Edited by Sandra Crisp LG.
Omar in Vin Lawrence Park, 2020.
Sandra Crisp LG: “In your Trench Town photographs of architecture, contrasting vibrant/ faded-pastel colours, bright light and complex layered, and irregular structures are presented alongside consistent observation of richly textured detail. In a recent 2020 work posted on your Twitter profile we see the striking figure of Omar standing centre stage smoke trailing from mouth, captured in the moment. The image achieves a sense of spontaneity but at the same time the appearance of carefully constructed composition.
I’m really interested to know about any processes of interaction and cooperation that might be in-play when you are taking photographs. Also, any favourite cameras, possible digital post-production or other techniques used in your practice that you are happy to reveal.”
Charlotte C Mortensson: I took the photograph of Omar last year in Vin Lawrence Park, Trench Town, Jamaica. He’s a popular DJ and had just finished playing a set. The circle of friends in the background are fellow members of One Brinks, a successful young group who write, produce and perform their own music.
This is my favourite of the many images from that afternoon. I like Omar’s calm confident presence and his direct engagement with the camera. The Rastafarian colours – red green and gold – on the left-hand wall behind him symbolise the ongoing Rastafarian influence in the community. Framing the complete image in the camera before I take a shot is an important discipline. I seldom crop or manipulate the work.
I use a Panasonic Lumix DMC GF5. I like its weight, solidness and compactness. I don’t use a tripod or any other equipment because I need to be flexible.
Tuffy, Bawly and a street dog, 2020
The photo was taken in Second Street. People are given a series of nicknames through their lives and are often known by different names by different people.
The portraits are spontaneous and never staged. However, I ensure that people are aware of the camera and are happy to be photographed. Often someone directly asks me to take a picture, or it’s a silent but clear communication – a nod, a look, a subtle change in posture.
I’ve been documenting Trench Town for over a decade, living in the community. I was initially captivated by the area’s breathtaking self-built architecture which is created out of recycled and discarded materials. The ingenuity in design and local building techniques, and the layers of textures and colours continue to entrance me.
Friendships have grown over this time, and documenting residents’ lives now goes hand in hand with recording the ever-evolving buildings.
A vital part of the process is to be constantly observant and sensitive to what is going on around me, to feel the vibes and to pick up on projects/situations to be explored. I am always aware that I am a guest in Trench Town, and of the trust, cooperation and kindness that I receive. Projects have been suggested by residents. For instance, I’m working on a short video with my friend Jo about how he’s had to adapt, physically and emotionally, to life-changing injuries after being shot some years ago.
An earlier untitled architectural work – I’ve taken so many photographs of this imposing pathway.
This version was exhibited at the Barbican Arts Group Trust Open in 2016 and the Plymouth Contemporary Open in 2017.
The work has become my modest attempt to counteract Jamaica’s classist narrative in which ghetto people are deemed to be worthless by many uptown residents. Boys are assumed to be criminals before they’ve even left school. I depict everyday people of all ages living normal lives in difficult circumstances. Recently the photos have been getting a little bit more attention in Jamaica and perhaps they’ve encouraged a few uptown people to reexamine their beliefs.
Earlier this year I had a one-day exhibition in Vin Lawrence Park where Bob Marley used to play football. I was advised by my good friend Nature, who organised the show with me that more people would come along if ice cream and a performance of Nyabinghi (African) drumming were promised. The ice cream and drumming were indeed the main attractions but the portraits of the residents got a heart-warming reception and it was really nice to see the prints afterwards in people’s homes. The prints are A3 size and fit into my suitcase, and printed on Hahnemühle Fine Art paper so they don’t fade.
Taking prints back to Trench Town after each trip is an energising and integral part of the creative process. It feels as if the work has completed its cycle.
Nature, (who’s shown standing in the yellow passageway) is a local historian and activist and this work would not have been possible without him. Over the years he’s introduced me to community leaders, advised me on local etiquette and explained the ever-changing political and social narratives relevant to each section of Trench Town.
Charlotte C Mortensson LG, 2021
Title: Nature, 2018
His yellow top really was a coincidence!
This beautiful pathway has been blocked off by a house extension and is no longer accessible.
Stoneman in his art studio in Culture Yard, Trench Town. He works primarily with textiles and words.
I am currently editing a short film about his work.
Smokey, who is one of the most enthusiastic and photogenic l people I’ve ever met, had asked me to photograph him with Scanna (in the hat) when Paradise ran over to join them.
I’m always struck by the supportive friendships between generations in Trench Town.
Work from the Trench Town series is showing in The Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition, The Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD 22 September 2021 — 2 January 2022.
A photograph and short video from the same series is part of ‘In Plain Sight’ The London Group exhibition, Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Elmfield House, Dowell Street, Devon EX14 1LX, 27 August – 30 October 2021.