Fulfilling a promise
After his mentor died from a battle with cancer, photographer Akil Simmons knew he had to deliver on the promise he made to professionally exhibit his work.
Tamell Simons, a veteran photographer with The Royal Gazette, had been pushing the 26-year-old to exhibit his works for months before his death.
Mr Simmons didn’t think he was ready, but eventually agreed to put on a joint show with Mr Simons’ help. “It made me excited and I always imagined doing one with him one day,” he said. “Unfortunately he passed away before that happened, so I decided to keep my promise and continue on with it.”
For the past six months, Mr Simmons has devoted much of his free time to capturing the ideal images for his exhibition, Through The Lens. Twenty-five works will be on display in the Edinburgh Gallery at the Bermuda Society of Arts in City Hall, from this Friday until January 23.
Through The Lens is the name of the photography programme that Mr Simons started at a community centre in Hamilton. It also describes the technique that he encouraged the young photographer to use while working as a student intern at The Royal Gazette. Mr Simmons is now a senior photographer at the newspaper.
“Tamell taught me how to use the eye as your first lens because it’s amazing what you can see when you just stop and look for two seconds before picking up the camera.
“That’s pretty much how I shoot. Everything pretty much slows down and I am able to see things differently, something normal people just walk by, like a reflection or shadows that are making some artistic form.
“I am not afraid to try different angles and things that may not be flattering to the person, but artistically it’s different and that’s what I am all about being different and showcasing my artistic vision.”
Mr Simmons got his first disposable camera from his parents when he was five years old. It wasn’t until his teenage years, while a student at CedarBridge Academy, that he ever picked up a professional camera — Mr Simons’ camera to be exact.
Giving a lecture at the school, Mr Simons invited a student to take pictures of him during his speech. In a stroke of fate, Mr Simmons volunteered.
“The first professional camera I actually owned arrived to the Island on the exact same day Tamell died [in June]. It’s like the last gift he gave to me and every time I touch that camera I feel that some sort of essence of him is in it and makes me see more things than I think I have ever seen before.
“It’s kind of crazy because so much of me has changed in two years and I feel that he is a big part of that change.
“He just helped me to grow as a person, as a man and as an artist and I appreciate every single moment he helped me because it wasn’t easy getting through to me because I am sort of a hardhead.”
As a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Mr Simmons started noticing some similarities in his style and that of his mentor. Many of his pictures are shot from a wide angle like Mr Simons taught, which allows the audience to see the bigger picture of what’s taking place.
During his time at design school he also developed his own appreciation for the craft, Mr Simmons said.
When he returned home to Bermuda for breaks, he began to experiment with shooting in unusual places that showcased another side of the land.
“I chose to shoot in locations that were abandoned and some places that still had some type of beauty to the architecture.
“I wanted to shoot there instead of the normal beaches, so while I do have some scenic shots included within the show, it’s also a mixture of beauty and grungy. The whole show is a combination of editorial, sports and heritage images,” he said.
Mr Simmons said it wasn’t just a pretty face that inspired him; he often finds beauty in the imperfect.
“Different things interest me about different people. It could be anything from the way they carry themselves or their eyes, but people in general is my thing.
“I love to shoot people and it’s just interacting with people, that’s why I love working for the newspaper in general. It’s just something that excites me.”
His favourite piece in the upcoming exhibition is actually a tribute to his mentor. ‘One Love’ was one of Mr Simons’ favourite sayings. Mr Simmons’ piece pictures one of Mr Simons’ vintage cameras and a shell necklace he wore.
Mr Simmons said: “It’s shot at the exact same spot where his family held his gathering and sent off his ashes, at the same time of day of the ceremony at sunrise. It’s my favourite. It’s like my thank you to him I would say.”
The budding photographer said he ultimately wanted to put out his own photography book and take pictures of different parts of the world like Mr Simons did.
“I also want to inspire the younger generation and hope that I can help promote Bermuda’s beauty because being away from home really made me appreciate this Island a lot.”
Mr Simmons said he was “very excited” about the show and hopes people leave with a sense of how much his mentor meant to him. He also wants to show residents just what local photographers are capable of. Part proceeds from all pieces sold will go to Mr Simons’ youth photography programme.
He thanked everyone who made this show possible, including his family for supporting his passion and Mr Simons.
Through The Lens opens Friday with a small reception from 5pm until 7pm.
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