Ingrid Pollard was born in Georgetown, Guyana and moved to England when she was four years old. Since then she has lived in London working as a photographer, printer, media artist and researcher. She is a graduate of the London College of Printing and Derby University. Pollard was part of significant collaborative ventures between black British photographers, including Polareyes, D-Max and the Association of Black Photographers (now Autograph ABP), of which she was a founding member. Ingrid Pollard has developed a practice concerned with representation, history, and landscape with reference to race, difference and the materiality of lens-based media. Her work is included in numerous collections including the UK Arts Council and the Victoria & Albert Museum. 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.
Ingrid Pollard lives in London, England, and participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence program in March 1999. Autograph: The Association of Black Photographers, located in London, has made it possible for several British photographers, including Ingrid Pollard, to participate in Light Work’s residency program.
Black British photographer Ingrid Pollard’s celebrated work focuses on “race,” identity, and belonging. Whose memories and histories have we forgotten? Her recent work takes her to the Caribbean. Native to Guyana but now living many years in London, she has lately engaged with and responded to late-19th century representations of Jamaica. In 1893 the Jamaica Pavilion at the World’s Fair featured a series of photographs that a group of businessmen had commissioned. They hoped portraying Jamaica as a paradise for tourism and commerce alike might encourage new investment and rescue the island’s economy. In 2017, Autograph ABP exhibited images from this series at its Rivington Place home, along with Pollard’s commissioned response.
The “Valentine photographs” belong to a tradition of representation dating from the colonial period. The British slave-owners who dominated plantation society in Jamaica wanted to establish a picture of the island as beautiful and prosperous, a place to make a fortune and live a good life. They encouraged white settlement and actively countered negative accounts of slavery. Edward Long’s History of Jamaica (1774), for example, aimed to convince a metropolitan audience that slavery was essential to British prosperity. Long waxed lyrical on the island’s beauties, aestheticizing the landscape, rendering it both familiar and exotic, pastoral and tropical. In the engravings that illustrated Long’s book, the heavy labor associated with sugar production disappeared, reducing the few black figures to tiny dots. Meanwhile, abolitionists circulated reports of cruelty and death on the plantations in their efforts to mobilize popular support for emancipation. Both sides engaged in this war of representation over slavery.
Pollard’s hand-tinted re-workings of the Valentine photographs address these struggles. Countering the lure of tourism and commerce, they foreground black men and women while remaining alert to the Jamaican landscape’s extraordinary beauty. Crossing a River shows us men at work, washing, driving horses and a cart loaded with heavy bundles, perhaps taking sugar down to one of the ports. Many estates were situated in fertile inland areas. Long journeys to the coast meant crossing often unnavigable rivers and taking carts on bumpy tracks. The countryside is glorious, with its dense bush and royal palms, but the fencing vividly reminds us that private property was key to the entire system of racial capitalism. A river scene with two figures on the raft evokes the Rio Grande, where rafting is now a major tourist attraction, but this image focuses on the man and the woman living their lives in this magnificent landscape. Kingston From Harbor reminds us of the island’s strategic position as the major port for disembarking slaving ships and sending the sugar and rum to the metropole. The harbor now looks calm, with no visible traces of the brutal and frenetic scenes of the past. But haunting thoughts can surface about wealth’s generation here: what did they store in those large sheds?
Gordon Town evokes rural Jamaica, with its steep roads leading out of the city toward the Blue Mountains, now celebrated online as the beginning of a spectacular trail to the luxury hotel at Strawberry Hill. Pollard’s image directs the eye to the black working women, with their buckets on their heads, perhaps carrying water. Respectably dressed with their longish skirts, they have aprons and hats to protect them from the sun, but bare feet, a reminder of poverty. These neat dwellings might have belonged to the more prosperous in the town: tradesmen, pharmacists, teachers, and preachers. Woman with Pipe gives us glimpses of a marketplace, possibly Papine, down the track from Gordon Town. Shadowy figures of women in white move behind her―perhaps this is a Sunday? She watches what we cannot see, while the cockerel looks at her, its black feathers and red cockscomb resplendent, reminding us of the significance of obeah and spirit lives for working people. The woman and girl on the steps in an untitled image are probably domestics in the house behind them, black skinned servants for the well-to-do “browns.” Laboring in their kitchens, they dressed in uniforms to wait at table and serve drinks on the veranda for their “betters,” and sometimes lived in the “maid’s room” behind the kitchen or returned at night to the shacks in Kingston’s ghettoes.
Thus Pollard invites us to reflect on the lives of ordinary men and women in urban and rural Jamaica, to ask questions about the past and the ways it lives on in the persistent inequalities of the present.
Ingrid Pollard lives in London, UK, and completed her residency at Light Work in December 2017.
Catherine Hall is an historian of Britain and empire and chair of the Centre for the Study of British Slave-ownership at University College London. www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs