I took this photo of a young man in the community where I served, Lluidas Vale in the parish of St. Catherine. Arnold is his name and I believe his father was an engineer at the sugar cane factory at Worthy Park Estate, which surrounds Vale.
Although my Peace Corps service was fairly recent, 2000 to 2002, taking pictures was still very different from now. I had yet to go digital at the time. I had minimal equipment with me, having left my best equipment in the states. I became a Peace Corps volunteer to leave my newspaper photography job behind, so all I took with me was a Nikon FM2 and a couple of lenses.
This photo I shot of Arnold I took on slide film. I photographed both on slides and negatives. I wish I would have photographed everything on slide film. I brought with me prepaid mailers to send the slide film back to the states for processing.
I remember getting the package containing the slides with this image. It was months later. Of course I had to go into Kingston to the Peace Corps office to pick up the package.
I was pleased with the results of the photos I took of people in my community. I basically used my camera as an excuse to walk around the community to meet people. This was very important because in the beginning I was not very accepted by everyone in the community. I was the first volunteer to live in and serve the community. Many people did not trust me. The only other white people many of them knew were the plantation owners. They had a complicated relationship with them. On the one hand the plantation provided the economy for the community, so most of the people in the community either directly or indirectly worked for the plantation. Planting and cutting cane is still hard physical labor - brutally difficult. In many ways life was not much different for many in Lluidas Vale from slave times.
Because Arnold’s father worked a skilled job in the processing factory, their family was better off. Arnold always wore new clothes. He didn’t have to work. He wore nicer clothes than I did and always had money to buy rum. He seemed desperate to want to be my friend. I hung out with him a couple of times, but felt that he was always trying to take advantage of me somehow, even though as a Peace Corps volunteer I had very little to offer monetarily. I remember he was always demanding and seemed put out if I went home early. I also remember him trying to set me up with a sister or a cousin and he was truly hurt when I showed no interest.
When I first looked through the packet of slides that contained the image of Arnold I was sitting in a cafe in Ocho Rios with a fellow volunteer. I was holding the slides up to the light squinting at them. I didn’t have a loop or any other type of viewer. Of the bunch this photo of Arnold stood out, and I proudly handed it to my Peace Corps friend who was with me, Julie. She looked at it and asked me “How do you take such great pictures of people?”
Julie said that she too would like to photograph people in her village, but was uncomfortable doing so. I explained to her the first thing is that you had to form relationships with the people and get them comfortable with you and your camera. You shouldn’t just go up to people and start sticking a camera into their faces. Jamaicans, living in a country frequented by tourists, are very wary of constantly having their pictures taken without their permission. They, like most people, don’t like it. In Jamaica I only photographed people close up if I asked them beforehand, or knew them well. Most of my pictures of people in Jamaica came out of me spending lots of time with my subjects.
Of course there is an exception, and that is kids. Children love to have their pictures taken and they would mob you if you pulled out your camera. The difficulty then was getting candid, unposed pictures of them.
Another thing, before digital, I found important, was to get copies of pictures I took made and give them to my subjects. It was kind of a quid pro quo, plus people like to see pictures of themselves. They want to see how the picture turned out. People who don’t have ready access to cameras like to have some pictures of themselves. Now days with digital it is easier to show people the pictures you take of them. However, it is still good practice to get pictures printed out and give to your subjects. They will treasure them.
Arnold must have bugged me for weeks to get a copy of the picture I took of him. Because I took it on slide film that made it difficult to get a print made. I can’t remember if I ever did get one to him. I must have because about a year ago I was back in Vale and I ran into Arnold. He didn’t ask me for the picture. If I hadn’t given him a print, he would have, I am sure. When I saw Arnold I recognized him right away. He had not changed one bit from the time I took this picture. It was like as if time barely had passed in Lluidas Vale, which is the feeling I get every time I return to the village.