Portrait of a Photographer

December 12th, 2010 by An Phung

In a brightly lit room on the third floor at Coney Island Hospital, the photographer Anthony Bonair sat in a chair by the window and ate his lunch out of a beige colored tray filled with savory meat and vegetables.

The nurse who served it to him took a small sample of blood from his index finger to check his sugar levels. Bonair talked right through the whole process and didn’t seem phased by being poked or prodded. Maybe it’s because this is his ninth hospital visit since his kidneys failed in January 2008. He undergoes dialysis treatment three times a week. To further compound his problems, Mr. Bonair is nursing two wounds: one from a bicycle accident a year ago and one from a recent spill in his home. And just two weeks ago, he had surgery for a biopsy of his liver.

This portrait of Bonair is a stark contrast to his active past as a photographer. But his range of life experiences, from health to sickness and from accountant to photographer, is no different from the range of subjects he captures on film.

Even with an unfortunate bill of health, Mr. Bonair isn’t giving up.

“This has been the roughest that I’ve been. But there is a lot that I would like to do,” said Bonair.

This determination to persevere is not unusual for the 65-year-old photographer. He approaches almost every challenge and project with the same fervor and passion. Even in his current state, he manages the marketing for his exhibit currently on display at The Skylight Gallery in The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Plaza. He spends his days in physical therapy, dialysis treatment and on the phone talking to art collectors who he hopes will buy his work. He is both a sick patient and a shrewd businessman.

The current exhibit at The Skylight Gallery, entitled “Carnival Masqueraders,” is a reminder of his boyhood in Trinidad where his father created costumes and participated in Carnival parades. The collection of 20 images depicts Caribbean carnival culture and costumes in Brooklyn. Bonair worked with Dulcie Ingleton to curate the photos.

He recalls memories of how the colorful and ornate costumes were destroyed when the carnival event was over. He saw the same thing happen when he watched the carnival parades in Brooklyn as an adult.

The 16 x 20 photographs line the walls of The Skylight Gallery in Bedford Stuyvensant. Colorful and flamboyant costumes with feathers, beads, glitter, seashells, metallic accents and chromatic paint reflect a culture of life, brightness and celebration that Bonair wants others to remember about Trinidad. Two mannequins don costumes that give a three-dimensional sense of what the costumes looked like.

“The impetus for this exhibit was to preserve, photographically, what this carnival culture was all about, “ said Ingleton.

Anthony Bonair reflected on some memorable “firsts” in his life.

The first time he took photographs:
The Pest

His first photographic subject:
Ignited by Dance

His mentorship with the award-winning Roy DeCarava:
Roy DeCarava

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