Anne Bequette is a freelance photographer living on the island of St John, US Virgin Islands. She specializes in wedding photography, lifestyle and family portraits and candid island life images. We sat down with her to catch up on life and to get and share some of what she experienced before, during and after the historic hurricane, Irma, that swept over St John in 2017. Including her assignment as photographer for Kenny Chesney’s Love for Love City Foundation.
[Publisher]: Would you share, by way of introduction, the rather unique script tattoo you have on your left forearm?
[Anne]: That tattoo is quite a story. Back in May of 2005 when I first arrived on St. John, I was taking a break from college and took a job at the Westin. Eager to have found a job prior to booking my one way ticket to this island paradise, I was beyond thrilled to live the island life. Only, 4 months in, I got fired. Still to this day don’t know the reason; the GM at the time didn’t even know my name when he let me go. At the same time, my apartment lease was up, and with no job funds to renew it, I was panicked. To add to the heap of lovely circumstances, the first love of my life had just dumped me to go back to his ex. So, like any other girl in my shoes, I got all dolled up, grabbed a girlfriend, and bar hopped through town… in heels! While at the Quiet Mon, probably crying into my drink, the bartender passed me a beer and said, “This is from the guys at the end of the bar.” Long story short, it was from Kenny and the owners of Woodys, Chad and Todd. Having never met any of them, conversation was easy and flowin, and I told them my sob story. “Have you ever bartended before?” Chad asked. I said nope. He went on to tell me that I could start training the next day, and that an apartment comes with the job. An apartment I would pay for, but was reserved for only Woodys staff, and was just a short walk away from where we were sitting. “Want to go look at them and pick one out?” I exclaimed, “YES!” So we did.
Walked into the first vacant unit, good ol #5, and after seeing it and walking out to go back to the bar, I caught a glimpse of a piece of paper taped above the peephole on the inside of the door. On it read: “It Loved to Happen.”* The simplest of phrases, but one that stuck with me for years to follow, especially since I saw it every day I lived there.
It wasn’t until 6 years later on a night in Lauderdale with a boyfriend that I found a tattoo parlor, the perfect font, and got it permanently on my arm where I could forever be reminded that it DID love to happen. All of it. The good, the bad, the mediocre things in life… that’s what “It” came to mean to me. It’s a phrase I say often to this day, and looking down at it reminds me of a chapter in my life that changed everything. Sitting at that Irish pub at the right time that night, was exactly where I was meant to be. Working at Woodys back then, the good ol days, gave me an island family I still have to this day. One of which encouraged me to follow my dreams. I saved up enough extra cash from bartending and bought my first camera from Cruz Bay Photo. The rest is history!
“Earth loves the rain, the proud sky loves to give it.” The whole world loves to create futurity. I say then to the world, “I share your love.” Is this not the source of the phrase, “This loves to happen”?
– Marcus Aurelius / from the book Meditations/Book X.
These were writings of Aurelius as reminders to himself of ideas to bear in mind.
The last phrase is quoted in J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey
as “It loved to happen”; the tense is ambiguous in Greek. – WikiQuote.org
[Publisher]: On September 7, 2017 Hurricane Irma, a record setting CAT5, roared straight over the little island of St John. She was followed, a mere 2 weeks later by a second CAT5, Hurricane Maria; which passed over the Virgin Islands. In the days, weeks and months that would follow, you literally became the lens through which the World viewed the destruction and recovery on the Island.
Would you share with our readers what it was like to be on St John during and after these two massive and unimaginably powerful storms ripped across the Island?
[Anne]: Wow. Reading that evokes all sorts of emotions… fortunately for you readers, I don’t mind talking about the storm ( but not everyone here does …, so be kind when you ask about it on your next visit). And I say ‘storm’ because I was only here on St. John for Irma. If you ask me, and I’m sure many others would agree, she was a CAT6+! Although she was beautiful and perfect storm on the radar, she was completely devastating in real life. An experience I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.
Irma had sustained 200+mph winds in some areas… gusts of almost 300mph I was told. I was fortunate enough to ride out the storm with a group of quick-thinking and brave souls, who I will forever consider family til the day I die.
When the first window blew out, it was “go time”. Into a closet back room we all ran, 17 people, including children, and 5 dogs. The sounds of the house being torn apart outside the doors, the painful ear-popping every minute from the low pressure and ripping winds, the fear… will forever haunt me, and it doesn’t take much to remind me of any of it. There are still blue roofs on houses here… there is still debris wrapped around trees… destruction… but this island is rebuilding. This community is strong.
I luckily was evacuated the day before Maria hit. When we flew out, it was a CAT3. By that night, she had grown to a CAT5. All of us then got the taste of what our friends and family back on the mainland felt during Irma: we feared for those we left behind and felt helpless.
Luckily, no one was lost during Maria. And our focus went to getting back to St. John as quickly as we could, to help in any way we could. I returned about 3 weeks later, and got to work.
After a month or so, with the island still without power, I was asked if I would like to document all the hard work and rebuilding that the Love for Love City Foundation was executing. I gladly and eagerly accepted the role; I knew there weren’t going to be any weddings to shoot any time soon, so to give me and my camera a purpose was life changing. Those photographs I took over the course of the following months, I will forever cherish.
[Publisher]: I remember turning on CNN and seeing and hearing your report. Images and video started hitting social media. The tools of your profession seem uniquely suited to capturing and conveying the magnitude of what had happened. Did that give your days, purpose?
[Anne]: I held onto my camera for dear life in that closet while Irma was tearing through the island. The photos I took before, during and after the storms at first was simply to keep my mind busy. Of course I knew the magnitude of what had happened… but not for awhile until it really sunk in. The morning after Irma, for example, what I saw with my eyes was unfathomable. Had I not taken a photo of it, I still wouldn’t believe what the aftermath really looked like. When I assumed the role of photographing for the LFLC foundation, I feel that ‘job’ had a huge impact on my mindset being as positive as it was post-storms; I got to witness and capture all the positive change that the outside private sector and local organizations were implementing. Children receiving gifts for Christmas, schools receiving new desks and laptops and books, stores and businesses receiving generators so they could operate and bring some normalcy back to everyone’s lives… my most favorite thing though? The love. All the love people still had for each other, helping one another, smiling, even when they wanted to cry… THAT was an honor to capture. That’s why this place really lives up to its name of Love City.
[Publisher]: You worked for Kenny Chesney’s Love For Love City Foundation. Your images served to capture a part of the spectrum of loss and rebuilding. What was it like seeing your work shared with his fans and the World?
[Anne]: Oh man. When we (most of us that rode Irma out together at Kenny’s house) went to the opening show of his tour in Tampa in 2018, Kenny pulled me aside and told me to be in view of the big screen during his new hit song, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” I didn’t know why at the time. But when the song came on, standing in the crowd of thousands, and I saw all my photos taken from the morning after Irma and the following months, I bawled my eyes out. It was nostalgic in a different sense…those first 6 months post Irmaria were such a chaotic, uncertain, and extreme time for everyone here. To relive those photos in front of such an audience was incredibly moving, and extremely emotional. One of my favorites is of the little girl on the dock in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke. The crew and I had just finished rebuilding the customs dock, and she ran out onto it in front of the guys… it was a hot day, a long day, but her smile was priceless and made us all laugh. Some of the other images are painful to remember, but we all made it through. Looking back I remember thinking, “If these fans only knew… “ We survived, and that’s what those photos remind me of most.
[Publisher]: Here we are, over two years into recovery. As you look at St John, her people and island life … what has changed?
[Anne]: The community of St. John’s resilience is remarkable. A lot of my friends have new roles, new passions, and are working hard within the community to put new systems in place to help the recovery process of any future disasters. I’m SO proud of them, and to know them. For just one example, a dear friend of mine who used to manage a bar, is now a head of the water testing projects that members of Love City Strong invented. She and her team work on all 3 islands, and work alongside the CDC. She loves it! Before this project, there was absolutely no research done on cistern water, how to test it, or how to treat it. Her face lit up telling me that last week, and I realized she’s not only making a difference, she’s making history too, along with so many others. There are teams here that are paving the way for a better future for this island for sure.
The usual bar or lunch conversation has changed a bit… often it’s Irma related in one way or another. Because Irma changed our lives and set us all on new courses. But everyone is adjusting as best they can, and if they aren’t, and I find out about it, I’ll do anything I can to help them. As I said before, this community is strong.
[Publisher]: I frequently get this question … “When will St John be back to normal?” or “Should I come back to St John? Is it back to normal?”. I’m never sure how to answer these types of questions. Looking around I see sun-bleached and thread-bare Coral Bay tee shirts proudly proclaiming “We’re all here because we’re not all there.”. Has a new normal forever replaced the pre-IrMaria “normal”?
[Anne]: This answer varies depending on who you ask. Personally, I myself can carry out my day-to-day needs, activities, errands, without a hitch for the most part. Some things have changed, but you improvise, create a new routine, find a new way to get it done. I have clients again filling up my schedule with photoshoots, so I thank God every day for that. If I want to go boating, there is a plethora of awesome boats to pick from to get out on the water. If I need groceries, all grocery stores are open and running. Post office, good to go. Bars and restaurants are open, and if they aren’t then they are still remodeling and improving. Jeep Rentals, good to go. Villa rentals and some resorts are open. My point is, yes, come here! This island thrives on the tourism dollar. So professions like mine and many others, need it to survive.
[Publisher]: As you look forward … what are your hopes for the little island of St John and for yourself?
[Anne]: I myself hope to learn more about this Island’s history. I’ll admit, prior to the storms, I was ignorant to learn. But lately there has been a lot of debate on how the culture here is fading and being forgotten. For an island that has changed me forever for the better, a place that provides beautiful backdrops to my camera and my clients, I believe it’s important to know how it all came to be.
Anne Bequette is an avid capturer of love in all forms – a lifestyle, wedding and engagement, humanitarian, and landscape photographer, Anne has a knack for finding beauty in all situations of life.
Anne’s lifestyle and humanitarian work was part of an extremely special project, donning the Songs for the Saints album of Kenny Chesney, from her countless hours serving as the documentarian of Kenny’s Love for Love City Foundation. She has been featured by news outlets such as The New York Post, The New York Times, Fox News online and TV, HLN TV Morning Express with Robin Meade, People Magazine, USA Today, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Garden & Gun, and more. She has also been featured on broadcast interviews on Good Morning America, CNN, HLN TV, The Weather Channel, and Channel 5 in St. Louis.
Her wedding and engagement work can be seen in Conde Nast’s Brides Magazine, Bridal Guide, Green Wedding Shoes, Coastal Living Magazine, Wedding Chicks, Matador Network, and more.
Her work has been featured by these news, travel and fashion companies!
“It Loves to Happen.” – J.D. Salinger, in Franny and Zooey, quoted Marcus Aurelius as “It loved to happen”; the tense is ambiguous in Greek. – WikiQuote.org.