The Photographer Capturing the Intimacy in Jamaica’s Ghettos

British photographer Ivar Wigan on his fully fledged love affair with Jamaica and the reasons he chose to turn his lens on the people of the Caribbean

Last Song, 2015

For those unfamiliar with Ivar Wigan, it’d be easy to take one look at the photographer’s “Young Love” series and assume he’s a local Jamaican. But in reality, he’s actually both a foreigner and white. This misconception can be largely attributed to the way his subjects hold themselves with an ease attainable only through absolute mutual trust. In order to gain this trust, Wigan holds off on shooting until he’s established an actual connection with the people surrounding him. “My projects evolve organically, and that is very important to me.”

Bottom Pen, 2017

Shooting exclusively on 35mm film, Ivar’s overly-saturated imagery of Jamaica offers a direct contrast between the environment and the faces of its people: strippers, hustlers and families are shown going about daily life in the spectacular natural world of the Caribbean. In some photos, the opposing elements converge – as shown in one photo depicting streaky, blood-red leaves that conceal the identity of a Jamaican man, leaving only his bulky torso in view.

Sue and Chrissie, 2017

Wigan has already received much acclaim, with fans comparing his work to that of American photographer Nan Goldin due to his raw documentation of sidelined communities. Ivar insists that his projects are “first and foremost about culture” and that a major part of exploring this is to become an intrinsic part of the community.

Fence with Bougainvillea, 2017

“Some people who are afraid of cultures they are unfamiliar with find my work intimidating” – Ivar Wigan

Chyna, 2015

When asked about the inevitable criticism that Wigan must receive for his ventures into foreign cultural territory, he replies frankly. “Some people identify with cultures that they have not experienced and then feel uncomfortable being shown the truth of it by someone who they perceive to be an outsider.” Cultural appropriation has been flagged up and discussed more than ever in 2017, and Ivar has a point. Moving to Jamaica for a number of years and living amongst locals in a real ghetto is starkly different to getting your hair braided at Selfridges or wearing a knockoff version of the knitted maxi dress Rihanna wore in Work.

Room, 2015

For Wigan, politics is a subject which does not have any relevance in regards to “Young Love”. The photographer believes people’s urge to attach a political element to his work comes from “wanting to feel they can identify with some moral agenda.” He thinks it makes the viewer feel safer, but for Ivar, he says, “I just shoot my friends as they want to be seen.” He will not publish a shot until the subject has approved it, since the people he shoots are much more than that – “we are on a level.”

Kem Mcleod, 2015

Wigan’s first series, a body of work entitled “The Gods“, pre-dates Instagram and the creative describes its subject matter as “far from commonplace.” Times have changed considerably, though, and nowadays there is a seemingly abundant flow of glamorised gang-affiliated imagery out there, particularly in rap music videos. Wigan’s body of work sets him apart from that of the latter due to what he labels as the “inherent intimacy” in his photographs.

Ricky Famous, 2015

“I’ll keep on making work until I keel over” – Ivar Wigan

Eastern, 2017

Travelling has and always will be a deep-rooted part of the British photographer’s life, due to his upbringing with a travel writer for a father. His love affair with Jamaica is down to the fact that it is “a place rich in creative culture.” Wigan already has a third project in the works, taking place in Africa. “Making images is an obsession, I won’t ever stop. I just hope I have enough time to complete them all.”

‘Young Love’ runs at London’s PM/AM Gallery until 11 September 2017

Trisha Donnelly
NEXT ARTICLE
Trisha Donnelly and the Infinite Potential of Video Art