Some of you may or may not know that I write for Metro Magazine (distributed every Friday in the Guardian). I’ve long meant to syndicate my Metro content to this blog, since I usually cover a lot of local fashion, food and lifestyle stories for the Metro as well.
I’m finally starting to do so because one of the individuals I recently interviewed wanted a way for his friends in other countries to be able to read the feature. I’ll try to post all my relevant articles from now on 🙂
Marlon James strikes an unassuming figure, in his white v-neck tee, blue jeans and Puma sneakers – a ‘uniform’ he’s adopted since moving to Trinidad & Tobago just over a year ago. What you’re really looking at though, is a seasoned photographer who’s worked with some of the finest photographers in the Western Hemisphere, shot for some of the Caribbean’s most prolific magazines and manned the camera for a few internationally acclaimed publications and brands.
It was during his tenure at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Jamaica, where he was majoring in sculpting, that James began exploring his love of photography. What began as a rivalry with a friend who he considered to be quite good in the field, soon developed into a real love of photography, and the instant gratification it gave him compared to the more prolonged results of sculpting. After graduating from the College, he went on to work as an apprentice to some top photographers, including Mark Seliger, Jeff Gamble, Anthony Mandler, Franz Marzouca and William Richards. Those years as a photo assistant resulted in him becoming the official photographer for Red Bull, and producing two back-to-back calendars for Red Stripe Beer, along with numerous ads. Amongst his many jobs following graduation from the College, was working the Art Department for major commercials and television shows. His big break came 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. The keen observer would remember James from Season 19, Episode 10, when he photographed the ‘Dolphin Challenge’, which featured swimwear by Cedella Marley, the daughter of the late Bob Marley.
In spite of all this exposure, James still took the advice of an art dealer and friend, who suggested to him that the art community in Trinidad was booming, and encouraged him to make the move for more commercial success. Since he’s been in Trinidad, he’s photographed former Miss Universe, Janelle Penny Commissiong for MACO People, worked on several advertising campaigns for Digicel, and collaborated with fashion pioneer Meiling on a cross-dressing, androgynous fashion shoot for her magazine 6 Carlos.
He’s also worked for various Government agencies and other advertising agencies, putting his years of experience to good use in the commercial field. What he really wants though is creative collaboration – something he didn’t always come across easily in Jamaica. James is drawn to less conventional beauty, and prefers to photograph subjects considered to have ‘imperfections’ by normal standards. ‘For me, being a model is not about being pretty…it’s about having some interesting quality or feature’, he says, and adds that his own style is more raw and gritty, and employs the use of natural lighting and very little photoshopping after the fact. The result of this, he hopes, is always an eye-capturing photograph. ‘I always want my images to have an iconic look about them. I want you to pause – I don’t care if you don’t like it, but it made you stop, and think’.
For James, the Caribbean poses its own challenges in terms of creative expression. Our pseudo-conservative society makes certain content, for example, nude photography, quite taboo, even as photography in the rest of the world forges ahead with risqué, envelope-pushing captures. This is perhaps the reason why James is a bit of a rolling stone (he’s shot dancehall artiste Yellow Man for the publication of the same name by the way – photographs are yet to be published). For now, he’s in Trinidad indefinitely, but is entirely open to the idea of relocating elsewhere in the world, once the opportunity presents itself.
Until then though, he’s made himself comfortable in Trinidad and is looking forward to finding like-minded individuals to pursue the dream of seeing creative concepts come to life.
More of James’ work can be seen on his website www.marlonjamesphotography.com and on his Instagram account @moderndaycaveman
Photography by Marlon James