Trinidad and Tobago is a twin island nation located in the Caribbean just off the coast of Venezuela. This island nation is composed of people of many different races, colors, creeds, religions and cultural backgrounds with roots in Africa, India, Europe, and Asia amongst others.
The Carnival in this nation is comparable to no other and truly deserves the title “The Greatest Show On Earth”. It is a high-spirited celebration of creative energy that will leave one in awe and wonder.
Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago brings together nearly all aspects of their unique cultural identity – music, language, religion, folk-lore, traditions, humor, political satire and more. It blends and weaves all these aspects in an out-of-this-world energetic technicolor blitz presented through masquerading, street theatre, incredibly elaborate costumes, nation wide partying, music and dance.
Many nations celebrate Carnival but not to the extent as Trinidad, where it is not merely a two day event. Two days mark the culmination of a year’s work of preparation, design, and organization. Carnival is deeply engrained in the heart and soul of the culture and lifestyle and mirrors the national identity.
“Carnival” comes from the word “Carnevale” which means “Farewell to the Flesh” and was started by the European Catholics. The Catholics in Italy started these festivals of wearing masks and fancy costumes and held fancy balls. This spread to other nations in Europe such as Spain and France. The French arrived in Trinidad during the 18th century, which was a time of colonialism and slavery.
Slaves started to imitate their owners’ behavior by holding their own carnivals and parodying their masters. When they were emancipated in the 19th century, they continued this tradition and carried it to the streets where it became more elaborate and creative.
Their costumes came from their own rituals and folklore. Some of the costumes seen in these photographs can take up to an entire year to create and are made at “Mas Camps”, which is short for “Masquerade Camps”. To “Play Mas” as they say, is to “Participate in Masquerading on the streets of Trinidad”, which manifests itself as a form of theatre in the street. Their costumes incorporate face paint, steel, mud, beads, glitter, feathers, paper mache, fabric, wire and much more. Size and elaboration of costumes are not factors in preventing masqueraders from jumping, performing and dancing their hearts out to Soca and Calypso music in the streets.
There are also numerous competitions held for such titles as Carnival Band Of The Year, King of Carnival, Queen Of Carnival, Soca Monarch, and numerous others.
For this specific series and body of work, the focus is on street portraits of the Traditional Carnival characters such as “The Moko Jumbies / Stilt Walkers”, Blue Devils, Fancy Sailors, Jab Jabs, The Bat, and “Fancy Indians”. There are also elements presented which depict various historical and cultural significance to Trinidad Carnival such as J’ouvert, Kings and Queens Of Carnival and more. The objective was to capture the emotional, physical and spiritual energy of Carnival and masquerading with a good cross section of costumes depicting cultural variety, designs, traditions and folklore that inhabit and have inhabited the island nation.