“Why isn’t mummy here?”
This is a question that often comes from the tiny lips of four-year-old Danielle Ramsoomair.
Fashion models in magazines or on billboards almost always look perfect. The intent is for you to feel very much a part of that picture when you look at it—bringing what’s still, to life. This is the challenge that excites London-based Trinidadian photographer Donald Michael Chambers.
Without formal training, the 35-year-old has proven that sometimes talent is all you need.
Chambers is affiliated with Elite Model Management, one of the world’s most prestigious model management agencies. And in a recent interview on the Elite web site, he opened up about his influences, early years as a photographer and the ups and downs of life in the fashion industry. The nephew of former politician and Olympian Wendell Mottley has certainly written his own chapters—as he hasn’t pursued his career in the conventional way.
He told Elite his passion for photography was sparked while doing his BA in International Relations, at the Ohio Wesleyan University in the US. He used disposable cameras to record the memories of the relationships and good times he forged during the four years there.
“I was passionate about photography for quite some time, but could never shake the self-doubt of whether this was something I could actually do and be okay at,” he said. “While holding a regular nine to five job, I took lots of pictures of family members and friends and spent hours watching YouTube tutorials.
I went home to Trinidad one year and photographed our Carnival. If you have not been, the colours and energy of this event make it a photographer's dream."
What happened next would shock Chambers. Shortly after returning to London, he attended a photo fair hosted by photography company Canon. He went armed with a portfolio made up mostly of those Carnival images.
At the fair he met Susie Grelt, an editor at Getty Images, who obviously fell in love with what she saw, because Chambers left the event with a contract.
"I was expecting constructive criticism and guidance. I got a contract! I was shocked, excited, and what I guess felt was most important at the time—validated," he told Elite.
He soon gave up his nine to five job and turned his attention to making a living from photography.
Photographers like Tim Hetherington, Annie Leibovitz, Darren Filkins, Michael Heffernan and Guy Aroch have been sources of inspiration and he believes that the photographer’s connection with the model on set is what makes a great shoot and by extension, great photos.
When asked who he would most want to photograph, actress Liv Tyler was his pick.
"She’s a gorgeous woman with stunning features who comes across as having a very dynamic spirit. It would be a dream to capture all of that on camera and in my own way," said Chambers.
Chambers was initially interested in documentary photography, but after spending more time learning the nuances of photography he was drawn towards fashion photography.
"I was attracted by the creativity it offered and all the elements of production, art and lifestyle that went into the making of a fashion image," said Chambers.
He said despite all the negative feedback he received about fashion photography being unrewarding and too much work, he followed his heart anyway.
Chambers who also holds a Masters in Mass Communications, never thought he would have a career in photography.
But he has no regrets, and in a brief telephone interview with the T&T Guardian he wants to come back to Trinidad and pass on his knowledge of photography.
"I was home last year and I did some work for Heather Jones and Peter Elias. I am always open to coming back home. As a matter of fact, I have been contacted by some who would like me to host workshops for up and coming photographers. It's a good thing and it's possible," he said.
For those wanting to get into photography, Chambers had a mouthful of advice: "Make a good business model at the very start; spend hours researching and learning. Find a good photographer become their assistant and see what you learned and more being put into practice; don't let self-doubt keep you back. I'm not sure that my self-doubt will ever leave but I use it to keep pushing me to get better and better. You have one life to live - live it, love it and enjoy it; and try a scotch with coconut water before you die."
Models: Nancy Serle, Henry Shoebrook, Paul Kerr, Tom Watts (London), Bre Romeo and Soowan Bramble (Trinidad)
Hair and make-up: Francesca Perren, Tamara Tott (London), Shannon Cockburn and Kelly Finnerty
Styling: Kyanisha Morgan (London), Renee Boatswain.
Photos: Donald Michael Chambers, with assistance from Renee Boatswain (Trinidad)