#LCFBHM: Jana Baracatt Jackson - Aide-Mémoire 'Through My Eyes'
West Indian Diaspora looks into the west Indian migration to modern United States which began in the colonial period when many West Indians were imported as slaves to the British colonies of North America.
As part of Black History Month, we take a close look at the work created by MA Fashion Photography alumna Jana Baracatt Jackson, a Canadian photographic artist now living in London UK since 2018. We interviewed Jana to find out more about her and take a deeper dive exploring this through her photography work for her graduate showcase earlier this year.
I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and Video from School of Visual Arts in 2015 and graduated from UAL earlier this year. My graduate showcase project 'Aide-Mémoire: Through My Eyes’ historically explores the West Indian Diaspora into the United Kingdom, while highlighting the placement of black fashion history into the contemporary transnational landscape and the importance of portrait photography (posture and gesture) as a visual narrative.
I chose to call the project 'Aide- Mémoire’ because at the very beginning when I started my research, I was advised to read The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora by Carol Tulloch and within her text Tulloch explains: “Diaspora fashion acts as an aide-memoire of the black experience and as a coping strategy against the onslaught of out-dated modernist agendas. The Diaspora uses its interrelation with fashion objects to signify the Diaspora’s emergent state and as a measure of social well-being. If the fashions of the African Diaspora are to be worthy and beneficial to the Diaspora experience, then Diaspora fashion must fulfil all that is expected of the phenomenon.” I added Through My Eyes at the end because this visual narrative is my interpretation and understanding of all my research and lived experience.
The visual narrative I am trying to achieve through my photography is to evoke nostalgia and build an emotion of vulnerability between the subject and viewer. My work is highly personal, and threads of my lived experiences dominate the narratives I create, however, I do not want my photography to ever be a projection of my experiences. Rather, for the viewer to feel nostalgia and connection to the visual narrative and hopefully relate to it in some way. To break the barrier that the viewer sits apart from the visual medium but in actuality is a part of it.
There are three running themes within ‘Aide-Mémoire: Through My Eyes’ that are important to me because they hold so much weight within the community at large but also culture and society, as well as within my own self-identity. It allowed me essentially to stop hiding behind my photography and indirectly turn the lens on myself and opened me up in many ways that I was not expecting.
Black Masculinity and Visual Culture was a topic I chose to research because it felt paramount. I wanted to change the narrative of the stereotypical visual society knows of black masculinity. When working with the stylist for ‘Where This Flower Blooms’ it was important to me to create softness, vulnerability and openness through styling to help convey how I was feeling and the story I wished to tell. The set of images I created was largely a troupe to my father as I feel that he has strong masculinity however is open and vulnerable which is the visual narrative I have always known of black masculinity.
Interpersonal Relationships is a focus on siblings (as a troupe to the strength of the relationship I have with my younger brother) and I was interested in highlighting social class within the styling of this theme. It was dual purposed, I wanted to explore the strength of relationship but at the same time highlight social class, again drawing light to my living experience vs the stereotype. To do so, I suggested the idea of recreating private school uniforms in a contemporary way by also touching on streetwear style. For this, Stoyan and Chloe (the amazing stylists I worked with) used designer Wales Bonner for the blue jumper and plaid skirt. Throughout my elementary and secondary education, a plaid skirt was part of the school uniform. Therefore, it was both a personal and contextual approach to expanding on my research in the practical realm.
Lastly, Beauty Regimens (Hair) largely speaks for itself. Throughout history BIP have had a strong relationship and identity to their hair. The importance of beauty regimens is primary within the community. For myself, I have always had a very love/ hate relationship with my hair, and it was important within the context of this project to explore that.
Weirdly enough, I have never felt connected to anywhere until I moved to London in 2018 of which I am still trying to figure out why. I love Toronto, Canada because it is where I grew up and where my family is and that is very important to me. Through this project, it helped me deeply understand my self-identity in a way I could not have foreseen.
I believe travelling has been me indirectly searching for myself and through creating Aide Mémoire: Through My Eyes, I finally started to find peace within myself. Having dual heritage is complicated and confusing, and I think it will always be this way. I call it the insider/outsider perspective - I am constantly asking myself (and my family) questions to understand different aspects of my heritage to this day, even though the project is over.
However, maybe it means I still have work to do. In the past, I purposefully avoided exploring heritage within the context of my photographic work. For those very reasons of shades of skin and textures of hair. For this very reason of self-identity, and the deeper questions of my position within the community. In one context, an insider, in another, an outsider.
The inside/outside perspective comes from my personal experience growing up as a first-generation Canadian in Toronto, Canada. As I navigated foreign worlds within the same land, one world in native community, another in my cultural community, and yet another within the highly distinct family community. There has always been a narrative that individuals who are mixed race do not have a place where they belong. To be sure, we don’t fully fit anywhere. Allowing us to act as chameleons and see the one world from the perspective of many.
The biggest challenges during the production of my final showcase were all expected for the most part. No production goes without hiccups, and it just requires planning, organisation, and communication. If I had to pick one to speak on, casting was a challenge because I had never photographed BIP talent before, so I took a bit of time to cast talent who were suitable. Overcoming challenges requires keeping a level head and knowing that for every problem there is a solution and not being afraid to ask for help.
I guess being a black creative means that I can use my visual narrative to influence the next generation and further generations. This is really something I think about quite frequently because even though I have always been encouraged and supported in my aspirations (of which I am abundantly grateful for) I know this is not the same narrative for many. Therefore, if I can somehow show that to others you can be whatever you want to be then I want to do that. I just want to be inspirational to those who will come after me. I would like to incorporate more of my heritage into my work and I have spent a lot of time in researching these last few months trying to figure out the best way to do this that feels authentic and sustainable within my photographic practice.
Since ending the MA Fashion Photography officially at the end of 2021, I have been fortunate to be working on commercial and editorial fashion campaigns in production which has been very inspirational and encouraging towards the creation of my own photographic practice. I have also been photographing a number of new editorials and currently planning a few projects for 2023.