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.

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