Making Jamaica: Photography from the 1890s

24 February - 22 April 2017

Rivington Place

London, UK

Free exhibition

Making Jamaica explores how a new image of Jamaica was created through photography in the late nineteenth century.

More than 70 historical photographs, lantern slides and stereocards reveal the carefully constructed representation of this transitional period in Jamaica’s history. For first time, its people are depicted as an industrious nation post-emancipation, and their surroundings as a desirable tourist destination and tropical commodity.

These photographs present an intriguing vision of the ‘unspoiled beauty’ of one of the Caribbean’s major islands during a period of economic and social change, and illustrate the efforts of its local ruling white mercantile elite to bring the island’s valuable resources to the attention of the wider world.

These archival images are exhibited in London for the first time courtesy of the Caribbean Photo Archive, alongside a new commission by contemporary artist Ingrid Pollard.

Gallery closures. Please note that Making Jamaica will be closed to the public on the following dates for events:

Thurs 30 March: 5pm onwards
Tuesday 4 April: 2 - 5:30pm
Thurs 6 April: 6 - 7:30pm
Thurs 13 April: 6 - 7:30pm

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In 1889, the Governor of Jamaica, Sir Henry Blake, brought together a group of local businessmen and wealthy landowners to form what would become known as the Awakening Jamaica committee, with a view to organising a large international exhibition to promote Jamaica as a modern British colony poised for foreign investment and international tourism. Emancipation in 1838 had thrown Jamaica’s previously lucrative, slave-based sugar industry into decline, and by the late 1800s Jamaica’s economy was suffering.

For the exhibition, the Awakening Jamaica committee hired the internationally recognised Scottish company, Valentine & Sons, to produce promotional photographs of Jamaica and its inhabitants, creating a romantic and seductive portrait of the island as a commercial and tourist paradise.

Since 1851, Valentine & Sons had been prominent makers of landscape and travel photographs. While in Jamaica, the company produced a large number of collodion plate negatives, which it eventually took back to Scotland. These photographs, copies of which were sold and distributed widely to its European and American clientele, presented varied scenic and architectural views of the island’s major cities, smaller villages and rural areas, as well as its harbours and beaches.

Others depicted busy street scenes and staged portraiture featuring local workers and families. Importantly, many of these images were also used by Jamaican colonial officials at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and published in a promotional book titled World’s Fair, Jamaica at Chicago: An Account Descriptive of the Colony of Jamaica.

Unfortunately the original negatives made by Valentine & Sons were destroyed in 1961. The archival photographs in Making Jamaica are exhibited courtesy of the Caribbean Photo Archive, a private collection based in New York and owned by Patrick Montgomery. More than 70 prints have been selected from Montgomery’s comprehensive collection, which he acquired over many years.

Other photographers active in Jamaica at the time included Dr James Johnston, J.W. Cleary and E. Bavastro. One of the most prominent photographers working in nineteenth century Jamaica was Adolphe Duperly (b. 1801, Paris), who established the first photographic studio in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1840. He is best known for the series Daguerreian Excursions to Jamaica, which was exhibited in Paris in 1844. Following his death in 1865, his son Henri Louis Duperly continued to develop the family tradition; his photographs are among the earliest works included in this exhibition.

Directions and opening hours

Free admission

Autograph ABP
Rivington Place

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The main entrance is on the side of the building.

We are located in the heart of Shoreditch, a short walk from Old Street, Liverpool Street and Shoreditch High Street stations.
Buses: 26, 43, 48, 55, 67, 149, 205, 242 and 271

Gallery opening times
Tues, Wed, Fri 11am – 6pm
Thurs 11am – 9pm,
Sat 12 – 6pm
The gallery is closed on Sundays, Mondays and Public Holidays

Rivington Place is fully accessible.

Children are welcome to the gallery with an adult. 

New Artist Commission

Ingrid Pollard: The Valentine Days (2017)

To respond to the archive, we invited contemporary artist Ingrid Pollard to apply her signature hand-tinting technique to five large-scale prints made from scans of the original postcards by Valentine & Sons.

This new commission, The Valentine Days, marks the 30th anniversary of Pollard’s seminal Pastoral Interludes, a series of five hand-tinted photographs that depict lone black figures in the rural English countryside, juxtaposing landscape, portraiture and text.

"Looking at the images for many hours as I tinted them by hand, I felt caught in the aura of the photographs and identified with the people in them.

The process of tinting brings a type of life to the images. I especially enjoyed inspecting the image for what I call the “escapees”, the mysterious faces looking out of the window, those positioned just on the edge of the frame slightly out of focus, the tiny figures in the distance looking back at the photographer, taking part in the moment in their own way.

It reminded me of what scholar Laura Marks wrote about loving disappearing images, how one must “trust that the image is real in the first place to establish a link between the long ago object and the present day spectator”.

The intricate, meditative work involved in the technique of tinting forms a historic link to my own earlier tinted works, bringing me closer to them."
- Ingrid Pollard

About Ingrid Pollard
Ingrid Pollard was born in Georgetown, Guyana. In the 1980s she was part of a constituency of British artists who championed black creative practice, showcasing her work in group exhibitions such as The Thin Black Line at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1985), D-Max (1987) and Self-Evident (1995), both at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham.

Many of her projects are published in the Autograph ABP monograph 'Ingrid Pollard: Postcards Home' (2004). Steeped in an ambiguous heritage of Wordsworth and the Romantic Poets, her photographs explore the beauty of the English landscape and coastline, alongside the memories hidden within Britain's history and its relationship to Africa and the Caribbean. Her interest in the layers of history is echoed in the accomplished use of 19th century photographic techniques. Pollard defines her own work as ‘a social practice concerned with representation, history and landscape with reference to race, difference and the materiality of lens-based media’, often questioning social constructs such as Britishness, or the notion of home and belonging.

In 2007, Pollard was awarded the Leverhulme Fellowship Award. She is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and received her doctorate-by-publication from the University of Westminster in 2016. Her work is represented in the collections of Tate Britain, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Cartwright Hall, Bradford, and Arts Council England.


Artist talk with Ingrid Pollard
Wed 19 April, 6:30pm
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Making Jamaica and the Tropical Picturesque: a Tourist Guide
Thurs 13 April, 6pm
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Sankofa Lives! Exploring The Roots & Routes Of Jamaican Identity
Thurs 6 April, 6pm
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East Meets West: Our Friends Party
Sat 25 March, 1 -5pm
Free exhibitions, food, dancing and more
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Exhibition opening
Thur 23 February, 6:30 - 8:30pm
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Making Jamaica: Then and Now
Free workshops for schools
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Curated by

Making Jamaica is curated by Mark Sealy and Renée Mussai of Autograph ABP. 

Supported by

The archive images in Making Jamaica are exhibited courtesy of the Caribbean Photo Archive, a private collection based in New York and owned by Patrick Montgomery.

Supported using public funding by Arts Council England. 

Also on at Autograph ABP

The Great Conflict, Brixton Riots & Other Films
Nine short films featuring rare footage of Brixton during the 1960s to 1980s by Clovis Salmon, aka ‘Sam The Wheels’.

Free, second floor gallery. Read more >

As seen in:

  • Newly commissioned work by Ingrid Pollard
  • Santa Cruz, Jamaica. James Valentine & Sons, 1891. Courtesy Caribbean Photo Archive / Autograph ABP
  • Jamaica Boys. Brown & Dawson, c. 1890. Courtesy Caribbean Photo Archive
  • Woman Smoking Pipe, Jamaica, Douglas Cornhill, n.d.