Hugh Muir Reviews “90 Degrees of Shade: Image and Identity in the West Indies”


90 Degrees of Shade: Image and Identity in the West Indies – 100 Years of Photography in the Caribbean (Soul Jazz Books, 2014) is a new photography book that examines culture, politics, religion and tourism in the Caribbean over the past century. It was edited by Stuart Baker and includes a foreword by Paul Gilroy. See previous post New Book: Stuart Baker’s “90 Degrees of Shade: Image and Identity in the West Indies – 100 Years of Photography in the Caribbean”.

Here are excerpts of a moving review by Hugh Muir:

[. . .] Any black Briton who travels regularly from these shores to a country of origin in Africa or the Caribbean has a very good sense of what we have and what we leave behind.

Flitting between continents, you appreciate the qualities of each. Here we have the certainties and the advantages of a first world economy: infrastructure, rule of law, a still enviable democracy. There, these things are not always so advanced, and yet the sights, sounds and experiences of the Caribbean creep under the skin. One can see, hear and feel them for the first time, and yet feel familiarity.

Those sights, those sounds and some of those experiences come packaged in a new book of rich, evocative photographs, 90 Degrees of Shade: Image and Identity in the West Indies – 100 Years of Photography in the Caribbean. You recognise the men in oily boiler suits working on an old Ford – of the type my dad’s friends would drive – on a grey English day in 1969.

The Haitian drummer from 1950s Port-au-Prince, meanwhile, symbolises the verve and colour you enjoy whenever the Caribbean lets its hair down. The sight of sugar-cane cutters in a field near Le Carbet, Martinique, in 1959 – working in the hot sun, appearing, as such workers often do, overdressed for the task in hand – could have been taken on virtually any island yesterday. Rastafarians in vivid colours chant psalms in Jamaica. Tourists, now the economic lifeblood for many islands, alight from cruise ships in 1970s Saba.

There are harsh realities too. American troops, incongruous during the Reaganite invasion of Grenada in 1983. An armed Tonton Macoute patroller on the streets of Port-au-Prince in 1980. The man poking his handgun through an open car window during the 1965 civil uprising in the Dominican Republic.

Different challenges, different struggles, but recognisable to any child of the Caribbean diaspora. London/Bridgetown, Birmingham/Kingston, Manchester/Port-au-Prince. We are both sides of that coin.

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For some of the spectacular photos, see

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