Christabel Johanson on Photographer Jennie Baptiste

pink

Christabel Johanson reviews the work of British photographer Jennie Baptiste, whose parents moved to London from St. Lucia in the 1960s. Here are excerpts from the review published in Africanah.org.

London-born Jennie Baptiste has been working as a photographer for several years. Focusing on music and youth culture, her work has been exhibited in Paris, Berlin, New York and London. She has been featured in the V&A Museum, National Portrait Gallery as well as the Black Cultural Archives.

With the swelling protests around the globe, it is fitting that we catch up with Baptiste now when at the forefront of the demonstrations is the black community and its youth calling out police injustice, political inaction and social prejudices. As Baptiste’s work has been a marker of contemporary black experience, heritage and life, what does she think of this latest wave of unrest? [. . .]

Perhaps one of her most striking photographs is the above one entitled Pinky. Shot in 2002, Baptiste explores the merging of music and fashion in her subject who is adorned head to toe in pink. Not only did the subject only wear pink but her home was also decorated in shades of pink. Pinky’s flamboyant dress-sense reflects her lifestyle as a Dancehall Queen in Brixton and the suggestive clothing can be seen as empowering and expressive. Baptiste’s lens offers a different perspective to what would otherwise have been labelled too sexually provocative or lurid by mainstream media. It is important to understand that as a black female, Baptiste offers an intrinsically different viewpoint than the Male Gaze. Her focus was on the strength of the women, how they represented themselves and their body confidence. These are virtues that would otherwise be exalted and promoted in Feminist circles. Furthermore, dancehall music and culture are an important part of Caribbean identity, with its own traditions and history which would otherwise have been disregarded as just another fad.

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In fact, as a teenager, Baptiste’s dreams of becoming a photographer were disregarded by her career’s officer. At the time raga and dancehall wasn’t being depicted in the mainstream and she was told that her project didn’t mean anything as it was about a “throwaway culture”.

Here lies a big theme and reason why preserving the past through an authentic lens in vital. Mainstream media is being revealed as more of a propaganda machine rather than an outlet for truth. Long before George Floyd’s death, the media have been accused of portraying black people as criminals and propagating harmful stereotypes of the community. This feeds society’s beliefs and reactions towards them. In particular black men have had trouble finding satisfying mainstream role models that aren’t aggressive, “thuggish” or sexually threatening. Baptiste believes the media offer a distorted representation of their lives which “can then lead to negative real-world experiences.” [. . .]

Inspired by performers across broad creative backgrounds, Baptiste cites inspiration from Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and Lauryn Hill as well as photographers and other artists like Gordon Parks, Albert Watson, and Derrick Adams. For her the creative importance and longevity of black art is here to stay. “Black art has always been around, like the Harlem Renaissance which came about in the 1920s. We have always existed within this creative space and will continue to do so.” [. . .]

For full article and photos, see https://africanah.org/jennie-baptiste/

Also see http://blog.blackwomenineurope.com/photographer-jennie-baptiste-on-display-staying-power-photographs-of-black-british-experience-1950s-1990s/

See artist’s page at http://www.jenniebaptistephotography.com/

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