Amidst the lockdown as a result of the Coronavirus throughout the Caribbean region, Jamaican-born, Trinidad based celebrity photographer Marlon James has a launched a new website to boost his presence online.
Marlon James a graduate of Edna Manley College School of Visual Arts has an extensive portfolio, having worked with reggae icons, Yellow Man and Buju Banton, and fashion icon Tyra Banks for America’s Next Top Model and former Miss Universe Trinidad and Tobago 1977, Janelle Penny Commissiong for MACO magazine. His photographs have also been featured in several publications including Marie Claire magazine which highlighted the bleaching culture in Jamaica.
A former apprentice of renowned photographers Franz Marzouca and William Richards, James got his big break when he worked the set of America’s Next Top Model – although responsible for set design, he took the opportunity to show his portfolio to the show’s producer, and as fate would have it, they had an opening for a photographer for one of the show’s weekly challenges. As a result, James shot the ‘Dolphin Challenge’, in Season 19, Episode 10, which featured swimwear by Cedella Marley, the daughter of the late Bob Marley.
Since 2013, James has been working in Trinidad, shooting commercial work for clients like Digicel, bMobile, Flow, Carib, and collaborated with several fashion designers, advertising agencies, and magazine publications.
“There is complete lockdown here in Trinidad, so none of my usual commercial work is happening. I was scheduled to have a show in Jamaica at The National Gallery, travel to Senegal to shoot this month and Paris this summer but everything has been postponed due to COVID-19,” he said.
The National Gallery of Jamaica has called his work diverse, citing, “James is best known for his provocative portraits of fellow artists and persons who challenge societal norms, who are presented in both an iconic and candid fashion.”
His approach to his work is very clear. “I incorporate a raw, unedited approach to photography, where I often capture socially controversial subjects who represent taboo aspects of Jamaican society. I started by documenting individuals in the artistic community, and gradually branched out to the wider community including the Caribbean. An impetus for the work came from a search for my own identity. “ he says.
By photographing people against a plain or minimal background, he commands the viewer's focus to these individuals who would not normally be considered in conversations about beauty or deemed worthy of a portrait. In this way, he democratising definitions of iconography, beauty, and aesthetics.
He sometimes sketches out his approach to a particular image before letting things evolve in front of his lens. Most photographers will shoot over 200 images but he likes to get the shot in 35 or 50 photos, treating a camera as if it were still filmed. He also doesn’t spend much time editing. He celebrates the imperfections of the body, including the wrinkles and blemishes of his subjects.
“I decided to launch a website to show people the growth of my work over the years. I’ve accomplished a lot and would like to share my story with the world. I have almost 5,000 followers on Instagram but would like to connect with people more. I’m also selling limited edition prints so patrons can have a piece of Marlon James in their homes.” he says.
His work has been exhibited several times at the National Gallery of Jamaica for the Young Talent in 2010 and Biennials 2014 and 2016 and he has also exhibited in London, Washington D.C, New York, Norway, Trinidad, and Canada. His most recent exhibitions were The Jamaica Biennial 2016, and the Jamaican Routes exhibition in 2016, in Oslo, Norway.