Portraits from Jamaica

Paradise Plantation is a documentary photography project which focuses on the destructive and neocolonial impact tourism has on Jamaica’s local economies as told through the perspective of working-class Jamaicans. Through visual representation, this project aims to contextualize the ways in which tourism reinforces and perpetuates cyclic poverty, labor exploitation and unequal relations of power established during colonial-era Jamaica. By way of audio interviews and portraiture, I ask subjects to share how tourism shapes their reality in hopes of conceptualizing the residual effects of colonialism in modern-day foreign tourism. 

In Fall of 2015, I embarked on an independent field research project in the fishing village Bluefields, Jamaica to study this issue. During this time, I began the foundational work to gather primary and secondary sources which supports Paradise Plantation. In preparation of my ethnographic field research, I consulted secondary sources such as Angelique V. Nixon’s academic text Resisting Paradise: Tourism, Diaspora, and Sexuality in Caribbean Culture, Esther Figuroa’s documentary, Jamaica for Sale (2008), and Jamaica Kincaid’s novel A Small Place. These works, in addition to countless academic articles that criticized exploitative tourism, highlighted a need for an oral history document looking at labor exploitation in Jamaica. 

Since 2015, I have supplemented this background knowledge with two short-term stays in Jamaica which illuminated my understanding of tourism’s complexity and how it functions in the country. During this time, I conducted research and numerous interviews with low-income and working-class Jamaicans whose livelihood depended upon foreign tourism. Seven people in total allowed me to interview and photograph them. I spoke with farmers, fishermen, and hospitality workers who represented an essential piece of Jamaican society yet were not presented with righteous economic resources. Many of the men and women I spoke with worked on the margins of society, getting work whenever and however they could. They allowed me to see Jamaica and tourism through their eyes. These portraits barely touch the surface.

Ireashia Monét