Two days of copyright talks later…

Reporting from the NCC hosted seminars on Copyright held on July 16 & 17 2014 at the VIP Lounge at the Grandstand, Queen's Park Savannah. Originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on July 28.
Jorgen Blomqvist, Danish copyright expert (right), with Dr Lincoln Douglas, left and Ms Allison Demas, Chairman, NCC (centre) at the National Seminar on Copyright in the Carnival Industry hosted by the NCC last week at the Grandstand, Queen’s Park Savannah. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

MWL_20140716_9231 - Sonia Cruickshank, Senior Program Officer, Copyright Development Division of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva, speaks at the National Seminar on Copyright in the Carnival Industry hosted by the NCC last week at the Grandstand, Queen’s Park Savannah. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.
MWL_20140716_9247 -
MWL_20140716_9264 - Richard Aching, Manager, Technical Examination of the Intellectual Property Office in Port of Spain speaks at the National Seminar on Copyright in the Carnival Industry hosted by the NCC last week at the Grandstand, Queen’s Park Savannah. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.
MWL_20140717_9340 - Senator Anthony Viera speaks at the National Seminar on Copyright in the Carnival Industry hosted by the NCC last week at the Grandstand, Queen’s Park Savannah. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.
MWL_20140717_9369 - Dr Vanus James, economist, presents his study of Carnival and his recommendations for nurturing the economy at the National Seminar on Copyright in the Carnival Industry hosted by the NCC last week at the Grandstand, Queen’s Park Savannah. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

“As with bicycles, if you don’t own it, you can’t sell it.” - Jorgen Blomqvist.

Last week the National Carnival Commission played host to two days of seminars on the topic of copyright in Carnival.
What was planned was a definitive airing of the legalities, restrictions and realities of copyright as it is applied to the national festival.
What emerged was some anger, some confusion and a lot of uncertainty about exactly how copyright should be effectively applied to the management, protection and effective exploitation of the annual event.

Sonia Cruickshank, Senior Program Officer, Copyright Development Division of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva.
Both Sonia Cruickshank, Senior Program Officer, Copyright Development Division of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva and Jorgen Blomqvist, a well regarded copyright expert from Copenhagen who was described as a contributor to the Works of Mas addendum to the T&T copyright act, sought to bring some basic understanding and common agreement on basic copyright concepts as they are applied to the many interests in Carnival.

Cruickshank noted in her opening address that “copyright protects original expression,” and that protection extends for the life of the author plus fifty years. There is no registration needed for new works, but the burden to prove authorship rests with the creator.
Things began to warm up during this session after the WIPO representative explained the difference between an idea and execution as separate concepts under law.

In Cruickshank’s example, which drew the first murmurs from the crowded VIP lounge at the Grandstand, the sketched design of a jacket can be copyrighted but the finished product is only protected under industrial design laws, which protect the look of an object (but not its operation) for 15 years.
In addition, there is a need to protect such designs and trademarks in each jurisdiction in which they are used, a key issue for bandleaders and performers who work outside of T&T after the Carnival season.

After Richard Aching, Manager, Technical Examination of the Intellectual Property Office in Port of Spain showed a hugely embarrassing video of Trinidad Carnival, presented to WIPO to explain the Works of Mas concept, he proceeded to offer earnest homage to the traditional forms of Carnival, largely absent from that video and either on the verge of disappearing or in severe decline, as examples of creative works clearly protected by the Works of Mas clause of the T&T copyright act.

Both Cruickshank and Aching had stepped gingerly around the possibility that most of the costumes produced for Carnival may not be distinctive enough to be protected as original works.
It wasn’t the first example of the disconnect between the technocrats overseeing Carnival’s copyright and the artists and performers it is supposed to protect to emerge over the 16 hours of seminars, but this early in the game, it was telling.

Richard Aching, Manager, Technical Examination of the Intellectual Property Office in Port of Spain.
According to Aching, under the umbrella of industrial design protection, where the legal protection for costumes properly belongs, there have been exactly two costumes registered to date.
For most, it’s already too late, because such protection must be applied for when the work is less than 12 months old.

The IPO manager, who operates out of the Ministry of Legal Affairs, explained that design solutions and devices in the mas camp may prove useful and profitable if they solve problems in other industries and should be protected.

Jorgen Blomqvist, an astute and careful reader of the tone of the local conversation tread carefully when noting that the Works of Mas clause was an example of Sui Generis (class of its own) rights under international copyright conventions and those haven’t tended to work out particularly well.

He noted that one effort to create a class of copyright for computer programs never materialised and another for databases never caught on. In both cases, a careful and specific reading of mainstream copyright law proved a better and more sustainable option.

“Sui Generis rights regimes collapse,” Blomqvist noted, “You should rethink your copyright law and reconsider.”
Blomqvist would be the first to explain the difference between performances and fixed recordings under copyright law, and it would take repeating by Senator Anthony Viera and Brazil’s Daniel Campello Queiroz before it began to sink in that street parades are not something that can be protected under copyright.

Blomqvist offered the World Cup as an example, noting that a game of football can’t be copyrighted, but access to the stadium can be controlled and the right to record can be constrained through contractual arrangements.
“The football game may not be protected, but a television production of it is a work of authorship,” Blomqvist noted.

“The right that’s sold is not copyright, it is a contractual agreement that grants access.”
But such a contract, Blomqvist warned, binds only the parties who sign it.
The status of Works of Mas, would become one of the flashpoints of the first evening and the next day after Dr Vijay Ramlal rose to claim triumphantly that the Government was pursuing the Works of Mas clause as part of a treaty which would identify T&T as the domain country for such designations.

This prompted Dr Lester Efebo Wilkinson to call on the IPO’s Richard Aching to clarify and then to deny the assertion.
The matter would flare up again the next day after Dr Ramlal circulated a document declaring the matter to be still under consideration at the WIPO and once again prompting a response from Dr Wilkinson.

That matter, which threatened to consume the discussion, ended after a lunch time huddle between the parties involved and an agreement that seemed to satisfy the aggrieved parties but meant little to anyone in the room beyond that exalted circle.

That seemed to be the tone of far too many of the discussions, a focus on high-level governance issues that were abstractions to the creators who hope to be protected by this legislation.
The scale of the disconnect also seemed to affect NCC Chairman Allison Demas who asked the panel at one point, “What about the designers? We don’t seem to be talking about them at all.”

For that matter, nobody seemed to be talking about creators at all, beyond their nebulous presence as creators of copyrightable works and the whole event remained determinedly focused on business and legislators, which left the few actual mas creators in the audience quite annoyed when their turn came at the microphone.
More distractions emerged after the useful though largely parallel discussions about Brazilian carnival introduced by Daniel Campello Queiroz that described a Carnival proscribed by business concerns that may look and sound like T&T’s street party but is quite different (see below).

Senator Anthony Viera
Senator Anthony Viera offered some hard legal facts to the audience during the second day’s sessions that caused some raised eyebrows.
With a brisk, pointed style, he noted that in T&T, the precedent is English common law and there is no right to privacy. Anyone can take a photograph of a person in a public place.
There is also no law prohibiting the publication of a person’s likeness in an advertisement. Advertisers and the media have a gentleman’s agreement not to do so.

A performer has no intellectual property rights in a performance, only the right to be identified and to not have their performance “distorted.”
It’s only when that performance is fixed, in a still photograph or video recording that it becomes a copyrightable property.
In exploiting such properties, the copyright act notes that consent must be given by the performer or subject, but doesn’t explain how that consent should be given.

These points, rather colourfully raised by the unusually blunt lawyer, got Peter Minshall to his feet for the third time during the event to speak on behalf of the creators who seemed destined to be ants in this elephant’s party of legal speak.

Dr Vanus James, economist.
That wouldn’t change in the closing talk of the event, an engagingly presented but hopelessly dense explanation by economist Dr Vanus James on the steps that need to be taken to develop the Carnival industry.

By then, it was way too much for an audience buffeted by revelations, complications and an engagement with a Carnival culture that’s always seemed similar to our own that turns out to have entirely different organisational DNA.
The next step for this worthwhile engagement with Carnival copyright issues would be wider dissemination of the recordings and papers prepared for this event, which need to be seen and considered by more Carnival practitioners before they can begin to grapple with the enormity of Dr James’recommendations for the future.

About Brazil’s Carnival
Daniel Campello Queiroz, Brazilian copyright expert, explains the rights and corporate dispensation of Carnival in his country at the National Seminar on Copyright in the Carnival Industry hosted by the NCC last week at the Grandstand, Queen’s Park Savannah. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

Brazil’s Carnival may have elaborate costumes, pretty girls in skimpy outfits and hard driving dance music in common with T&T, but the two events are quite different things.
Copyright lawyer Daniel Campello Queiroz was upfront that his perspective was business and not culture, but his insight into understanding Brazil’s Carnival proved invaluable.

The Brazilian government has no role at all in the annual event, and it’s largely driven by the involvement of GloboTV, the privately owned multimedia conglomerate that oversees the keynote performances of the samba schools at the Sambadrome.

Virtually everything about the event involves a collective assignment of rights. Performers get their costumes for free (except for tourists who pay for the privilege to participate), but they assign their rights to the samba school.
The Samba schools assign their rights, which include those of the song created each year for them, to LIESA, the Independent League of Samba Schools, which negotiates with GloboTV and other bodies that exploit the music and ancillary products that are now emerging as potential sources of revenue.

It’s not a perfect arrangement. The Samba schools are struggling to improve their income through alternative revenue streams and there are cultural strains as well, but Brazil pulls in a million tourists just for Carnival every year, a T&T’s worth of people arriving to party there. Transparency in dealings with a massive private broadcast company are also an issue.

What’s also clear is that trying to find parallels between the local experience and the Brazilian experience is largely useless beyond getting an insight into what might have happened locally if private enterprise had kept control of Carnival through the latter half of the twentieth century and Government had not taken control.
Brazil doesn’t incur a taxpayer-funded quarter-billion dollar deficit every year to host its Carnival, but it does have really expensive Samba school branded caps.

Despite that, the Samba schools have 60 per cent participation by the poor of the country, rising to 90 per cent in the drum bands that drive the bands along the length of their performances.
There are similarities in the management of rights, in the handling of media access to the Sambadrome to the T&T process, but there are also huge differences, which include the need to clear rights before publishing to social media sites like Facebook, which is considered a commercial use because of Brazil’s more restrictive public privacy rights.

GloboTV’s business model was developed in the 1970’s for football and is enabled and guided by The Pelé Law. Section 42 of the Law 9.615/98, states in rough translation, “to the sports entities belongs the right to negotiate, authorise and prohibit the fixation, transmission or retransmission of image of shows or sporting events which are involved.”

Those transmissions include elaborate live video composites of advertising messages, superimposed over a locked down wide camera position showing the performers in the stadium and the massive audience. In a typical band appearance there are more than two-dozen such visual effects inserts, the lion’s share of which are advertisements.

BitDepth#943 - June 30

Remaking the road to walk
Transport engineer Dr Rae Furlonge (far right) delivers his report to Carnival stakeholders at the Grandstand at the Queen’s Park Savannah last Saturday. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The National Carnival Commission was being congratulated on Saturday for getting started early on the festival’s 800 pound gorilla, the parade route for the bands on Carnival Tuesday.

By the measure of serious Carnival practitioners though, things were actually pretty late. The night before, Harts had hosted the first band launch of the 2015 season, a clear signal that the work of the big bands of the road had been underway long before.

The NCC might well argue in turn that the data collection for Saturday’s meeting began since 2013, when that first effort at measuring the flow of bands on Carnival Tuesday faltered when the GPS data didn’t come up to requirements.

What transport engineer Dr Rae Furlonge presented to a gathering of masmen was an effort at pure science, a tabulation of data collected from bands moving on the route and an engineer’s assessment of optimal solutions to easing the congestion it recorded.

This was the parade of the bands analysed as unyielding data and many of Dr Furlonge’s comments spoke to the gulf between what’s expected and what actually happens when masquerader boots hit the ground.
The most stunning number coming out of that analysis occasioned a bit of play acting as the engineer enlisted volunteers from the audience to demonstrate what a minimum speed of one inch per second translates into in real life.

The speeds measured on the road actually run as fast as six inches per second and average out at four, but as the good doctor’s demonstration made clear, Carnival tends to run at the pace of the slowest bands, not the most nimble.
Among the heresies the transport engineer suggested to his audience were the reversal of the route, a simplified route that dropped downtown Carnival and all his suggestions skipped Piccadilly Greens, a notorious bottleneck for all except the smallest bands participating in full costume on the festival’s big day.

And the concerns weren’t limited to such dramatic changes. At least two representatives of the team that built the Socadrome were startled to find that their project didn’t seem to be factored into either the future planning or the analysis of the flow for Carnival 2014.
A suggestion that vendors be removed from the route to ease the congestion was quickly met by the argument that “without vendors, there is no Carnival!”

As Dr Furlonge observed, the analysis was about time and space and an engineer will always look at capacities, not culture in evaluating the best options.
The data collected in Carnival 2014 is a critical first step in understanding Carnival Tuesday in a way we haven’t before.

Far too many decisions have been made based on assumptions, casual observation and a general acknowledgement of the issues, but now there is hard data that measures what happens with bands on the road and it’s important that it be evaluated and analysed by the widest possible cross section of interested parties.
Minister of Culture Dr Lincoln Douglas observed that taxpayers had spent $289 million on Carnival 2014 and that what was needed from the discussions on the route was answers, a conclusion.

NCC Chairman Allison Demas noted in her opening remarks that the consultation was the first step toward the formation of a Route Development Committee charged with the responsibility of formulating and gaining wide consensus on an approach to manage the congestion of Carnival Tuesday.
That committee now has real world information on the flow of the bands, but it must make decisions on larger issues that aren’t as easy to measure.

Key to understanding the scale of the problem is naming the challenge and it’s still being described incorrectly.
On its surface, the congestion of bands looks like traffic, because there are vehicles are involved moving along prescribed routes. It seems to be a parade, because there are people on the march, but it’s also a show that’s staged at multiple venues.

The congestion of Carnival Tuesday defies ready problem solving because it is, at various times, an event that is all of these things, many of them happening simultaneously.
At heart though, the problem with bands on Carnival Tuesday isn’t a traffic problem, it’s a staging problem and it’s one that’s unique in the world.

Bands are only a parade when they approach a performance venue, the rest of the time they are a ragged, disorganised mob that dances backward as vigorously as they move forward.
They travel along streets that can barely hold their support trucks, far less such vehicles surrounded by hundreds of people.

The staging venues are dictated by historical and cultural imperatives, so resiting them becomes an emotional issue, not an infrastructural one.
For Carnival Tuesday’s Parade of the Bands event to significantly improve, it must travel along the widest, most accessible streets, perform on before sensibly situated and evenly spaced stages that deliver entertainment value to the audiences that patronise them.

It’s probably worth noting here that there came a time when horse racing simply outgrew the facilities at the Savannah. That time came and went for Carnival decades ago and it’s time to face that fact and acknowledge the severity of the decisions that must follow.

The hard and cruel truth is that it may simply not be possible to host a parade of the bands competition in Port-of-Spain anymore and that’s going to be the biggest route development challenge of all.

One. Then five to fifteen.

The New Media panel that closed the first Mas Colloqium. Moderator Marsha Pearce, the author, Saucy Diva and Arnaldo JJ. Photograph by Kenwyn Murray.

I'd honestly thought that I'd written and said everything I could about Carnival 2014, but Kenwyn Murray's invitation to participate on a panel about Carnival, speaking mainly to the young practitioners of the next generation of designers and bandleaders, triggered some thoughts about what exists today.
This was the talk I offered as part of a panel on new media at the first Carnival Studies Mas Colloquium on Mas Aesthetics: Exploring the art of Mas at the Centre for Language and Learning at the University of the West Indies on April 10, 2014.

I have a theory about Carnival, formed entirely through observation over the past seven years that may help us to understand why the event is so poorly supported, so chaotically organized and so challenged to fulfill its potential.

I’ve distilled it down to this. One. Then five to fifteen.

What does this mean?
It’s my growing understanding that almost all of Carnival is governed by tiny groups of motivated people with a clear goal and understanding of their mission who are capable of stirring significant interest in communities around them.

It's likely to be the secret of all success in Trinidad and Tobago, our most successful creatives, athletes and authors working out of the same mindset. It’s either one person, or one person surrounded by a small supporting and engaged group or a tiny group of people with such synchronicity to their shared vision that they seem to move as one.

Crawford pounding along on lonely tracks, barefoot and driven. Strasser painstakingly crafting his famous penny. Naipaul, a bit sulkily and undeniably brilliantly, recalling the idiosyncrasies of his homeland.

I spin this out into Carnival and so many times I find the same thing among the most successful enterprises. Machel and his family unit. Bunji, Sherrif Mumbles, Fay Ann and the band. Tribe, which despite its size, boils down to a unit of family and friends of just under 15 people. The Alfreds of Couva, a small family with a big impact. Phase II, which is either Boogsie or the management team.

This confuses people. Politicians like a constituency, which leads them to do crazy things like put a free music truck on the road.
Businesses want to deal with other businesses, not something that looks like a serious bit of liming.

In the absence of any real understanding of this fundamental element of Carnival's underpinnings, what has been put place is a system of subsidy through appearance fees and an avalanche of finely sliced prizes.  Visit any long term masquerader and you'll see racks of trophies that represent that regime of funding.

This is laziness.  It's payment on delivery, not true support of the creative process.
And it is one of the factors that's undermining the very essence of the festival.
Carnival is not big.  In fact, it is very small.  It comes from passion, from love and from commitment. 

These are not good bottom line assets. They are concepts that are too fuzzy for business, too vote sparse for Government.
It's interesting that I'm telling you this at a discussion that's dedicated to new media, because social networking lubricates and leverages exactly this kind of phenomenon.

We need to stop this determined balkanization of Carnival into creative and party bands.  That didn't work with soca, and the most popular music of Carnival is the poorer for it.
We need to think about introducing more performance into party bands, and putting more organisation and process into creative presentations so that they can scale.

And that will happen when widely divergent minds finally meet to consider alternatives to the status quo. 
I've long believed that if a Minshall band was produced using Tribe's process, there would be no need for any other band.  Ever.

That will happen one to one or in little groups that merge the silo thinking that exists today into new strategies that work to mutual advantage.

One. Then five to fifteen.

Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#929: A Carnival Coda
BitDepth#927: Lessons from the Socadrome
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.

BitDepth#929 - March 25

A Carnival Coda
Rubadiri Victor, who convened the National Citizen’s Conversation on Carnival, speaks during the event at QRC. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay

This column is an edited version of a talk I gave at the National Citizen’s Conversation on Carnival on March 23.

There’s a real possibility, in the rush to post mortem the major missteps of Carnival 2014, that we will make more far reaching mistakes in the planning of future editions of the festival.

We are on the verge of deputizing a cavalcade of cultural Captain Bakers, the now largely-mythical villain of the annual Canboulay performance, to police the boundaries of what is allowed and desirable in a festival that is founded on the idea of the bacchanalian release of intellectual inhibitions.

So many of the issues that surfaced during the celebrations of 2014 arose from exactly that fundamental conflict.
Bands being penalised for having underage celebrants and for starting at the wrong point in the parade route.
Everything about the defiantly privatised Socadrome event.

It’s as if we now believe that Carnival must be continuously subsidized and ruthlessly regulated if we are ever to whip it into shape.
But consider something else. Consider the very heart of Carnival itself, the private urge to present something engaging and creative as a contribution to the festival itself.

The essential motivation that has driven everyone from Minshall to a young Paramin jab jab to do something so outrageous, so startling, so utterly unusual that we are moved to do nothing more that stand stunned and mutter, “well, that is mas.”

Increasingly the idea of what is mas is coming under the same type of scrutiny that porn once did. If it has this aspect to it, and conforms to that other indicator, well it must be the thing we have defined.
Except that like naughty pictures, such definitions end up being determinedly personal. One man’s dirty picture in a museum is another man’s Boticelli.

Such constraints end up becoming narrow, constricting and ultimately futile, because people will satisfy themselves according to their own desires.

To explain this a bit less abstractly, let me tell you a story about how I came to immerse myself in what’s called pretty mas for two years.

On Carnival Tuesday evening in 2007, I found myself stuck for two hours as the band Tribe flowed in front of my car as I waited to drive home.

At first, I was annoyed, then I became furious.
I was tired, sweaty and aching from a long day and wanted nothing more than to reach my house, barely a block away.
Then, I became curious. The band wasn’t being laggardly. Indeed, there were people hustling the surging line of masqueraders forward.

My first response to that became the ninth blog post I ever wrote (there have been hundreds since), but it moved me to get in touch with Dean Ackin, the bandleader. In 2008,
I spent a year photographing how the band put thousands of people on the road.

In 2013, I did the same thing again, curious about how the band, which had tripled in size since then, had scaled its operations and capacities.
Between those stories, I spent a few months with The Original Whipmasters, whose intensely personal approach to playing mas had also fascinated me.

What I found in both cases was, to my continuing surprise and pleasure, almost exactly the same thing.
I found families working together with shared purpose. Tribe is led largely by the Nobrega, Ackin and Ramirez families, their extended households and circle of friends.

The Alfreds of Couva produce their tiny band out of their living room and yard, the family, friends and community pitching in to make the unsponsored band happen each year.
You may see a world of difference in the results of their efforts. I choose to consider similarities in commitment, effort, work and their shared sense of independence.

The bands are wildly different.
The Alfreds don’t charge masqueraders to play with them. It’s less a band than it is a fraternity of common purpose.
Tribe runs a pricey all-inclusive street party behind nylon rope for people who enjoy that experience and see it as their investment in Carnival.

It is not for me to offer judgement on the merits of their respective approaches, and I submit that it is not a matter for you to decide or even argue either.
I cannot say that I understand the nuances of the costumes that fuel the competitive world of frontline pretty mas. I can attest, though, that there are people who are connoisseurs of the form, a hierarchy of preferred designers and real rockstars among them.

My inability to distinguish between one costume and another speaks to my ignorance, not a lack of knowledge or studied craft within the form.
Creative entrepreneurship, regardless of its form or relative maturity should not be a matter for public discussion beyond a general agreement that it should be encouraged and facilitated.

Far more insidious and deadly is the steady encroachment of State funding at staggering levels throughout the festival.
Such investments, poorly accounted for, unjustified by commonsense and liberally granted have more to do with politics and oil money than any strategy of sustainable development in Carnival.

This spending amounts to nothing less than the Cepeping of Carnival, the creation of eat-ah-food opportunities that do nothing for the art within the festival and may, ultimately, smother any real movement for change and evolution within fragile artforms.

The subventions that support traditional mas have created a ghetto of handouts and minimal ones at that, instead of funding the growth of real businesses or creative hotbeds of innovation.

Millions are spent on events that are essentially stadium scale parties. On whose authority is the Soca Monarch or the Chutney Monarch competition convened beyond our own consensus of acceptance, and the participation of the artists involved?

Here's what we should do...
Operate by the simplest of watchwords. Measure what you want to improve. Protect what’s important.

Give the festival room to breathe. Most of the problems of Carnival arise because of congestion and poor management of large crowds through small spaces.

Remove that ridiculous rule about children in bands on Carnival Tuesday. Family based bands will die off in a generation without an early engagement in the family business. Push party bands to self police the behavior children in their bands.

Listen to the people who are actually doing Carnival. The masqueraders, the calypsonians, the recording studios, the media, the party promoters. Every tiny fix should become part of a much larger plan.

Face the reality of Carnival today. Fond reminiscing about Carnivals past will not magically cause them to return and we’re wasting a lot of time talking about traditions when that’s exactly what we’re creating today for future generations.

Mas Colloqium Talk: One. Then five to fifteen.
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#927: Lessons from the Socadrome
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.

BitDepth#928 - March 18

Is this the ultimate camera?
Reigning Miss Trinidad and Tobago candidate for Miss Universe, Catherine Miller poses for a distinctly unthreatening camera on Carnival Tuesday at the Socadrome. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

“I’d like a SIM card for my camera, please.”
I have to say; the lady behind the counter didn’t bat an eye.
In fact, she batted the statement back with considerable aplomb, catching me by surprise.
“Does it have a keypad?”

I'd misunderstood the question, of course. The device had a digital keyboard, but what was needed was the capacity to dial into the company’s digital services to activate the SIM. I eventually solved the problem by following her advice and putting the SIM in my phone to activate it then putting it in the camera.

The Samsung EK-GC100 is many things, far more than you’d expect in a device that looks like a standard point and shoot (P&S) camera, but it isn’t a phone.
What it is, though, is likely the herald of more advancements in digital cameras that advance the merging of phones, computing devices and image capture into one package that does everything with minimal compromise.
The rather clumsily named
EK-GC100 is part of a line of devices from Samsung which graft the brain of an Android tablet into the standard form factor of a P&S.

On boot, it declares itself to be a Samsung Galaxy Camera, so that seems as good a way to refer to it as any.
After the rather lengthy startup process that’s typical of Galaxy devices, the camera switches directly into P&S mode, filling the screen with an image of whatever the lens happens to be pointing at.

Overlaid on the live view are a few buttons at right, to go quickly from video to stills and a mode view that allows manual control as well as the camera presets that appear on all Galaxy camera phones.
At top left though, is a little home button that drops you into Samsung’s standard Android interface, where you can browse the web, collect e-mail, download apps and most usefully, transfer files you’ve captured on the camera.

As an upgrade to a camera phone, you get a true zoom, roughly equivalent to a 28mm - 105mm lens on a DSLR that’s quite crisp and sharp. You do lose the ability to make calls unless you fire up Skype.

As a sidegrade from a P&S, you get the full Android experience, with most apps available for version 4 of the OS running well on the system. You can also transmit files using a mobile data plan or WiFi without having to rely on a custom built transmission card like the Eye-Fi SD card with the convenience of choosing your transmission software.

As a downgrade to a DSLR, you get less of a camera but more of a computer, which begins to hover in the direction of a sweet spot where the camera and computer merge into one peerless device.
I’ve got a camera, the Canon 6D, which has built-in WiFi capability but no way to manage files on the card before transmission. To consider it in a fast transmission workflow, I’d have to pair it up with a laptop, which immediately takes us from an additional camera weighing less than half a pound to a major commitment to live transmission.

The EK-GC100 promises a world in which such considerations aren’t divided into separate devices. We aren’t there yet, but the Galaxy Camera takes us along one interesting road to that halcyon goal.
The camera arrived for testing just a few days before Carnival. I couldn’t confirm WiFi connectivity where I planned to road test it at the SocaDrome, so I bought a seven day, 1GB plan and accompanying micro-SIM card for roughly TT$100 as a backup and set up the software for the project on the device.

Unfortunately, my image editing software of choice for Android, Adobe’s capable, albeit stripped down Photoshop Touch, wasn’t compatible with the device, so I went with a combination of Snapseed and QuickPic as an image editing suite.
Here’s how that worked during the four and a half hours of activity at the Socadrome.

The screen on the back of the camera is almost useless in direct sunlight. I could do basic framing, but eventually fell back on my experience using a wide-angle lens close-up as a technique for capturing images.
The camera was quick at capture, rattling of brisk sequences of 8MP JPEG files but proved hesitant to display and edit them. The device uses a Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9, but felt much slower than its specs when taxed with detailed Carnival photos (most were 4-6MB).

Jumping between two apps to tone and resize images probably didn’t help matters much either.
Doing quick edits and transmitting to the T&T Guardian (via e-mail and lochoing off of CarnivalTV’s WiFi) sounds like a good idea, but the process takes long enough and viewing images on the screen even in shade was so taxing that ultimately the whole process proved too much effort for too little return.

Two images ended up in the next day’s Guardian and three in that Friday’s edition of Metro, so in that specific space managing that particular challenge, the Galaxy camera delivered what it promised and I count the experience a success.

It remains, however, like many early standards bearers for fundamental change in photography (I am put to mind of Apple’s QuickTake camera here, the first truly affordable digital camera), too little camera for the size of the expectations that it must bear.

BitDepth#927 - March 11

Lessons from the Socadrome
Yuma was the first band to cross the Socadrome stage on Carnival Tuesday.
Digital image by Mark Lyndersay. This panoramic photo is a composite of four separate exposures merged using software.

If there had been tumbleweeds in the Jean Pierre Complex, they would have made a quite cinematic sight as they rolled across the vast gray stage built for the Socadrome.
That’s just one of the idle thoughts I had while waiting last Tuesday morning and I had a lot of time to think about Carnival 2014 while idling away the hours between 7:45am and the start of festivities there at 10:00am.

Workers with heavy gloves pulled cables through routing troughs, a particularly keen young man paced the stage diligently with a blower, blasting unseeable specks off its surface. Ace videographer Selwyn Henry hefted and swung the mighty boom he would manage for the duration of the show.

What happened after all that preparation is now public record. Only three of the bands scheduled to appear at the new venue appeared, though they managed to account for an almost continuous stream of masqueraders for four and a half hours of stage time.

It was a first time for me too, at least in this century. The first time since 1994 when I was between relationships with a newspaper and suffering a mighty newsprint tabanca that I did not wear an NCC issued press badge or visit a single official venue.

Yet there was no sense of loss this year. My first visit to the Grand Stand for 2014 was on the Thursday after Carnival for a pointless press event, and I barely looked at the stage, once so central to my idea of the festival.
Part of the reason for that is my loss of interest in photographing popular Carnival. I have enough thoughts on that to constitute a blog post,
which you’ll find here.

So many questions. Like this one.
Why are we building the North Stand?
Once the North Stand served a real purpose, along with the open bleachers that bracketed the parade route onto the big stage. There were thousands of people who wanted to see pan and mas and there was a real need to accommodate them.

For most of Carnival 2014, though, the North Stand was effectively, when it wasn’t completely, empty of an audience. Or even the odd straggler. Even when there were people there, the Grandstand could have handily held them.

So let’s stop wasting time and money building it and just put up solid temporary bleachers in the Greens at Pan Semi-finals to hold the few among that lot who actually want to see what a steelband performance looks like.
Those we can tear down by the following Monday and get on with the rest of the season.

Why doesn’t Carnival Tuesday in Port of Spain have a stage manager?
Part of the reason that people don’t turn out to look at Carnival anymore is that they have no idea what they will end up seeing.
The crowds that occasioned the building of the North Stand and the bleachers on the track, the huge temporary structure in Downtown Port of Spain and bleachers at both Victoria and Adam Smith Square were a response to need.

People were coming in droves to see Carnival and many needed a comfortable place to view it from.
Back then, Carnival was smaller and managed itself. It doesn’t anymore. Bands larger than brigades follow their own imperatives, not the needs of an audience, so audiences dwindle.

There are event stage managers, but it’s time that we begin to treat the entire route as a stage and manage it accordingly.
Generals have been doing this successfully for centuries with a complete knowledge of the consequences of poor planning when managing thousands of people on the move.

Will the twain ever meet?
Carnival now offers its audience two very different masqueraders. Those who seek a link to the legacy of the festival, performing an art for an audience and those who wear a costume as part of a street party. One is an externalisation of performance, and the other aggressively internalises it.

It’s the push and pull between art and commerce, a tug of war that commerce has been winning for the last two decades. If the NCC is to do one important thing for Carnival, it must create an infrastructure that facilitates commerce while funding art, using transparent processes for that support.

Was the Socadrome a success?
While it was happening, it was a spectacular event for the masqueraders. Which is only fair, because that’s who it was built for.
In the course of documenting the construction of the Socadrome, I listened in on a meeting of the planners and their management teams.

Without disclosing details, I can state with absolute certainty that the leadership of large Carnival bands are fanatically concerned about the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of their masqueraders. Everything else is just vapor.

So the Socadrome was the perfect fulfilment of that goal. Photographers and videographers roamed the stage freely, exciting their masqueraders. Video was streamed and broadcast of the event. A small audience showed up.
Your opinion, as heartfelt as it may be, doesn’t actually matter.

There was something Disneylike about the whole thing. A carefully manicured lead-in to the event, an explosion of excitement, music and colour and then it was over, the lights came up –or rather the two o’clock sun came blasting in –and it was over, with little feathers rolling across the stage like the coda of a loud and vivid cowboy gun battle.

Tiny tumbleweeds, glistening in the afternoon sun.

Mas Colloqium Talk: One. Then five to fifteen.
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#929: A Carnival Coda
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
BitDepth#924: Carnival Copyright Redux
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.

More transparency in Carnival

My editorial for the Guardian for March 10 calls for more transparency in the operations of the state agency responsible for convening Carnival and its most senior stakeholders. Click here to read more...

BitDepth#926 - March 04

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago should be much further along than it is today. Some thoughts about why that's the case. Click here to read more...

The Geography of Carnival

Editorial for the T&T Guardian written on March 02 on the controversies surrounding the routes taken and planned for Carnival 2014. Click here to read more...

Elitism or entrepreneurship?

Editorial written for the T&T Guardian for February 26 considering the implications of the Socadrome and its potential impact on Carnival 2014. Click here to read more...

BitDepth#925 - February 25

Leslie-Ann Boiselle, BC Pires, Dean Ackin, David Rudder and Kenwyn Murray all have a stake and interest in Carnival. These are their thoughts on how Carnival might be improved. Click here to read more...

What the NCC should do

On January 23, I responded to a request from the NCC asking for suggestions on media accreditation and handling. This is the document I supplied to them and later in the season, to the management of the Socadrome. Click here to read more...

BitDepth#924 - February 18

Copyright issues arise again during Carnival 2014 with no apparent solutions or common sense evaluations of the actual law in sight. Click here to read more...

Zorce on accreditation

A letter from Zorce boss Narend Sooknarine about his experiences applying for Click here to read more...
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