Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Caught on camera


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Clyde Jones’ camera has taken him places where his mere ID would probably not have – as his recently published book The Man And His Camera would indicate.
With expressive language and facial gestures, Jones took Easy magazine on his impressive journey from Sugar Hill in St Joseph to the corridors of the United Nations and landmark national events in Barbados, into the social lives of Barbadian diplomats and other national figures in New York with his camera.
He has been the photographer of choice for many a local dignitary and personality and hilariously related his experiences behind the camera lens when he talked about the book in which many of them are captured – photographs of dignitaries and events he has covered over the past four decades.
Clyde’s venture into photography was accidental, his curiosity first aroused when he picked up a little box camera he had seen lying in a corner at a friend’s house and began playing around with it. He was invited to take it, since his friend no longer had any use for the camera. Now he is a well known and popular professional.
“I have to give Mike Williams credit for starting me out as a photographer. Mike was into photography and he said  ‘Clyde, I am going to give you some tips on photography . . . . I set up a dark room and Mike used to come there and give me the ins and outs of photography and I grew interested and excited,” Clyde told Easy magazine.
It was a new, exciting area of interest for young Jones, who worked as a sales clerk in a retail business in Bridgetown on leaving school.
People have sometimes reacted in disbelief on learning of his Cuban birth, but when he flashes a Cuban passport, there is the proof that his Barbadian parents did have their son in Cuba before returning here to live.
Clyde’s father Dudley Jones was a well known Prison officer at HM Prisons, Glendairy, and so devoted to the job that on retirement, his desire was that the eldest of his four sons would step into his shoes. He had high hopes that another Jones would perpetuate the Jones’ name at the prison.
But to his father’s disappointment Nicki Jones said outright he was not going.
“I told my father if my eldest brother is not doing it, I did not want to disrespect him, so I went to the prison.” His circle of influential friends thought he was mad to serve as a prison warden but today Clyde says with satisfaction, “I spent five years as an officer at Her Majesty’s prisons and I have not regretted it.”
He told about watching other Glendairy guards wielding power, flashing the truncheons they carried in intimidating fashion, while he opted for the role of counsellor to his charges.
And for what his fellow prison officers considered too close an association with prisoners, he was reported to the Superintendent of Prisons, subsequently charged with undue familiarity with the inmates, tried before Justice Hilton Vaughan and fined ten shillings.
In the five years he worked at Glendairy, he witnessed two hangings “and it was not a good sight.”
The time eventually came when he would be the prison officer called upon to escort a condemned man to the gallows.  “I was told it was my job, I had to hold his hand, take him to the gallows, and put him on the trap door.”
That man was the friend he had known before becoming a condemned murderer and sentenced to death, and one of the inmates with whom Clyde used to interact. “I told the Superintendent of Prisons I will not be responsible for no man’s death and I resigned from the job.”
He found work again as supervisor of roadworks with the department of Highways and Transport.
However the opportunity to capitalize on his limited knowledge of photography came with the offer of a job as an aerial photographer with the High Altitude Research project (HARP).
This was a joint initiative between the American and Canadian Defence departments in which a giant gun was being erected at Paragon in Christ Church. Clyde could not believe it when he was encouraged to apply for the job. 
Taking advantage of the HARP experience, he decided the time had come for formal training in photography. Clyde quit HARP, migrated to Montreal and entered Montreal’s Institute of Photography. The year was 1964 and armed with certification after one year of study, he headed for New York.
The Barbadian community in New York proved to be fertile ground for photographs and tidbits about the diaspora, news he submitted back home to the Barbados Advocate in the early years.
Still, there was a missing element. He recognized if he were to master the editorial  writing necessary to match the photography, it would be advantageous to have some journalism training and  he enrolled in journalism courses at New York University. Not long after he became the North American photo journalist for the Barbados Advocate, writing a column for 20 years.
In a popular meeting place around the area of Fulton and Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, a favourite haunt of many Barbadians, he found many a story. This material sustained his column Northern Lights for The Nation newspaper.
The name Clyde Jones became widely known in the diaspora and he observed that “ambassadors, distinguished people, they love the publicity. . . ”. He obliged and the panoply of faces and personalities displayed in The Man And His Camera give some idea of the prolific coverage he has given to social events in New York, Barbados and elsewhere.
Speaking at the launch of his book at Frank Collymore Hall recently, retired Barbados and New York banker Senator Tony Marshall described Clyde as “the unappointed ambassador-at-large for Barbados”.
For the photojournalist, life with Thelma, the retired Wall Street banker to whom he has been married for 38 years, provides the necessary balance between a hectic life on the international photographic trail and the respite he finds during the frequent escapes he makes from New York to their Christ Church home.


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