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Jamaica Blue Dancehall Signs

Cyanotypes printed on fabric from a set of hand-painted dancehall signs photographed in Jamaica.

I started photographing hand-painted dancehall signs around 2018 in Jamaica which was part of a wider documentary photography project called Hand-Painted Jamaica.

During that project I travelled across the island and soon realised that the practice of hand-painting dancehall signs was dying out in Kingston and many of Jamaica's bigger urban areas.

The disappearance of hand-painted signs has pretty much gone unnoticed with many promoters switching before COVID to using digital printed media and to some extent online social media advertising. Its rare these days to find any hand-painted signs like the one below in Kingston or the bigger urban towns but head out to the country and the roads our dotted with party signs painted on board or on walls.

Before COVID hit the island I had started photographing dancehall signs in Portland, St Thomas and Westmoreland and hoped to trace their development or demise over the next few years/decade. Some of this early work is set out in a self published photo zine called Lots of Sign: Jamaican Dancehall Signs, available here.

Sadly due to the COVID-19 measures in place on the island the entertainment sector has been prohibited from holding dancehall parties.

Ironically, the signs I photographed around January and February 2020 became some of the last signs painted on the island during these extraordinary times. The Laugh and Gwan sign shown in the set above is a good example of a party that due to COVID was never held. Like the photographs these signs have now become frozen in time - ghost signs of the visual culture of dancehall before the pandemic.

I have been using the time during lockdowns in the UK to re-explore these photographs and this led to developing a set of dancehall cyanotypes printed on paper and fabric.

The fabric set shown here is of four cyanotypes printed on linen which I made to bring back to Jamaica recently and shared as part of World Cyanotype Day 2021.

The pop up cyanotypes set was photographed off Folly Rd, in Port Antonio, Portland.

I'm interested in continuing to document these hand-painted signs and will explore further ways of sharing the work in different formats.

The cyanotype process provides a creative way to seek new meaning from the photographs by creating photograms and allows me to make my own artistic interpretation of these old signs.

Love to hear what you think of them? Do get in touch.

Signs included in this set in order left to right are; 1) Digitally printed signboards, St Mary's, 2) Bonfire hand-painted sign, Morant bay 3) Laugh & Gwan hand-painted sign, Manchioneal and 4) Bricks hand-painted signboards, Westmoreland.

All photographs and cyanotypes © Tracey Thorne, 2021.


© Tracey Thorne
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