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UJ UJ AIM EYE FOR T H E T R O P I C S TOURISM, PHOTOGRAPHY, AND FRAMING THE CARIBBEAN Krista A. Thompson Durham and London Duke University Press, 2007 In An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque, Krista A. Thompson rightly observes that, over the last decade, there has been a slew of publications dedicated to photographic representation of the Caribbean. In title, books such as Bygone Barbados (1998), Reminiscing: Memories of Old Nassau (1999), and A Journey of Memories: A Memorable Tour of Trinidad and Tobago (2000), announce their intentions to nostalgically commemorate the visualization of the Caribbean's colonial era. Thompson, an art historian who takes the opposite tack in An Eye for the Tropics, rightly asks "what do these originally tourism-oriented postcards and photographs of the AngloCaribbean signify, in their newest resting place, for local residents?"1 For Thompson, the answer lies amid the reasons for making these objects in the first place. She writes: The contemporary interest in postcards from yesteryear, I argue, relates to local needs and desires for a society like the one pictured on many of the tourism-oriented photographs—a safe, disciplined, and picturesque Locale. In the face of a number of postcolonial discontents and challenges, these touristic images act as visual placebos, assuring many local residents of the redemptive possibilities of their own nations.2 Through her analysis of postcards and tourist promotional images of Jamaica and the Bahamas, in particular, Thompson uncovers the desire and will of nineteenth- and twentieth-century photographers to proffer the Caribbean as a resolutely tropical and exotic space. Thompson investigates the development of the Caribbean picturesque , a discourse that, unsurprisingly, has things in common with the British picturesque, an aesthetic applied to the English countryside during the eighteenth century. It is not so much that these landscapes on opposite sides of the Atlantic were framed and experienced in the same ways, because they were not. Instead, Thompson argues, it is significant that the picturesque was meant to reassure those who sought to control both these spaces that they were timeless, inviting terrains , untroubled by modern phenomena —whether the industrial revolution in Britain or the social and political movements for independence throughout the Caribbean. Inspired by the conceptual approaches of literature and geography scholars who focus upon the English, French, and Spanish-speaking Caribbean , Thompson adopts the terms "tropicalization" or "tropicality" to describe: the complex visual systems through which the islands were imaged for tourist consumption and the social and political implications of these representations on actual physical space on the islands and their inhabitants. . . . It characterizes how, despite the geological diversity within "the tropics" and even in a single Caribbean island, a very particular concept of what a tropical island should look like developed in the visual economies of tourism3 Although Thompson considers tropicality when evident in the noteworthy paintings of the Caribbean by Martin Johnson Heade and Winslow Homer, her principal interest in An Eye for the Tropics is in photography as "a tool of social discipline and regulation."4 Attentive to visual regimes (as are all scholars who follow Michel Foucault, Jonathan Crary, and John Tagg), Thompson inspects studio photography of Caribbean "types," such as the black female vendor of Jacob Frank Coonley's albumen print On the Way to Market (1888-1904) and its revision in a 1910 204* N k a Journal of Contemporary African Art postcard bearing the caption, "On the Way to Market, Nassau." As Thompson notes, CoonLey surrounds his posed subject, the Bahamian turkey vendor Lizzie Anderson, with palm fronds—a bluntly inserted prop for the photo's interior setting. In both photo and postcard, Anderson is pictured with a live turkey in her arms and several more sitting in a wooden basket balanced atop her head. The postcard presents a more tightly cropped picture of Anderson, better to focus viewer attention on her as a fulsome symbol of Caribbean abundance, fecundity, and productivity. That this goal and others were achieved are underscored by the sender's handwritten message on the postcard Thompson reproduces in her text: "This picture is natural, Everything is carried around on head in wooden trays...


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pp. 204-205
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