Jeffrey Chock, photographer

Jeffrey Chock, photographed in 2004 by Frances Anne Solomon.
Used by permission of the author.

On Friday afternoon, Guardian reporter Kalifa Clyne contacted me for a comment on the passing of Jeffrey Chock.
I sent a note along after a moment's consideration, the first clear thoughts that came to mind about him. Most of it was published in Friday's Guardian along with other comments about the late photographer and his work.

Jeffrey Chock was a photographer's photographer. His work was uncompromising, visually sophisticated, dramatically composed and unrelentingly sensitive to the nuances of light and shadow. He consistently ennobled his subjects with a passion for capturing their essence, something that's far too easy to say and almost impossible to do convincingly.
As a photographer, he was a creator to envy. His silky black and white prints were gorgeous artifacts, his sense of motion in the many dance photographs he did was impeccable and his portraiture was quirky and elegant.

More than anything, Jeffrey Chock was a journalist of the first calibre. He was not a photographer of spot news or action events, but he was a documentarian of life, his concern for the nuances of the world around him captured and filed one still at a time to create a body of work that constitutes a unique and very special view of these islands that's worthy of lasting attention.

Clyne correctly characterised me as Chock's colleague, but I wasn't his friend.
We met occasionally, less frequently in recent years, but we never, as people like to say in Trinidad and Tobago, were able to saddle horse.

We met briefly when he expressed interest in photographing for Tent Theatre in the early 90's, a project that I'd been working on and again a few years later in a similar situation with the Baggasse Company.

By then, I was taking my quiet exit at stage left from the theatre business entirely, but even after that it took a while for me to find my equilibrium with Jeffrey.
I couldn't carry on a long conversation with the man. I found his way of speaking infuriating, and his worldly ways had little impact on a someone so content with meat and potatoes.

I'm not sure if Jeffrey ever remembered that I first met him almost a decade before our first professional encounter at the Little Carib Theatre in 1980, then run by Helen Camps. Back then, I delivered newspapers to an address on Cipriani Boulevard where he had a hairdressing business.

His partner took care of paying the paperboy, so we rarely saw each other, but I never forgot the overfed, waddling dog of the house, the only animal on my route who held no terrors for me.

Years later I'd learn an important lesson in life from no less a person than Derek Walcott, quite specifically at the point when I offered my hand in congratulations after he won his MacArthur grant and he slapped it away during a particularly crowded opening for a play.
I still feel a flush in the cheeks thinking of that moment.

That was when I learned the difference between who a person is and what a person does. It was the start of a long process of rationalizing the impulse to dismiss (and to diss) that some creators provoke even as their work encourages enormous admiration.

For folks who carry on sophisticated campaigns of venom in corporate life with people they despise, this is likely to be an alien concept. On such battlefields, a person is either 'yuh pardner' or a nemesis.

In photography, however, despite the large numbers of people wielding cameras, there are, ultimately few people over the long haul who might be considered one's peers, far less friends. The idea that because a person is the one necessarily and naturally means that they will turn out to be the other is simply absurd.

Ultimately, the only thing that most photographers have in common is photographic equipment. Rationales, attitudes, motivations, and goals vary widely and infinitely.
I have many photographer friends who are personable and charming people whose company I quite enjoy, but whose work has little or nothing to do with my own. We can talk craft and business, but that tends to be about it.

There are far fewer photographers who do work that's in alignment with what I do, and while it might be cool to think of us a cozy and mutually supportive community that isn't the reality for all kinds of reasons.
I can't communicate effectively with some of the colleagues with whom I have the most intuitive professional attraction and Jeffrey was one of those, unfortunately. I am, of course, quite willing to concede that this has more to do with me than anything to do with photography, but that's how things went in my experience.

When he took severely ill in 2008, I participated first in the
direct fundraising exercise organized by Georgia Popplewell and later in an exhibition to raise money to provide ongoing treatment.
That effort and the engagement of many of his friends and colleagues extended Jeffrey's life by almost five years from a point when things were very touch and go for him.

At that exhibit opening he suggested me an image trade for a photo I had in the show of the Midnight Robber 'Puggy' Joseph and fool that I was, I never buckled down to follow up on the offer.
I'd certainly have gotten the better of that deal had I set aside my own skittishness.

There's nothing more than I can do for Jeffrey now, but I have concerns about the ultimate dispensation of his life's work. I'd seen some of his dance photographs online in a gallery posted by a T&T Government Ministry that truly disturbed me.

Modern scanning technologies can do little for black and white photographs and in my experience, almost all 35mm film, including the hundreds of rolls of Tri-X that represent my own work in the theatre, will scan with scratches on them.
Restoring such images calls for hours of pixel-level retouching to restore the photographs and there are no shortcuts.

That Ministry gallery, which has since mercifully disappeared, served up dozens of Jeffrey's fine dance images covered in a blizzard of white specks and streaks, pretty much what you get when you scan legacy B&W film and don't put the effort in to repair the technical problems that arise.
Knowing nothing about how such a thing came to be, I assumed that Jeffrey had sold some of his work to keep going.

Now that he's gone, all that's left is that work.
His 2008 book, Trinidad Carnival remains available, but it's unclear for how long. It will fall to us, his colleagues in the business, to look out for such disrespectful treatment of his work and raise a stink if it ever happens again. The legacy of his work is powerful and important. It shouldn't be destroyed through ignorance or incompetence.
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