Glenroy Chapman is ebullient and confident, with a touch of exclusivity. And for good reason. His photography has been lauded for its originality and sheer brilliance. “Everybody has a camera,” he says, but he adds that photography is an art—not easily duplicated. He even likens himself to the great ones—the Picassos and Van Goghs—if only for their originality. “When Picasso did his cubism, everyone thought he was overly eccentric and disconnected. Only later was he and others like him truly appreciated.” Chapman is concerned that creativity is being sacrificed. “I shudder to see how much computers have changed the face of photography. No one wants to think any more. Everybody wants their photographs doctored. It’s all about cosmetics and airbrushing,” Chapman laments.
This is a reality that this Trinidad-born artist must face. And there is little he can do about it. “At first I resisted, but in order to progress I have to change and adapt. If not, I would become a dinosaur.” Chapman’s latest New Jersey exhibition, Art in Motion, is abstract, colourful and urbane. In fusing photography with suminagashi—an old form of marbling developed in China some 2,000 years ago, Chapman distinguishes himself from the field. On his technique, Chapman remains taciturn. “I use paints that flow and spread over a water surface to create spectacular images.” On the rest of the technique, involving the photographic aspect, he remains tight-lipped. As a former US soldier working on the formidable Chinook helicopters, Chapman was fortunate to see the world and hone his skills. He boasts of collections from Turkey, Paris, England, the Mediterranean, Haiti and the Alps. He has always been a photography aficionado.
“I was the guy who captured the moments at every family function—even as a boy.” With a background in technical drawing from John Donaldson Technical Institute, Chapman was on his way by the time he migrated to the US 25 years ago. But it was 9/11 that revolutionised his vision of his craft. “People wanted pictures of the area, of the tragic moments. Not drawings, but pictures. It dawned on me the importance of capturing time, place and moments.” In Haiti, he captured Port-au-Prince just before the devastating earthquake in 2010. Chapman plans to make his way home. That, he promised his mother for his 50th birthday.
“I have to see my mom,” he says, but he also savours the sights of his native land. “Have you ever been to Mt St Benedict?” he asks. He has plans not only to visit Trinidad but also to open his very own art gallery. Big dreams. But realisable. This Belmont lad is proud of his accomplishments, no doubt. But, then again, who wouldn’t be?
Dr Glenville Ashby is a New York-based author and journalist.