Champion 
of culture

Darvin Ebanks’ photographs on display this month at Full of Beans cafe

Sitting under a poinciana tree outside his home on School Road, Darvin Ebanks explains how this particular area of George Town has remained true to its origins. All around him the lots are Caymanian-owned and have been for generations. And this is the way he hopes it will stay.

Although he knows the land, which borders the business district, would fetch a high price from a developer looking to build high rise office blocks, he has no intention of selling out.

Darvin is a champion of ‘old Cayman’. He is passionate about keeping true Caymanian culture and traditions alive, about preserving the memory of how these islands used to be.

“Many of the old ways – from when I was a child growing up – I have kept hold of that, retained those values,” he says. “I have taken things from the modern world – my computer, cell phones and so on – but I still keep those close ties to the community and the family. It is the close knit nature of the island community that is being lost. “Forty or fifty years ago it was just the people, but now you have all this prosperity,” he says.

It is this passion for keeping what it means to be Caymanian alive has informed much of his work.

Although some may know him best as the tall, swashbuckling pirate one finds at almost any bucaneer-themed event on Grand Cayman, Darvin’s main focus is his photography. For several decades he has been taking photographs underwater and on land and has amassed a huge collection. His above-water photography documents Cayman as it once was, before banking and tourism opened the door to prosperity.

“I photographed a lot of things that have gone now,” he says. “We have to hold on tight to what we have. If we are not strong, we are going to lose everything.”

Restoration

In addition to his own photos of everyday life in Cayman above and below the sea, Darvin has also restored much older photographs of island life, which are on display at his To the Edges of the World gallery. Bit by bit he is building up his own pictorial archive of the Cayman Islands.

But it is underwater photography that is his true artistic calling. At the time he was working with pioneers of the dive industry such as Bob Soto, Don Foster and Peter Milburn. Don Foster got the first camera with an underwater housing and they all experimented with it. Darvin describes “falling in love” with underwater photography in the 1970s. “I never went to school for photography. I’m a self-taught photographer. A lot of the techniques and styles that I use, I created them myself,” he says.

He started out working as a dive master and taking photos in his free time. By the mid-1980s he had given up being a dive master and instead accompanied the dive trips as the underwater photographer. The hardest lesson he learned when turning his hobby into his job, he says, is that people will openly criticise your work. “You very quickly learn not to apologise for your work,” he says.

Over the years he has built up a collection of around 25,000 to 30,000 photographs, not only of Cayman but also of the many countries he has visited. A tiny fraction of these – just 21 or 22 – will be on display at Full of Beans Cafe throughout August. The exhibtion, titled Sharks and Other Beautiful Underwater Marine Life in Cayman, promises to be filled with vibrant colours, corals and fish.

And if you miss the exhibition, Darvin can usually be found at his gallery on School Road, off Eastern Avenue.

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