Depth of Field
“What do you think of this, Trevor?” asked Ammar, referring to the election results. He folded the paper on his lap. I thought maybe Trevor didn’t hear. He kept glancing at a lake to the west, where an old fisherman waded up to his waist in street clothes.
“I think it’s very complex,” he said. “But it also makes sense. America has been propping up dictators who suppress Islamic people for decades. And when these dictators fled, it became a victory for religion. Like when Qaddafi died, and three days later, millions of Tunisians—many weren’t even Islamist—voted for the Islamists.”
“I think you’re right,” said Ammar.
We came to a lonely, littered traffic circle patrolled by two policemen. At the center of the circle stood a giant, painted creature with large ears, a bushy tail, and a blue bodysuit. “What is that?” said Trevor. Ammar acted bored. Perhaps it was a mongoose, or a rat. The last dictator, Ben Ali, had erected these statues as reminders not to litter. “Hold on,” said Trevor, parking the car. “I have to get this.” He crossed the road and knelt beneath the creature.
“This guy makes me nervous,” said Ammar, eyeing the policemen. “He acts more comfortable in Tunisia than a Tunisian!”
Back in the car, Trevor flicked through radio stations—pundits, Black Eyed Peas—and settled, for a moment, on something that resembled “Arabian Nights.” He turned it off and sat in silence. Rows of olive trees stretched and narrowed to points on the coastline. Each village we passed was dryer than the last, until pasture turned to reddish dust and orchards to windrows of prickly pear. A sheepherder walked a bicycle alongside a flock; a Berber woman, blue dots tattooed across her forehead and cheeks, locked my eyes until I turned. The week before, after Trevor had spent only a few days in the country, he called and told me he was having a hard time photographing the place. “There are certain kinds of stories you can’t do justice with photography,” he said. “Social change and protest are easy to make visual points about, because they’re very dramatic and obvious. Changes that happen inside people are more difficult.” As the sun lowered, casting the desert in yellow light, his eyes darted across irrigation ditches, clusters of concrete houses, sheep crossing a dusty road. This light was clearer, he said finally, than any he had ever seen.
Trevor Snapp was born on Lopez Island in the San Juan archipelago, an hour by ferry to the upper coast of Washington. His father worked as a fisherman in Alaska, and for a few seasons, Trevor’s mother joined him there until they saved enough money to buy land on the island. There they lived in the hollow of a tree while they erected a workshop, and later a house. They had a privy, chickens, and a garden, to which his mother tended while his father built and fixed boats. The oldest fishing vessel the family kept was the David B., a diesel tugboat that once had run on steam. To maneuver the boat into gear, his father would ring a bell, and Trevor would jam a four-foot metal bar into a wheel and push down on it hard. When he was younger, too slight to muscle the bar, he balanced on it and jumped. Sometimes his father rang the bell as Trevor leapt, but the bar wouldn’t budge. Many years later, Trevor decided to buy a sailboat with money he earned from raising three pigs. The garboard seam split open when he took it into the bay, so he hooked a pump to a 12-volt battery to stay afloat. Eventually, he sold the boat and bought a car.
When Trevor was 13, his parents mortgaged their house and took the family to Europe. There they found a Volkswagen van and drove around the continent for three months. In Amsterdam, he remembers the freedom of riding the tram with his younger brother and his amazement at the oldness of the place. Three years later, he convinced his parents to send him to New Zealand for a semester of school. “I thought I would be climbing volcanoes,” he said, “but I ended up in the ghetto of Christ Church. It’s like the least ghettoized city in the world, but it definitely has a ghetto, and I was definitely in it.” He went to jail twice, once when he was mugged, and again when he streaked a cricket game. He passed from family to family and was nearly sent home, but, humiliated by the prospect, convinced the program to let him stay.