for mobile telecommunications providers,” Lee Young told WMN.
“I arrived here with my husband at the time, and son who was just one-year-old, and spent much of those first few years being a mother first and foremost to him and later to my second child who was born in 2001,” she recalled. “I joined the UK Women’s Club of TT soon after arriving and served as president and in several other roles across the various committees too.”
Around 2008, Lee Young connected with like-minded recreational and professional photographers in what was then unofficially called The Full Moon Group, named after their monthly meetings that coincided with the moon’s cycle. “I had no formal training in photography but have always loved it. My first camera, an old Agfa Sillette, I bought at a village fair in the UK for £1 when I was 12 years old. It was a bargain and even came with a beautiful leather case so I was quite happy to start my immersion in the field in my teen years,” she noted.
The Full Moon Group would go on to found the Trinidad and Tobago Photographic Society in 2014 after several consultations and discussions and through the leadership of Mark Raymond and Cathy Bain. Since then the society has pursued the goal of opening up photography for newcomers as an art-form, as well as expanding the skillset and experience of more established photographers as. In the last two years as president, Lee Young has continued to expand the reach of their annual, national photography competition, with 100 photos being shortlisted in 2018 and shown at Horizons Art Gallery.
“We try to attract as many people as possible, from youngsters to retirees. The intention is both to highlight photography as its own artform but also to embrace all the beautiful and interesting things about TT - so we have expanded our focus for submissions to everything from the natural gorgeous landscapes to weddings, sports, nature, portraits and street photography. We encourage people at all levels to not only enter but to join the society as well. Each month, we continue to meet at Queen's Hall, who graciously host us, and bring in guest lecturers and speakers.”
Part of that mandate of taking photography to the people also includes "photo safaris" which can take place in wild, natural areas and even in urban areas like Woodford Square. “We know that by being together in a group, people can feel safe to explore their photography but also they can benefit in a supportive environment from advice that can be shared by the safari leaders and other participants too.”
Lee Young’s particular niche in photography has led to her being called "the hummingbird whisperer" as she puts it. “Growing up in the UK we didn’t have many exotic birds and it’s still an adventure for me to go out there and see what’s unique and beautiful about this country even though I have lived here for the past 20 years. One of those unique and beautiful things is the many species of hummingbirds. Besides being a challenging creature to shoot, it’s also about being able to make an artistic image of such a beautiful bird that is framed and positioned in a beautiful background as well,” she pointed out. “I’m always in search of the perfect hummingbird photo and this after all, is the Land of the Hummingbird.”
That fascination with local flora and fauna also led Lee Young to translate her work onto greeting cards, and even more recently, onto fabrics and interior décor items. “I spent a long time under the tutelage of Roger Neckles, one of the prominent nature photographers here, out ‘in the bush’ honing my craft of capturing nature. I’ve always loved all manner of creatures as growing up we had everything from a cow, to ducks, chickens and dogs and cats,” she recalled. “The greetings cards with local birds and flowers are available in several shops now and I’ve found myself expanding that offering by taking the images of hummingbirds, combining them with beautiful backgrounds and designs and including them on scarves, clothing, table linens, mugs and even cushions. We don’t have anything quite like it here and there’s been a fantastic response to it - especially from persons who live abroad for whom seeing a hummingbird, in nature would still be a treat.”
Lee Young has spent the last 15 years engaging in many aspects of photography, including a course she developed herself to introduce people to digital photography. The past few years led her to join with her mentor and partner, professional photographer James Solomon to create their own company, RAPSO Imaging, which tackles a full range of services in the space from school and corporate portraits to fine art photography, industrial photography and events. “This is the main hat that I wear and it surrounds all the things that I am passionate about.”
In her own time, Lee Young spends her time with James, her two children and tending to her garden, which of course she’s been creating with flowering plants and bird feeders that would appeal to all manner of local birds. “I love gardening so I’ve been developing my garden to attract all those exotic birds that I never had growing up as a child in the UK. Even though I’ve been here for many years, the beauty of this tropical island is still a bit of a novelty for me - so I try to see its beauty everyday with fresh eyes.”