noelnorton

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The wind cries Mary by Mark Lyndersay

Published in the Trinidad Guradian Newspaper, Tuesday September 13, 2011

Dear young photographer…
Many of you have come into the business in recent years, some of you aspiring to become professionals, some of you certain that you’re already there.
I have to confess to not understanding the rush to become a professional photographer, to locking into a specific style and to chase after fashionable markets when the tools of technology have become so democratic, so accessible and so exciting. One might have expected, instead, a resurgence of the honoured tradition of amateur works, photographs created for love instead of for client needs.

But the world proceeds on its way, with ambitious peers and stylish publications, some in print, most virtual, driving this keenness to be hip, to be modern, to seek out the treasures of a post emulsion and developer world.
I may not understand the reasons for what you do and the way you choose to do it, but there are some mistakes that you make that are readily fixed, if you choose to find the will to embrace them.

One such error is to assume that nothing of importance happened in photography in Trinidad and Tobago before digital cameras hit six megapixels. I’ve met quite a few of you and know of almost all of you and your work (yes, the Internet is my friend too) and I’m constantly surprised to discover how little you actually know about local photography pre-Photoshop.

I understand this failing. I never knew, for instance, of Yaggie until his daughter took me under her wing as a banker, recognising all the signs of a photographer struggling with the basics of finance.
Most of you never knew Mary Norton, and now, regrettably, you never will. She died two weeks ago, after difficult years of battling a debilitating illness that stilled her unequivocal voice (she wrote, with flowing script, reams of instructions to friends and family though).

It’s been even more years than that since she stood behind the counter at any incarnation of Norton Studios, the business focused half of the team that became the first nationally known photography brand in Trinidad and Tobago.
Mary Norton never took a significant photograph in her life, though she did sometimes operate the passport setup at the business, but the story of Noel Norton would, I believe, have been quite different without her presence.

I first met her at Norton’s when it was located on Marli Street. Mary’s firm, no-nonsense manner was underlined by the certificate from a Dale Carnegie course behind her.  Over all the decades I knew her, I never mustered the nerve to ask whether she had been even sterner before the course.
Hers was the business of keeping Noel focused on the needs of the studios, balancing the ready temptations of new gear with the demands of raising a family of six children and meeting the company’s payroll.

It was Mary who, faced with enough money for Noel to buy his first Hasselblad camera or make the down payment on a house, gave the go ahead for the camera confident that in the young photographer’s hands, it would buy the house for them.
Mary backed Noel’s opportunity to travel the world with famed English photographer Norman Parkinson, knowing full well that she was sending her handsome husband off to work with some of the world’s most beautiful models.

And it was Mary who anchored the Photographic Industries Association of Trinidad and Tobago, beginning with Noel’s tenure as its first president and continuing until the seminal professional grouping of local photographers and lab owners dissolved a decade later.
Many professional photographers were touched by Mary during her management of the studio. Managing her studio, Mary tended to two families, the children of her marriage and the offspring of her career. 
Some were staff, like John De La Bastide and Michael Loregnard, some were inspired after a brief time there, like Sonya Sanchez-Arias, and some were wandering souls given coaching and inspiration, like Garth Murrel and myself.
Mary’s children have lost a devoted mother, her husband, a life partner, but photography in Trinidad and Tobago has lost a woman who took no photographs but won respect in what was largely a man’s craft, set standards for the profession through persistence and example and whose competitive spirit always respected the larger goals of photography as a profession.

I can’t imagine, but will have to resign myself to, being in this business without her keen, focused mind and vast experience.

[R.I.P. Mary Norton]

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Sooknanan, Nagib Elias Advertisment circa 1970, and on the cover of “Kalyana, The Beauty and Charm of Indian Culture in Trinidad and Tobago” - Photographs by Noel P. Norton, Memoirs by the Mary Norton


[Nagib Elias advertisement courtesy Virtual Museum of Trinidad and Tobago/Angelo Bissessarsingh]

“His name was Sooknanan.

He was a newspaper vendor.  He rode a bicycle with his bundle of newspapersbalancing precariously on the handle but with an ever smiling face “with few teeth only.”  

Sometime subsequently we were asked by the Trinidad Guardian to photograph someone for a campaign which they were launching to promote the Evening News. We did not have to look far. We approached Sooknanan about the request.  Because it was for advertising purposes, he was paid a stipend and signed a form giving permission to reproduce the photograph. When our book designer was given the files to search for material, within a short while she came back to us with the news – “I have found the perfect image for our cover”.  We knew immediately whom it was and so a star was born.

- Mary Norton

About the book:

A collection of over 70 photographs dating from 1959-present with a foreword by historian, Angelo Bissessarsingh and narrative by the recently deceased Mary Norton.


Noel is a nationally acclaimed photographer, recipient of the Chaconia Medal Gold for his contribution to culture in Trinidad and Tobago and an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from UTT. In his latest publication Kalyana: The Beauty of Indian Culture, Mary and Noel Norton’s first joint recording of their impressions of East Indian culture over the years, you are invited on a personal journey into Central Trinidad with Mary as guide. Kalyana – a gift worth a thousand words, is available at:

  • House of Jaipur
  • Pop Inn, Ellerslie Plaza
  • Paper Based Book Shop, Normandie Hotel
  • Nigel Khan Bookstores
  • Reader’s Bookshop
  • Ishmael Khan Bookstores