James Solomon exhibits professional evolution at Nalis
Photographer James Solomon has gone through many highs and lows in his life and career, but through it all he has persevered and thrived.
Over the years, he's started a business; travelled the world; met and learned from top local and international photographers; won a number of photographic competitions, including two European Union contests; was the lead wedding photographer with the Carnival Cruise Line for five years; was a foundation member of the Trinidad and Tobago Photographic Society, of which he was the VP of education for five years; and has been described as the preferred photographer for the Office of the President.
But he's also had to deal with the loss of his daughter, his brother – decorator and event planner Robert Solomon, a divorce, having to start over from scratch financially, a suicide attempt, the dissolving of romantic relationships, and more.
Solomon, 57, described his exhibition at the National Library (Nalis) in Port of Spain, 3 of 30 – My Evolving Journey, as an interconnected memoir of his journey and evolution over 30 years as a professional photographer, highlighting works with film and digital cameras, and his skill with raw and retouched images.
The exhibition came about last year when, after taking some shots from the President’s House, he noticed the sunset. He immediately drove to the International Waterfront and started to take photos. He wanted to see how far he could push the boundaries of the tools at his disposal, and the result was a “pleasant surprise.”
“I like expanding the field of view of the camera, so I did this in three panoramas, overlapping each other, and brought it together, cleaned it up and enhanced it to bring out the details in Photoshop. It’s called a multi-layered panorama.”
He posted the photo on social media and got an outpouring of positive reactions, including a request for a four-by-six-foot print. One reaction was from the chairman of Nalis, Neil Parsanlal, who invited him to exhibit at the Port of Spain library.
“It was an opportunity I thought I should not miss, because this year I am also celebrating my 30th year as a professional photographer.
For him, 3 of 30 is "a journey, one of the many journeys of evolution, growth, learning and understanding my resilience, gratitude, and looking around and seeing, my goodness, angels do exist and the universe has my back.”
In it, Solomon shows his range in terms of themes – buildings, landscape, nature, still life, wedding shots, portraits, mas – and techniques such as panoramic and light painting, with both film and digital cameras.
He said he has been a photographer long enough and enjoys it enough to expand his horizons. He describes himself as a purist when it comes to retouching photos, and prefers to pose and light his subjects, using his camera to create the effect he wants, but also has the tools to edit his photos and knows how to use them.
Born and raised in San Fernando, Solomon was the first of three children to “very Catholic” parents. He explained his father, Steve Solomon, was a monk at The Abbey of Our Lady of Exile, Mount St Benedict, for about five years. He was involved in social work with the Society of St Vincent de Paul and received The Hummingbird Medal Silver national award for his work in 1990.
When he came out of the Abbey, he met Solomon’s mother, Imelda Solomon, but she was going into Holy Name Convent where she spent five years as a nun. When she came out, they met again and were married.
“It was a pretty middle class life growing up experience. I wanted to be a pilot when I was young. I had a fascination with planes but I found myself working in finance via the credit union movement, something I was also very much fascinated with – the approach to banking and finance.”
At age 21, Solomon started working at Cathedral Credit Union before moving to Eastern Credit Union at age 23, which was where his photographic journey started.
At Eastern, photography was part of his duties in the marketing department. He shadowed a senior photographer there, and he grew to love the art. He recalled that his co-workers kept telling clients to turn their hobbies into an extra stream of income, so he did, getting a few freelance jobs.
But he told Sunday Newsday that, in 1992, he was trying to figure out what to do with his life, as he was not happy in his job, so he went on a seven-day “pilgrimage,” hiking to and around the Paria waterfalls with his camera.
As he was taking photos of the falls, he remembered the advice of artist Boscoe Holder and art dealer Mark Pereira to put a human figure in the photo. So he set up his camera, stripped naked, sat near the waterfall and got the shot.
The photograph, which he called Adam, was the first with which he won a competition as a professional. Now, Paria waterfalls is a source of spiritual inspiration for him.
“That photograph, Adam, confirmed to me that I was on the right path.”
So he resigned from the credit union and went into freelance photography full-time. He worked at an ad agency and construction companies, then the Guardian and Independent newspapers.
He later got a job as a photographer on a cruise ship, where he worked for 13 years before spending a year in Poland. Since he had difficulty getting work there, he returned to TT in 2010, certain he would "make something of himself."
He collaborated with Nexus Studios, where he led mentoring sessions for young photographers, since there were no “seniors” extending themselves to share their knowledge.
Then, in 2011, he drove past the spot where OAS Construtora would start building the Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension to Point Fortin. He saw all the equipment in a field and decided to take some photos. He later learned that was the day the contractor had started work on the project.
Not sure what to do with the photos, he contacted the entities on the nearby signs, and nine months later he was hired as the company’s official photographer. From 2012-2016, he was the eyes of the project as he photographed the progress of the highway.
In 2013 he began RAPSO Imaging Ltd, a full-service photo studio, with his partner, doing photography for and printing yearbooks, cushion covers, tea towels, napkins, mugs and more.
In 2020, he left the personal aspect of his partnership behind. He speaks of that split in dramatic terms, and says he was in such despair that he made a suicide attempt.
He started again, and was looking forward to “wonderful” photography prospects when he began getting calls cancelling jobs because of covid19. Fortunately, he collaborated with his former partner to make cloth masks and earn a living.
When the business was handed over to him fully, he had to find a way to make it survive. He said he went through many challenges and even more healing to let go of his hurt feelings, because he could not take all that negative energy with him into the future.
It was tough, but during that time, he said, "I learnt a lot about myself. I learned about my resilience, I learned about my creativity. I now call that time ‘freedom to create.’
“I would like to point out that the darker sides are being shared, not with malice, but as a testament to others who may be going through similar to what I have gone through, that I stand here today because I believed that better days are always ahead; if one believes that it will be so.
“To anyone contemplating taking that action (suicide), I say, ‘Look at me.’ I know what that darkness and despair is like.
"But you know what? Things will always get better. Choose life.”
Eventually, photographic opportunities presented themselves and he won a number of competitions. The latest was in February 2021, when he won the UNity Photo and Art Competition, professional photography category, organised by the European Union and the Photographers Guild.
The theme he chose was Unity in Diversity and Stronger Together. The photo was of multiple coloured strands of yarn coming together to form a thick braided cord which was securely wrapped around an arm. Solomon said he plans to create an entity, the Humanity’s Lifeline project, to sell copies of the image. Fifty per cent of the proceeds would go to the charity of the buyer’s choice and 25 per cent to the charity of his choice.
He has no idea where life would take him in the future, but may write a book of his adventures and have another solo exhibition. He also has an offer on The World cruise ship, mentoring guests in improving their photographic images at the various ports of call.
“And now it is with a joyful heart, filled with love, compassion and continued forgiveness, that I say a sincere thank you to my enemies for creating situations that pushed me to go beyond the status quo, to go beyond my comfort zone, where I found many more opportunities to evolve, grow and create.”
The exhibition 3 of 30 – My Evolving Journey, managed by Horizons Art Gallery, will continue until March 18 at the Nalis News and Media Room, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain. It includes 64 pieces for sale, with others simply for viewing pleasure.
"James Solomon exhibits professional evolution at Nalis"