10: The Publication by Alex Smailes

By Marsha Pearce Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 Categories: Features, Reviews, Updates

Alex Smailes’ exhibition of photographs entitled “10” opened on November 22, 2012 at Medulla Art Gallery, 37 Fitt Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain, Trinidad. The UK-born photographer – who is of Trinidadian and British parentage – worked for a number of years as a photojournalist in the Middle East, the South Pacific, South Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans. In 2002 he moved to Trinidad and Tobago. His exhibition marks the tenth anniversary (2002-2012) of that move and features a modest selection of an array of photographic images of the Caribbean region. Smailes has spent the last decade, literally using a lens through which he could attempt to tease out, comprehend and render visually the intricacies and diversity of Caribbean existence with boldness and imagination. This is the first exhibition of his photographs in Trinidad and Tobago.

10, the exhibition by Alex Smailes, Medulla Art Gallery, Trinidad. All photographs by Marsha Pearce.

The exhibition coincides with the launch of his book of photographs, also titled “10.” It is not, however, the first publication by Smailes. In 2004, Macmillan published “Trinidad and Tobago,” Smailes’ photographic narrative book, which structures the people and islands according to four major themes: Carnival, Land, Water and People. It is noteworthy that the “10” exhibition at Medulla includes a display of Smailes’ journal in which we are presented with several rejection letters from various large companies located in England who decided not to fund his “Trinidad and Tobago” book project. By sharing the letters, Smailes discloses the trials and difficulties of bringing a book to fruition.

10, the book of photographs by Alex Smailes.

His “10” publication is distinguished from his first book by its unconventional printing/publishing process and presentation format. It is a completely locally made publication. It was printed by the Trinidad Guardian newspaper (Guardian Commercial Printing) and its packaging was supplied by SignPost, a company located in North Trinidad. “10” is akin to a box set containing a compilation of 24 sheets of paper, each 50cm wide x 33cm in height. The brown cardboard box constitutes a “hardcover” in which we can find 167 full-colour photographs by Smailes. Tan-coloured cord is used to wrap the box, complete with a bow at the back so that the “book” is presented as a gift package. The cover image is a lino print designed and hand-cut by Trinidadian contemporary artist Richard Mark Rawlins. The variations that come from repeated use of the linoleum sheet for printing as well as differences in weight distribution as the image is pressed onto the surface of the cardboard to create the inked impression, means that each book has a unique cover. Rawlins is also responsible for the layout of the many photographs in the publication. The book is edited by Melanie Archer, a Trinidad-based editor, designer and art director. “10” is made possible with support from North Eleven, a Trinidad and Tobago based company specialising in medical, eco recreational experiences and mood enhancing interior/exterior products. Assistance has also been provided by Abovegroup Ogilvy, a full-service communications company of which Smailes is the director.


Smailes’ “10” publication is part of a wave of alternative formats and options being explored across the globe in an effort to circumvent high production costs and get content to the public. Self-publishing plays a key role in the creation of books. As recently as November 27, 2012, Simon & Schuster (a unit of the CBS corporation and a top publishing company) in alliance with Author Solutions Inc. (a world leader in indie book publishing) announced the launch of their self-publishing service. Digital publishing platforms like issuu.com and edition-digital.co.uk allow authors to connect with audiences around the world via the Internet. Bookleteer.com offers a route for creating eBooks and StoryCubes. The Culture Machine international journal of culture and theory uses wiki technology to offer what is called liquid books – online publications, which are open to editing and remixing by readers. Numerous paths that deviate from traditional approaches to producing books have opened up.

Smailes explains in a newspaper interview that the traditional production and printing of a glossy photo book is too expensive. His innovative solution to the problem of cost is a loose-leaf configuration that facilitates a variety of ways of reading and engaging with the photographs. Without saddle stitching, thermal or spiral binding each sheet can be interpreted and displayed as a poster. Sheets can be placed side by side or shuffled around at the reader’s discretion so that personal narratives emerge. Smailes and Archer have indeed made some decisions about the grouping of images: for example, one page features the photographs of a man set against a graffitied wall and a woman on the beach. They are connected conceptually by their hand gestures. Yet, the book frees readers from a linearity and an old, unconscious habit of flipping pages back and forward. “10” allows the possibility of play and compels readers to be incredibly conscious as they move pages: placing some pages on their laps, opening up others on the table, letting some cascade to the floor.  “10” empowers readers to make their own connections and visual relationships. The ability to reorder images, to pull from the stack without a charge of defacing the book, sets up a liberating experience that transfers the photographer’s imaginative and creative power to the hands of the reader.


The range of subject matter that Smailes presents, from the quotidian activity of picking up children from school along with grotesque – often fatal – confrontations, to cowboys in Bequia, serves as a building block for readers to assemble a multidimensional picture, or rich mosaic of a Caribbean space. His book brilliantly demonstrates that there is more than one way to see, interact with and interpret the region and its peoples.

To learn more about Alex Smailes and his work, visit: http://www.alexsmailes.com/. His exhibition runs through December 6, 2012.




- Seebaran, Desiree. “Showing Grit: Alex Smailes shoots more than Pretty Pictures.” Sunday Guardian Newspaper. November 25, 2012. Print.
- Simon & Schuster launches self-publishing division. Chicago Tribune. November 27, 2012.
- The Culture Machine Liquid Book Series Wiki.

Marsha Pearce
Marsha Pearce

Marsha Pearce is ARC’s Senior Arts Writer and Editor. She holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus, Trinidad. She lectures in the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at UWI and is also a freelance arts writer for the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper. Pearce is the 2006 Rhodes Trust Rex Nettleford Cultural Studies Fellow.