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Why I Think Street Photography in Jamaica is So Damn Hard

While shooting on the street I’ve received complaints, insults, and even the occasional death threat.

Darien Robertson is a portrait and wedding photographer based in Kingston, Jamaica.

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.

I’m a born and bred Jamaican. I do believe street photography here is a different experience. Depending on where they’re shooting, a foreigner might have an easier time of it right off the bat, especially depending on skin colour, as foreigners are generally just regarded as harmless tourists. As a local you have to go a bit deeper and try to connect with your subjects on a different level.

Without the proper mindset or skill it can be extremely difficult to practice street photography in Jamaica. What happens when you raise a camera on the street?

“Ay, nuh tek nuh pictcha a mi, enuh!”

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

One strange (or not so strange) thing; a photographer who has “lighter” skin, from my observation, gets more positive feedback than a “darker” skinned person such as myself. The reason behind this could perhaps be an article 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 tons 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.

In one situation a few years ago, a group of men very nearly chased me. Even though I wasn’t taking a photo of them, the camera was aimed in their general direction. They assumed I was a police officer (or working with the police) and began threatening me to delete the photos from my card. I knew where I was venturing wasn’t entirely safe, so I paid constant attention to my surroundings. My photojournalism lecturer in University taught me a very important lesson: “Shoot with both eyes open.”

The hostility really seems to stem from a distrust of media, to an extent. At times, the media definitely misrepresents how the Jamaican people are, sometimes showing them as boorish and/or uneducated because of the way they speak or dress. It’s a pretty big issue that’s definitely not able to be unpacked in a single paragraph, but it understandably makes people angry.

Getting through that barrier is a matter of communication and trust between the photographer and the people. It’s not that they won’t pose willingly, they just need to trust you.

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.

Darien Robertson’s online portfolio
This article was originally posted on his portfolio’s blog.

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