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More Hand-Painted Jamaica

Two years ago I was standing on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston outside the former Channel One recording studios and as I pushed the button on my camera to photograph the old studio ghost sign it triggered an idea, a dream, an adventure.

I felt inspired to find more of these signs, to see if I could meet the painters and learn more about the painted streets of Jamaica. I am fascinated by the ephemeral visual language of the streets, that reflecting urban life, create often anonymous landmarks, layers of meaning and invaluable objects of inquiry.

I started the project the following year in 2018 - it is a documentary photography project called Hand-painted Jamaica which focuses on recording graffiti, sign-painting and street art found in Jamaica. The first stage of the process I found and interviewed 14 sign and mural painters check out some of the short film clips here.

This is the first documentary photography project that aims to get an island-wide perspective on graffiti and art forms from across the island. As a result, I have started to build up a rich photographic archive and shared some of the work in April 2019 in an exhibition called Big Tings A Gwaan Down Di Street. Selected images also appear in a printed zine which is available here to purchase with copies distributed and shared for free in Jamaica.

A project of this nature takes years of work, research and collaboration to be able to develop an island-wide perspective to understand the art forms and its significance in terms of Jamaica's visual culture. It's not something you can just rock along to for a couple of weeks and my work involves developing a much stronger connection going back and revisiting people and places. This helps to build a picture of the fluidity of the visual environment and how it is constantly changing.

Thanks to Arts Council England I have gained further support to continue the work and have started to undertake a more extensive photographic survey. I hope to interview more Jamaican artists to learn about their craft and will be focusing on photographing in areas on the North and East of the Island (parishes of St Mary's, Portland and St Thomas before heading across to the capital Kingston).

Photographing a dancehall sign, Manchioneal (2019)

Downtown Kingston is undergoing re-development and recording the facades of many of the old buildings is important especially when you can already start to see evidence of the decline in the use of sign-painting in the capital.

Towards the end of the trip, I will head down to the west of the Island where the sign-painting culture is still really visible.

I try to create as many ways as possible to share the work here in Jamaica and collaborate to help tell the stories from the streets. It's really great when you can find ways of using the photographs in Jamaica to inspire creativity. So I was delighted last weekend to work with the Boston Community Centre who ran a sign-making workshop with young people who made some beautiful signs.

Young people's sign making workshop at Boston Community Centre, Jamaica

I will be sharing stories online during this second part of the project and will work on an exhibition to be held in Birmingham, next summer.

Follow on Instagram @traceyathorne and #handpaintedJamaica


© Tracey Thorne
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