Incorporating a raw, unedited approach to photography, I often capture socially controversial subjects who represent taboo aspects of Jamaican society. I started out by documenting individuals in the artistic community, and then gradually branched out to the wider community including the Caribbean. An impetus for the work came from a search for my own identity.
By photographing people against a plain or minimal background, I wanted viewers to focus on these individuals who would not normally be considered in conversations about beauty or deemed worthy of a portrait. In this way, I am democratising definitions of iconography, beauty and aesthetics.
"Their self-presentation recognizably draws from contemporary youth culture — dancehall, hip-hop and goth stand out — but is taken to a level where it becomes part of the artistic practice. Marlon James’ portraits powerfully capture this development, most obviously in his portrayals of Stefan Clarke, who is also in the Young Talent V exhibition and whose body, with his self-designed tattoos and jewelry, piercings and radical hairstyles, is an ever-evolving performance piece."
(excerpt from curator's statement: Veerle Poupeye from the Young Talent V exhibition)
"For one, it must be acknowledged that James’ selection of subjects suggests a bias toward counter-cultural gures, both those acknowl- edged as such and those merely dismissed by the dominant culture. For this reason, an interpretation whereby the work is understood as re-writing counter-culture as mainstream or exemplary is valid. He is at once interrogating portraiture’s association with inscribing privi- lege, and utilizing that association to privilege the counter-cultural and subaltern."
(excerpt "Intimate Encounters: Marlon James portraits" by Nicole Smythe-Johnson)
Published in Small Axe 41: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism
Project was funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation
Instead of dismissing skin bleaching, this photographic project's intention is to understand both the practice and the means by which a person would attempt to ascertain some kind of beauty where many saw none. Some proclaimed it was merely a fad; others felt it elevated their confidence. This concept may have been born from a flawed perception of beauty, through global advertising. They are entitled to their portrayal.