Street Photography in Jamaica (And why it can be so damn hard)

This post originally appeared on my Medium blog in August 2013. I’ve recently started working at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (in the Photography Department, naturally), and I’ve been working with and assisting students who had to complete photojournalism assignments centred around street photography. I also received an email from a young man with who seemed to have a passion to tackle it. With that in mind, I thought it prudent to repost it here.

Street photography. It’s something that I’ve studied. It’s something that I love. When I look at street photography, I see the pure, unfiltered activities that can happen at any given time around. No ‘real’ posing. No facades. And it’s an amazing way to be inspired.

I love street photography because it helps me with my own creativity. And even outside of just being creative, it helps me to know how to capture a specific feeling. I’m not quite certain if what I’m writing is making any sense. But it’s how I feel.

My greatest problem with street photography? The streets of my country. Without the proper mindset or skill it can be extremely difficult to practice street photography in Jamaica, due to the mindset of what seems to be the general populace. Raise a camera on the street?

“Ay, nuh tek nuh pictcha a mi, enuh!”

“Yow boss, mek sure seh mi nuh deh pon dat.”

The majority of the comments and protests come from males, usually the ones who dress and act like ‘thugs’; although those reactions are certainly not limited to them. One strange (or not so strange) thing; a photographer who has ‘lighter’ skin, from my observation, gets more positive feedback than a black one such as myself. The reason behind this could perhaps be a post in and of itself.

Sometimes the setting is perfect, a situation where one can go un-hassled. Like the above photo, taken in Half Way Tree, during the 2012 Olympics’ Men’s 4x100 metre final.

Or this, taken during a concert in Emancipation Park.

There are a number of factors at play, here. In the two instances I listed above, there were tonnes of media personnel around. In instances like these, it’s not uncommon for people to strike poses, deliberately hoping to get their photo taken. However, a lone photographer on the street, with an ‘expensive looking’ camera (a DSLR, no matter how basic), gets a lot of unwanted attention. While shooting on the street I’ve received complaints, insults, and even the occasional death threat. Maybe the threats weren’t serious, but it’s always best to treat them as such.

Hopefully one day Jamaican society will change enough that I won’t need to worry about my safety while walking with my camera. But until then… I can’t stop. And I have no plans to do so.

Lifestyle Shoot with Jherane

In my last blog post, I said I needed to step out of my comfort zone, that shoot allowed me to do just that. This time around, I decided to focus on one thing; keeping it simple. The conditions of the shoot were quite similar to the last, as all I had on hand (yet again) was my trusty camera, a single speedlight, and a very small room. Travelling light equipment-wise has been a boon, as it allows me to get back to basics and focus on what’s at hand.

Jherane, while gorgeous, isn’t a professional model (not that you’d be able to tell from these images). As with many folks, at first she was a bit shy in front of the camera. I’m sure most of us can relate, because I know I can! But once we built our rapport, we decided that the best way to make everything easy-breezy was to have a few episodes of Steven Universe run in the background. The shyness melted quite quickly, and it was smooth sailing from that point on. Full album can be found here.

Portrait Shoot with Alana

I haven’t blogged in a while as the ‘Real World’ has been keeping me quite busy, so it took me a while to get back into the swing of things! I’ve been working on a lot of things lately, but at the same time, I’ve been in something of a creative rut. In my mind I knew I had to do something different, a bit more daring; I had to step out of my comfort zone, and this shoot allowed me to do just that. All I had on hand was my trusty camera, a single speedlight, and a very small room. These forced me to get creative with the space I had, and in the end, the images were great!

I met my friend Alana a few years ago and was blown away by how remarkably chill and comfortable she was. When I called her up for the shoot, I didn’t quite have a concept in mind; all I knew was that I wanted suspenders (she had suspenders) and I wanted to do something risque. Her amazing attitude shone through in the images, and I can’t wait to work with her again! The full gallery can be seen here.

Daniel & Nastassian: Salsa Nuptials

In May I had the pleasure of shooting the fun, intimate wedding of Daniel José Older and Nastassian Brandon (now Brandon-Older) in Ocho Rios, St. Ann.

Meet The Couple

I first met this wonderful couple in the same way that they themselves first met; on Twitter! Daniel is from New York City, and Nastassian is from Jamaica (this is the power of social media). It was through this medium that I really got to know them.

In a quirky twist of fate, Daniel (author of Salsa Nocturna, Half-Resurrection Blues and Shadowshaper) happened to be a writer whose work I had been admiring for quite some time. Nastassian, while a law student, also happened to be a writer, and I could instantly see why they complement each other so well.

Twitter has a funny way of bringing people together and at times bringing out their true nature, and it was because of this that I could see how fun, witty and brilliant they are, not to mention adventurous (he proposed to her in Paris for Pete’s sake!)

The wedding, dubbed Salsa Nuptials by a friend of the bride, was held at Garden House, a guesthouse on the outskirts of Ocho Rios, with an absolutely gorgeous view overlooking the town.

When the day began, conditions were perfect for a day of shooting outdoors; the sky started out overcast, but cleared up quite nicely heading into the ceremony.

Both groom’s and the bride’s camps ensured that they were ready for the day (although the bride’s took a bit longer).

After the guests were settled in and the groom stood at the gazebo that served as the alter, everything went smoothly. Showcasing a bit of her fun side, the Nastassian requested that Big Pimpin’ be played for the bridal march, delighting the guests and causing fits of laughter.

After an excellent ceremony, the newlyweds took some amazing portraits privately and with their families.

The reception was fun-filled, peppered with laughs provided by friends and family through lovely, heartfelt speeches. The day was capped off with the couple having their first dance, completely lost in their own world while they danced arm in arm.

Gavin & Jess: A ‘Save the Date’ Shoot

Meet The Couple

A little while back I got a call (well, a call and then a Whatsapp message) from Gavin, an old schoolmate from high school. He was looking for a photographer to shoot him and his fiance Jessica, popular blogger of Jessica in the Kitchen fame for a ‘Save the Date’ shoot. It had been a little while since I’d shot a couple, so I was glad to sign on and work with them.

Jessica (and Gavin) In the Kitchen

We talked about a few ideas for the theme of the shoot. I asked him, “What’s something that you two positively enjoy doing together?” His answer was immediate; cooking! One of their favourite things to do is cook and spend time in the kitchen together. After hashing out a few ideas with him, I decided to go a bit more in-depth on my own. I wanted to showcase them in the kitchen, but I still wanted to keep the spirit and purpose of the shoot.

A few days later, I was in Gavin’s kitchen, ready to make some magic. Both he and Jess were incredibly comfortable in front of the camera, and they were a joy to work with. They were naturals; who needs posing, anyway?. We talked throughout the shoot, with Gavin recounting how he asked her out on their first date (it’s a really cute story involving a Super Bowl party and pastry).

After grabbing some great shots in the kitchen, we decided to head outdoors to get some more traditional shots. Gavin’s backyard was pretty sizable, so we had a lot of space to work with. While I did have a shot list to work by, Gavin and Jess pulled off almost every concept without even referencing it. This led to a really great series of images, which I feel were the best of the shoot. You could feel the love between them; it was palpable, and it translated well on-camera.

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