Dominican Republic: Power of Perception

What's behind this visual experiment is the notion that an island's beauty runs deeper than its vistas, and to fully appreciate that beauty, we travelers must transcend the way we normally see. That premise fueled this unusual assignment in the Dominican Republic, where photographer Jon Whittle confined himself to a half-mile area in the small town of Cabarete. With limited room to roam, he says he slowed his pace and "focused on details and small spots of beauty, which surround us during our travels but are often missed." A powerful revelation followed: "In everything we see, there is something that longs to emerge in a photograph and enhance an understanding of an island. The trick is to just take your time, soften your eyes and look." Here are his behind-the-lens explanations of how he captured these amazing images, which are featured in the March 2009 issue of ISLANDS.

"Consumed" A coconut hallowed out.

Many types of debris wash ashore on the sands of a stormy beach, but this coconut told a story all its own. It's hollowed out and emptied core allowed it transcend what would be a normal shot of this sort of object.

"Time" A shoreline from Cabarete Bay.

The ocean actually was the most challenging place for me to portray in a way not commonly seen. This shot was a long exposure of a strip of stone being devoured by a rising tide. The milky flow of waves impacting and receding takes on an air of mystery when seen across a duration of time only a camera can record.

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"Dessicated"** A parched cactus.

Cacti are like people…soft in the middle but ready to hurt you if you rub them the wrong way. This specimen at an abstract level seemed to be very similar to dry, human skin and I tried to exploit that.

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"Within"** A potted plant indoors.

Photo shoots in the Caribbean during hurricane season are always interesting. When the rains trap you indoors, the potted plants at the hotel sometimes make for interesting, albeit desperate, subject matter. The macro lens allowed me to let the viewer feel like they were within the seen, not just looking on from afar.

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"Lunar"** A rock formation at the edge of the ocean.

The low tide revealed a landscape of rocks that felt alien under the thin layer of water. What you're seeing here is a very small area of a long, interesting strip of stone that broke up an otherwise ordinary beach.

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"Elbow"** A piece of driftwood.

If anthropomorphism is the act of attributing human emotions to animals, there must be a word for comparing human physiology to shapes found in nature. This weathered piece of driftwood seemed to me to be bending at a joint...a kneecap...an elbow...something more than an uprooted tree half buried in the sand

"The Parrot" A beached boat.

The weathered fishing boat "El Papagallo" sat tied on the beach well above the high water mark. It's wooden planks had seen better days and every piece of metal within appeared to be weeping rust Someone, the owner perhaps, had left a large screw on the stern.

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"Exit"** The side of an outhouse.

While hiking down a jungle path, I passed another small home with chickens scurrying about on the red clay ground. Nearby sat a structure with patchwork metal walls and this is a shot of one its sides.

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"Guardian"** A patchwork sea wall.

The beach of Cabarete, like any beach, is marked by the constant crushing and receding of waves. To protect against it, tattered seawalls are erected in piecemeal fashion and the resulting textures attracted me toward an interesting abstraction.

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"Weighted"** A seascape.

I wanted to try to shoot a wave in a way that might be different from what I'm used to seeing. This shot was the result of many snaps trying to get just a single whitecap against a textural blue backdrop.

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"Unopened"** The window of a hovel.

A weathered structure with a crooked window owned by an aging man with a friendly smile. It hung upon its hinges, hinting not at all at the last time it had been opened. The horizontal lines felt tense against the weight of the window, and I found that interesting.

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"The Judge"** A mule, head-on.

When I was younger, I went for a horseback ride in the mountains of Colorado but the tour was overbooked. With a shortage of horses, the guides decided to place me on the back of a thick mule named the Judge...and every similar animal I come across since gains that title in my mind. This particular fellow was patrolling a barbed wire fence on private property in El Choco National Park.