Photo Essay : Fieldnotes Jamaica Postcards
Updated: Aug 25, 2022
Photograph: On the Road to Blue Hole unused postcard, published by A Duperly & Son, Kingston, Jamaica, on Trumpet leaf, Tracey Thorne
I recently exhibited a new series of photographic work that I made during the pandemic titled Fieldnotes Jamaica which seeks to use photography as a way of responding to the global climate crisis by reflecting on the environmental challenges facing the Island of Jamaica.
The images in the series explore Jamaica through a wide environmental lens as well as drawing upon personal experience of living on the island, research and a long term interest in the typography of landscapes. The work seeks to highlight the fractured and altered natural landscape as a result of inharmonious human interference from Colonial times to the present day.
It includes a set of six cyanotypes overlaid on the reverse of old picture postcards of Jamaica published in early to mid part of the twentieth century which connect to issues relating to the environment. This intervention although slight was an intentional attempt to explore the role played by picture postcards in the formation of colonial imaginaries and to disrupt the so called 'picturesque Jamaica'.
The act of undoing and remaking these topographical postcard landscapes provides an opportunity to disrupt the colonial picturesque, to reject their silence and create a new way of seeing to help us understand the present.
Bananas - used postcard
The above postcard is typical of the picture postcards of the period that featured images of sugar and banana plantations that I looked at when I was making Fieldnotes Jamaica.
They provide evidence of the impact that the plantation system had on dramatically changing the islands landscape. I reflected on how this contributed to the present day issues relating to large scale farming, soil erosion and heavy use of plastic/water and pesticides.
Bogwalk - used postcard, 1915
Both top and bottom postcards are typical of the picturesque Jamaica imagery that was so important to the colonial project to create a sense of order and development that aimed to attract investment linked to tourism and foreign trade.
Often at the expense of the natural environment and local communities, an issue that continues today even after 60 years of Jamaican independence.
Greetings from Montego Bay - unused postcard
Here is the set of cyanotypes printed on the reverse of six postcards which form part of the Fieldnotes Jamaica series. I should also say that I deliberately chose to work with postcards that still had the original stamps in tact as this also tells us something about colonial imagery used at the time.
I also chose postcards that had been written on as I was interested in the layers of stories on each postcard - it's original publication condition, the mailed postcard and then later any ebay inscriptions denoting its current worth e.g. £3.00.
Cyanotype - Construction Zone, used postcard published by J Arthur Dixon Ltd
The photograph used to make the construction zone cyanotype above was taken on the road to Blue Hole (Blue Lagoon) in San San in Portland. Blue Hole is Jamaica's largest underground spring-fed lagoon and an area of outstanding natural beauty, making it a popular tourist destination.
In early 2022 as a result of the Jamaican Government's road construction project significant damage and loss occurred to the natural environment/habitat when contractors cut the new road. The image explores the tension between the dominance of car use versus the natural environment.
Cyanotype - Jamaica No Problem, used Oilette postcard by Raphel Tuck & Sons, England
Jamaica No Problem is the modern day phrase that to some extent replaces 'picturesque Jamaica' printed on postcards, towels and T shirts. The popular phrase coined in the 1992 song by Macca B Jamaica No Problem helps us to think about how popular culture reinforces the legacy of colonial imaginaries.
Image made from a photograph of the slogan painted on the side of a fridge at a roadside stall.
Cyanotype - Money Can’t Buy Life, used postcard by Mardon Son & Hall LTD, England
In the cyanotype above we see a row of towels for sale aimed at tourist on Negril beach and to the right painted on the gift shop the phrase 'Money Can't Buy Life' taken from a famous interview with the late singer Bob Marley.
Tourism continues to have an impact on the environment globally the painters seems to be openly mocking the fact that Jamaica appears to be for 'sale'.
Cyanotype - Ocean Life mural, used postcard by Novelty Trading Co, Kingston
I made the next cyanotype postcard above to think about the impact that we as humans are having on our oceans. It especially connects in Jamaica to issues relating to the threat to the islands coral reefs and ocean pollution.
The image is of a coral reef scene and red stripe advertisement painted on the side of a bar. The bottle top represents the impact that we as humans are having on our oceans.
Cyanotype - Jamaica Good, used postcard by Dr Jas. Johnston
Jamaica Good image made from a photograph of some daubed graffiti painted on shop shutters in Montego Bay a message from the streets to the people perhaps giving words of hope - it will be alright cus Jamaica Good!
Cyanotype - Cash Talk, unused postcard by Duncan Keith Corindi, Kingston
Daubed slogan painted on the walls of a yard in an inner city area known as Tivoli Gardens in downtown Kingston. A message to the people but helps us think about how governments around the world are green washing on the environment and climate change. Cash Talks.
The Cyanotype process
The cyanotype process is a 19th Century photographic process that involves coating the paper with a chemical solution (a mixture of iron compounds) which when exposed to UV light and washed in water oxidise to create Prussian Blue images. The technique was invented in 1841 by Sir John Herschel and was popularised by photographer and botanist Anna Atkins.
The process I used is pretty much unchanged but I made these images by laying a photographic negative over the dried coated postcards and then exposed these under a UV lamp in my studio for around 10 minutes. The short video clip captures the moment when the exposed solution washes away revealing the image.
The cyanotype postcards are from the series Fieldnotes Jamaica which explores environmental issue in Jamaica. Work was exhibited in Birmingham UK in July, 2022 and the project received support from Art Council England.
For information about the artist click here.
All postcards shown are from Tracey Thorne's Jamaica collection. All rights reserved copy right Tracey Thorne, 2022.