Jamaica is full of photo opportunities, and they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I try my best to capture the world around me on my smart phone so I will have visual memories to share.

The natural environment in Jamaica is STUNNING and I have a hard time doing justice to the beauty with my phone. The colour palate is amazing, and the light, especially at dusk, is the stuff that artists dream of; it is surely the reason someone coined the phrase ‘golden hour‘. Meanwhile, the built environment can look run down in some places, and while it can make for a good picture, there are times where I am not sure my photos tell the whole story.

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Some Jamaicans love to get their photo taken (selfie culture is ALIVE and WELL here) while others are camera shy. There isn’t any cultural or religious stigma against photos, it is just self-consciousness about being caught on ‘film’. As in most places, children typically love photos taken on a smart phone because they get to see themselves immediately. Youth Development Program students are often reluctant to have their photo taken as they don’t want people to know where they are – almost a ‘witness protection’ attitude. I do my best to honour each individual’s preferences.

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I like to share my favourite photos and moments on Instagram, which has forgiving editing tools I use to feel better about the composition and lighting of my photos. Because I am an amateur photographer, my photos’ flaws are from my own hand, but there was a time in recent history where that wouldn’t have been the case.

When colour photography was first invented, film companies used images of fair skinned people only to colour-balance the film before it went to production. Dark skin was never considered during the optimization process, which mean that darker skinned subjects often blended into the shadows of photos. It wasn’t a technical issue, it was a perspective issue: What does a ‘normal’ subject look like? Who will buy this film? The people who were making those decisions did not factor dark skinned people into the equation, so film was never calibrated for their likeness, resulting in photos where dark skin looked terrible.

It wasn’t until photographers complained about the way chocolate and wood furnishings (not even people!) looked on film that companies like Kodak re-examined their processes and came up with a different way to colour balance. While some efforts have been made in recent years to address this inherent racism, it is still up to photographers to purchase film that has been designed to shoot darker images.

Digital cameras (including my smart phone) were designed based on the way the old, light-loving film worked. You’ll notice when you point at something that the camera seeks out the light parts of the photo and calibrates the dark parts in comparison. However, the difference with digital photography is that now we have post-production editing tools like those in Instagram to help overcome the built-in discrimination.

I encourage you to read about how photography was optimized for light skin, and to read a dark skinned photographer’s perspective of how this discrimination influenced her photography and her self-image.

 

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