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100 Years of Caribbean History in Photos

100 Years of Caribbean History in Photos

Posted by Shanelle Weir on November 03, 2014

A new book, 90 Degrees of Shade, captures 100 years of Caribbean history. The rich, evocative photographs are recognisable to any child of the diaspora.

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. The first time I visited Jamaica – which didn’t happen until my 20s – was as unnerving as a sci-fi movie. Everyone did all of the things necessary to make a society work: driving the buses, keeping the peace, running the banks, driving the ambulances, reading the news, arguing the politics. But everyone was black. That did more for my sense of self than 100 worthy speeches.

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.

Women playing cricket on a cleared piece of scrubland in St Lucia circa 1905

Women playing cricket on a cleared piece of scrubland in St Lucia, c1905.

 

A man points a handgun through a car's open window during the civil uprising in the Dominican Republic 1965t

A man points a handgun through a car’s open window during the civil uprising in the Dominican Republic, 1965.

 
 
Fidel Castro in Santa Clara en route to his victorious entry into Havana in 1959
Fidel Castro in Santa Clara en route to his victorious entry into Havana in 1959.
 

Carnival revelers  adorned with dead snakes in Grenada 1984

Carnival revellers adorned with dead snakes in Grenada, 1984.

 
 
Teenagers hang out in the La Perla slum, San Juan, Puerto Rico 1983
Teenagers hang out in the La Perla slum, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1983.

 

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