Denise Mason — seeing the bigger picture
BY MARK CUMMINGS Editor-at-Large, Western Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
MONTEGO BAY, St James — In the early 2000s when Denise Mason, a seasoned flight attendant at Air Jamaica started to take pictures with her 'point and shoot' camera, she had no idea that one day photography would become her major source of income.
Now, four years after being made redundant after the Government divested the operations of the airline to the Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Airlines, the charming and easy-going Mason, who sports an infectious smile, is one of the most sought-after and respected photographers in western Jamaica.
"It all started while I was working as a flight attendant with Air Jamaica," Mason revealed.
"While I was there... because I travel to many different places I decided to buy a point and shoot camera and started to take pictures, but I had no interest then in becoming a professional photographer," said Mason, who was a member of Air Jamaica's in-flight team for 14 years.
"A lot of my friends and family members who saw the photos I was taking were very impressed with them and told me that I should study photography, but I brushed the idea off, because I never found it interesting," she told the Jamaica Observer West.
She added however, that her interest in the art was aroused about five years before she lost her job with Air Jamaica, while on a lay-over flight in Chicago.
"While I was on a lay-over in Chicago I was watching a TLC programme on photography and the use of SLR cameras and I got so interested that I went over to the Mall across from the hotel where I was staying to Best Buy and I said to the guy (sales associate) I would like to buy a SLR camera, I don't care what the brand is, so please chose one for me," Mason recalled.
Minutes later, a satisfied Mason left the store with a Sony A300 camera outfitted with accessories. The purchase cost her somewhere in the region of US$550.
As time elapsed, Mason began to get even more interested in photography, while at the same the quality of the images captured by her was on the improve.
Impressed with her work, her best friend, Francine Misir, who was employed to telecommunication company Digicel at that time, encouraged her to approach the company for jobs, during her off-time with Air Jamaica.
Reluctantly, she agreed, and within months Digicel became her first 'co-operate customer.'
While still with Air Jamaica, Mason began to pick up more jobs, enabling her to gain the necessary exposure and experience needed to master the art of photography.
Realising the financial benefits and the satisfaction that can be had from photography, the enthused shutterbug started to engross herself in educational materials on the subject matter.
"When I got exposed to taking pictures and realised the amount of money that I can make out of it, that was when I really started to read a lot about photography in terms of how to use your camera and stuff like that. So I bought a lot of books and I did a lot of research on YouTube about photography," Mason told the Observer West.
When Air Jamaica was divested in 2010, the experienced flight attendant could have easily picked up a job with another airline, but instead she decided to make photography her full time job.
Today, the Montego Bay based-photographer has done jobs for a number of companies across the island, including Vista Print, Sagicor, Treasure Hunt, Island Entertainment Brands, Flow, Caribbean Producers Ltd, Courts Jamaica Ltd, Select Brands and Jamaica Money Market Brokers.
"I also did some work for Buzz magazine and while I was there I did a background shoot for Vybz Kartel just over two years ago," said Mason, adding that she has also done photo shoots for Reggae artiste Beenie Man and former world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis.
Mason's work can also be seen on the international stage.
"I have over 100 images that are in a book published out of London," said Mason who was born in Kingston and attended St Andrew High School. "The book is about Jamaica and is called Visions of Jamaica, which is being sold in airports and bookstores around the world. This is one that I am so proud of, because it gave me the chance to show the world how fun and beautiful our country is."
The female photographer who likes to travel, play Kalookie, watch movies and spending time at the beach, said she is very excited about working the Britjam event in Cannes, South of France, Europe, in July.
"Right now photography does not feel like a job... to me it's my joy and passion to capture moments in time that will most likely never repeat itself. It's what I love to do and people pay me to do it," said Mason.
"I take photography seriously and treat each client like a personal friend. Photography has been my passion for years. My goal is to make everyday people glamorous, and to make the ordinary extraordinary," said Mason, adding that her pictures are meant to capture emotions, realities of life and the beauty to be found in our environment.
Her advice to beginners is that "there are no short cuts to photography".
"A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they'll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won't do anything for you if you don't have sight and passion in your heart. Look and think before opening the shutter. It is the photographer who is the true lens of the camera," said Mason.