Photos of Jamaica’s beautiful, brutal dancehall culture

Ivar Wigan spent two years forming and documenting his relationships with the hustlers, dancers, street kids, and families that make Jamaica’s music community so unique

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Ivar Wigan’s Young Love
“Ricky Famous”, 2015Photography Ivar Wigan

Scotland-born, London-raised photographer Ivar Wigan has debuted a new project at London’s PM/AM gallery that documents his two years spent living in Jamaica. Titled Young Love, the series’ backbone is made up of the country’s dancehall community – something Wigan describes as “an institution of the island” that “everyone takes part in one way or another.” He explains, “Church leaders speak out against it, parents might wag a finger at it, but all the youth of the nation live for their homegrown music culture. From the first minute you walk out of the airport you hear dancehall and reggae booming out of the taxis – those sounds follow you everywhere you go on the island. Jamaica is a land of strong passions and music is top of that list.”

“All the youth of the nation live for their homegrown music culture” – Ivar Wigan

Young Love captures dancehall culture within Jamaica’s strip clubs, its backyard parties and the mornings after – the night-before melting away into the peaceful stillness of a local’s bedroom. Point-and-shoot photos are blessed with dreamy hues of saccharine pinks, soft violets, sunshine yellows, and lime greens. But, as Wigan tells us, the reality behind the frames are not always as sweet. Although visiting Jamaica since he was a young child – which is where the series gains its name, Young Love – Wigan explains that his early experiences were “rose tinted”. Now in his late 30s, he recalls living in Downtown Kingston last November and December when an area boss was shot, causing a gang war between communities. “There were killings every day – machine guns rattling at night,” he says. “A couple of my good friends have been victims of that kind of conflict, so I’ve seen the harshest side of life in Jamaica.” However, even in his darkest moments on the island, his appreciation for Jamaica is unwavering. “It’s the most beautiful country in the world in my mind and the culture one of the warmest and most exuberant.” He adds that he hopes his series shows “all of that beauty, but there is always a dark side to life too and I feel it’s important to show an honest portrait from every angle.”

This push-and-pull of Wigan’s emotions ties directly into what he deems to be the most important portrait from the series, of a young woman named Kerry Ann (below), someone, he says, is a key figure in the dancehall scene of Montego Bay. Ann’s parents died when she was 14-years-old and she has been hustling in the streets ever since. First shooting her in 2015, Wigan and Ann have remained in contact and the photographer has captured her portrait many times since. “This image was taken the day before I left Jamaica. Kerry had just got engaged to an American she met whilst he was holidaying on the island, and I see in her expression that she is making a life changing decision. When I see it I always think of the famous portrait of Marilyn Monroe taken by Richard Avedon.”

Unlike his previous series The Gods, Young Love sees Wigan take time to shift his lens from Jamaica’s inhabitants to capture the island’s majestic beauty. Through a series of landscape shots, he completes this peephole into paradise. “Jamaica is stunningly beautiful and it would be impossible not to be mesmerised by the landscape. He adds, “It would be sinful not to record it all to my mind.”

Young Love is currently showing at London’s PM/AM until 11 September 2017. More images from the series can be seen here

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