ARTIST IN THE SPOTLIGHT | SOFIA WHITEHEAD
Welcome back to Cacique’s Artist In The Spotlight series - a journey into a thriving Bahamian art scene and a look at some of our most exciting artists, pushing boundaries on island and around the world.
In this episode, we continue to explore the Bahamian photography scene, this time though the lens of “island gal” Sofia Whitehead. Sofia has been making quite a splash recently with the publication of her coffee table book Bahama Mama “Portraits & Wisdom from the Mothers of Bahamian Society,” a two-and-a-half-year quest for maternal percipience, for across the breadth of our island nation. However, Sofia’s work goes beyond investigating the colourful depths of her homeland culture; her travel photography is a jet-set dreamscape - a celebration of the vivid palette of humanity at large. Read on…
Cacique. How did you develop an interest in photography ?
Sofia. I choose photography because it gives me a structure and framework that is quick and clear. I feel like the frame of an image allows you to put whatever you want inside and it's easy to interpret. You only have a few elements to work with - light, people or objects and composition, and this gives you a lot of freedom to experiment and make mistakes. But honestly, I feel that photos can preserve a moment, expression or person like no other art form can.
C. What is your artistic method?
S. Mostly I just try to connect with the person or place that I am shooting, take some time to talk, feel comfortable and enjoy the beauty of that person or that place. Then I start photographing, changing settings on the camera to see if more or less light may work or not and trying different angles, daring to view them from different perspectives, all this in the blink of an eye, as true moments are often very fleeting.
C. Were do you get your inspiration?
S. Mostly people in beautiful contexts. In the Bahamas it's easy, you always have interesting people sitting in the most exceptional beauty, whether it's under a shack with piercing turquoise water in the background or somewhere abandoned and forgotten; often they are completely unaware of the beauty they are sitting in, which makes for an interesting juxtaposition.
I love travel because it opens you up to so many new experiences, cultures and backdrops. Burning Man Festival in the desert of Nevada is as stark a contrast as you can get to the vivid colours of The Bahamas, but it’s the characters that bring the desert to life. Everywhere you turn is a moment waiting to be captured.
C. Tell us about project Bahama Mama - what inspired you to begin? Tell us about the creative journey?
S. Bahama Mama began because I had just moved home after living abroad for 10 years. The project idea had been lingering in my brain since I was about 13 years old when I went to crooked island with my family and met woman named Marina Gibson (who i later interviewed in the book 12 years later) who had a small restaurant. She cooked for us and every time she interacted, she had the most humorous and wise quotes to say and had us all thinking and laughing.
I have also always been inspired by National Geographic photography, along with paintings by Thierry Lamare of elderly Bahamian women. When I moved back home, I had a lot of questions about life and relationships and how women endured so much in this country, so I decided that this would be the most creative and interesting way to find out. The aim was always a book, I had always wanted to make a coffee table book, just because I love the space they take up in a room, the way you can look at them in a relaxed setting, and I thought what a better representation of The Bahamas than the voices of its mothers? I went with my brother Over The Hill in Nassau to Burial Ground Corner and asked someone on the road who the eldest women were on the road and they literally pointed out all the houses - they knew their neighbors better than any neighborhood I had seen growing up. I took my first images of a woman named "Dahlin" and asked her about life, and that’s how it all started.
C. How do you choose your muses?
S. I think my muses come from whoever I meet and have a connection with. The people in my life are often my muses. I sometimes go out to meet strangers; when choosing them I think it’s mostly people who are doing things beautifully or in an interesting way and are completely unaware of their originality. I like to photograph those types.
C. What makes a "good" photograph in your eyes?
S. A good photograph is one that keeps you looking at it for a long time. Maybe you even think "I want that photograph in my life", so you save it somewhere, in a drawer a pinterest folder or even on your wall.
C. What Bahamian photographers do you admire (if any)?
S. Sabrina Lightbourne was a huge inspiration for Project Bahama Mama. I love her work, her style, her softness and connection with Bahamian life. She can get any photographic job done with true artistic eye. Melissa Alcena is hands-down one of the best photographers on the island - her talent, style and risk-taking inspire me a lot. Delton B, is just uniquely creative. Shawn Hanna is self-taught and has a lot to say through his images, mixing fashion and metaphors. We have a lot of talented photographers across the islands that need to have more shows and sell more fine art photography and fill the walls of our hotels and rental homes and second homes!
C. What has been a seminal experience that you've had in relation to your photography?
S. The launch of Bahama Mama held at an abandoned house next to the National Art Gallery Of The Bahamas was pretty epic, but…the seminal experience came from a conversation that my brother overheard in a bar in Long Island in which two rough-looking construction workers were discussing the quotes in the Bahama Mama book and how they would have loved if their “grammy” had been featured. I think that was a defining moment for my career!
C. What direction do you feel art/ photography is going here in the Bahamas?
S. It’s growing and it’s amazing. The Bahamas is expressing itself and Bahamians are becoming better and better at their art, thats in media, tv, photography, video and music. Bahamians have been studying abroad and bettering their craft and its an incredible combination of our soul and world technology.
C. So what’s next?
S. At the moment I am in a transition mode. I completed my book "Bahama Mama" and am in the selling phases of it - trying to promote and share it, while planning my next project which will be set in Cuba. Stay tuned!
At Cacique, we love to showcase our colourful Bahamian art scene and the characters that create its distinct flair. For more information on Sofia Whitehead, our other Artists In The Spotlight, or to find out about curating a unique look and sound for your event, feel free to contact us.
Looking forward to the next chat! SMS:)