Santiago Without Her Monument
Content with an iPhone camera on a Caribbean night
On this particular Caribbean evening my thoughts were drifting me into a state of discontent. From a rooftop in Santiago de los Caballeros, I sat, as any introvert does at some point during a friendly gathering, alone. Alone in a corner of a rooftop without my well traveled notebook whom I usually talk to on nights like this one.
My discontent would soon grow into sadness if I let it, so I packed away those thoughts for a moment and asked myself how else could I experience this moment. As I made my decision, I waved goodbye to my nearing sadness, I told her we would inevitably meet again but for now, I needed to welcome in my friend of contentness.
I walked to the edge of the rooftop and for the first time that night I noticed the night time lights of the city and smiled when I remembered that no two cities shine the same.
The decision I made that brought me to even take notice of this view was simple: I could sit and think until I fell deeper into my own mental trap, or I could interact with the world and make a memory of this night and her beauty. I, like most of us, have created space for both types of moments in this life and this night I happened to chose the latter.
A few weeks before, I had updated my iPhone 8 to an iPhone 11 and every time the sun went down, the night mode feature provided motivation for a session. As a iPhone photographer, I am not well aware of the nature of more powerful photography devices so maybe this could be a normal process, but in order for night mode to work the phone must be held still for 1-7 seconds. I’ve seen night mode referred to as the “dark HDR” because this feature allows a photographer to pick up details in darker spaces by taking several shots and then combining them into a single image. This feature shows up automatically when you are in low light settings and the amount of seconds it takes depends on much light you want to let in. On this night, I set night mode to 3 seconds because anything more made the stars shine abnormally bright.
Unfortunately, night mode doesn’t work with the ultra wide camera setting on the iPhone 11. With that, I would have been able to capture more of my view but fair enough, the advancement of the iPhone camera in the last few years is still enough to impress.
As I pulled out my phone and began taking pictures I hadn't settled on the best direction. I took the photo above while facing southwest but this direction didn’t prove to be the right perspective. This perspective made it seem as if you could see the end of the city and I didn’t want that. Santiago is not the big apple, but it still has its depth and extends beyond what a smartphone or human eye can capture.
The photo below I took facing north west and in the background on the right side you can see el monumento a few miles away looking small as ever. For those not from or aware of Santiago, el monumento is a typical photography focal point. It surpasses every building in the city by height. I wasn't close enough to it to get a good shot and Santiago has been photographed plenty of times with her dear monument. So on this night, I felt as if she would be fine with a break from all the attention.
I then turned to admire the view I saw when facing exactly west. A random street with its various housing facilities in the working class neighborhood of La Fuente. This type of neighborhood is not the luxurious type you might see posted on the tourism websites for the Dominican Republic, but it is also not as run down as the photos you might see on a brochure given to high school students in need of foreign volunteering activities. Santiago Without Her Monument is a photo of a Dominican world in the middle. It’s the place rich foreigners would never stray to when they dare take a trip outside of their Caribbean resorts and simultaneously it is a place with a little too much stability for foreigners looking to bring their wealth and hope to the “poor".
I tried to edit my final photo but every time I made the sky bluer and dimmed down the noise the photo was further away from what I actually saw that night and I didn't think it was necessary to make it look prettier. The city just is how she is sometimes, with all her rawness. Of course, you can see this neighborhood how you wish, your perspective is yours to choose. For me, I felt the feeling of content sink into me in the moment I saw my final photo.
As I returned to the gathering that night and showed my friends the photo I had taken during my introverted moment on the other side of the roof, they yelled out a word in their language I have come to understand dearly.
This is a Haitian Creole word that means something near the equivalent of oh my god but slightly more like ohhhhh myyyy gooooood.
They continued with comments about how crazy it is that new phones can take a pictures like this and then I began taking pictures of individuals in the group with similar backgrounds.
This night and the photos I took to remember it have been a reminder to me the last few weeks that I can shift from moments of discontent and boredom to moments of creation and excitement rather fast. All made possible by the long awaited update of the iPhone camera and the right view.