The Bahamian government’s Public Treasury is putting Bahamian art on the stage with an upcoming exhibition, “Bahama Mama,” featuring the works of female Bahamian artists and the way they see the women of the island. One of the featured artists is England native Lyndah Wells, a Freeport-based photographer who is one of a burgeoning group of up-and-coming Bahamian artists whose work is getting them noticed across the region. Caribbean Journal talked to Wells about how she got into photography, the state of art in the country, and shooting in the Bahamas.
How did you end up in the Bahamas?
I came here on vacation 10 years ago, on a 10-day vacation while I was in college with two girlfriends. I think on the third day, I was introduced to my now-husband. So that’s how I first came to the Bahamas – I hadn’t been to the Caribbean before.
What did you do before you were a photographer?
I studied furniture design at London Metropolitan University in London, and then I did residential and interior design at HE Design School, which is also in London. So I combined the two and was a freelance interior designer.
How did you break into photography?
Photography was a course that I had done whilst I was in college, and it was funny, because I never considered myself a photographer at all. I had a little point-and-shoot camera. When I moved to the Bahamas, I was introduced to a guy that worked in media called Dave Mackie, who does film as well as photography. One day, he asked me to assist him on an interiors shoot, and I remember that shoot took almost six hours – it was so detailed and it was in this beautiful penthouse suite. My interest in design was just completely awakened. And he said to me, “Linda, you have such a great eye, I think you should take some photographs.” And after that day, I said, I’m going to save up and buy my own camera, and I did. And that’s how I got into photography. I think I’d had the camera for three months when I had a girlfriend come to my house, and I spent all day styling makeup and shooting her – and when I put the pictures out the response was just amazing. That’s when I knew that people liked what I did.
Is shooting in the Bahamas different in any way?
It is. Definitely there is more available light here, so shooting outdoors is, for me, almost a must. I love shooting with natural light. I do try to set up shoots around the time when the light is always going to be the best. So that is one aspect that is different – when I shot an editorial in Lagos, Nigeria, that was definitely different from shooting over here. The dynamic of everything – the models, the way it works, the stylists and makeup artists, and wardrobe, it’s definitely different. Shooting in the Bahamas, just the light is different, and for me, that’s the most major thing – the light.
Talk about the Bahama Mama programme.
It took me a long time to decide what I wanted to submit, and to decide what Bahama Mama meant to me, because I have that type of work. I’d just had a baby, and didn’t have time to go out and shoot something new. I’m also working on a book, with a foundation here in Grand Bahama, and I had some images of women – I’ve been photographing women for about a year now, and I had some unpublished images that no one had seen and thought, well, it’d be nice to use these for the exhibition. I submitted these two pieces that I’ve taken with the interviews that I’ve been doing with Bahamian women for the past year or so. Because Bahama Mama, to me, when I first came here – the first thing that Bahama Mama meant to me was a really great drink, that didn’t taste like it had alcohol but could get you drunk. But then you find out it’s a term for a big, motherly Bahamian woman. So that stuck in my mind – I know it means a lot of things to a lot of different women. But for me personally, it means that protector, that mother, that you can go in her arms and she’ll comfort you. That’s what it meant to me.
How much interaction is there between artists in Freeport and Nassau?
It’s funny, because I remember being in Freeport, I used to look on the websites and Facebook of these artists in Nassau, and was like, oh, I wish they knew me, I wish I could talk to them. Because as an artist, you’re always a little unsure of your work. Sometimes it’s nice to talk to other artists and collaborate. I remember always thinking, they’re over there, and I’m over here. But then I would reach out and try to contact one or two of them, just simply saying how much I liked their work. And one of the first photographers I reached out to was Scharad Lightbourne, and it was funny, because he had heard of me, and I didn’t think anybody had heard of me or knew of my work. So I slowly became involved in that Nassau scene. I traveled to Nassau a lot, I keep in touch with them, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be featured in some magazines, and I’ve worked with some fashion editors in Nassau, so I go over every November for Fashion Week.
How would you describe the difference between the two cities?
The Nassau art scene is definitely more vibrant than Freeport. Freeport is slightly older, the artists here are slightly older and more established, whereas Nassau is very young and up-and-coming and new and fresh. I’m trying to associate more with that – not that there’s anything wrong with being older and more established.
How much has the art culture changed in the Bahamas since you first arrived?
It’s definitely more eclectic. They’re seeing more that it’s okay to be quirky. I hate the term “thinking outside of the box” because everybody says it, but I think it’s definitely changed now. I know that the Bahamas does a lot of pageants, but it does open a lot of young girls to the idea that they can possibly model. This helps me all around – because I get better styling, better clothes – the makeup artists are doing different things. In the 10 years I’ve been coming here, and the six years I’ve lived here, it’s definitely different.
How much interaction is there in the art world between the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands?
With art, it’s difficult to say. To be honest, I haven’t seen that much – living here in Freeport, I’ve seen exhibitions here with Haitian artists, but I haven’t really seen too much. Like I said, there’s an established, older art scene here, and you have patrons that will bring in guests artists from around the world, but not really from the Caribbean. They’re from China, or Austria. Apart from Haiti, I haven’t seen any from the rest of the Caribbean. I can’t say the same for Nassau, because I don’t live there, but I remember I was there and there was an exhibition by Jamaican artists. So I don’t know that there’s much of the interaction between artists and the Bahamas. But there could be.
The Public Treasury is sponsoring the Bahama Mama programme – how much does the government work with art in the country?
This Public Treasury initiative is amazing. It really, really is, because I have not seen the government sort of get involved in art like this – since I’ve been here, it’s always been private individuals and this is really, really great. This is really the first time [the government has been involved] – the way I see it, but they’re really doing it in a big way. It’s all mainly to do with [curator] Keisha [Cole], who has come and really lit the fire underneath them.