Shine: The Visual Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice

Duke University Press
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In Jamaican dancehalls competition for the video camera's light is stiff, so much so that dancers sometimes bleach their skin to enhance their visibility. In the Bahamas, tuxedoed students roll into prom in tricked-out sedans, staging grand red-carpet entrances that are designed to ensure they are seen being photographed. Throughout the United States and Jamaica friends pose in front of hand-painted backgrounds of Tupac, flashy cars, or brand-name products popularized in hip-hop culture in countless makeshift roadside photography studios. And visual artists such as Kehinde Wiley remix the aesthetic of Western artists with hip-hop culture in their portraiture. In Shine, Krista Thompson examines these and other photographic practices in the Caribbean and United States, arguing that performing for the camera is more important than the final image itself. For the members of these African diasporic communities, seeking out the camera's light—whether from a cell phone, Polaroid, or video camera—provides a means with which to represent themselves in the public sphere. The resulting images, Thompson argues, become their own forms of memory, modernity, value, and social status that allow for cultural formation within and between African diasporic communities.
 
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About the author

Krista Thompson is Weinberg College Board of Visitors Professor and Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at Northwestern University. She is the author of An Eye for the Tropics: Tourism, Photography, and Framing the Caribbean Picturesque, also published by Duke University Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Feb 9, 2015
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Pages
368
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ISBN
9780822375982
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Language
English
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Genres
Art / American / African American
Art / History / Contemporary (1945-)
Photography / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Krista A. Thompson
Images of Jamaica and the Bahamas as tropical paradises full of palm trees, white sandy beaches, and inviting warm water seem timeless. Surprisingly, the origins of those images can be traced back to the roots of the islands’ tourism industry in the 1880s. As Krista A. Thompson explains, in the late nineteenth century, tourism promoters, backed by British colonial administrators, began to market Jamaica and the Bahamas as picturesque “tropical” paradises. They hired photographers and artists to create carefully crafted representations, which then circulated internationally via postcards and illustrated guides and lectures.

Illustrated with more than one hundred images, including many in color, An Eye for the Tropics is a nuanced evaluation of the aesthetics of the “tropicalizing images” and their effects on Jamaica and the Bahamas. Thompson describes how representations created to project an image to the outside world altered everyday life on the islands. Hoteliers imported tropical plants to make the islands look more like the images. Many prominent tourist-oriented spaces, including hotels and famous beaches, became off-limits to the islands’ black populations, who were encouraged to act like the disciplined, loyal colonial subjects depicted in the pictures.

Analyzing the work of specific photographers and artists who created tropical representations of Jamaica and the Bahamas between the 1880s and the 1930s, Thompson shows how their images differ from the English picturesque landscape tradition. Turning to the present, she examines how tropicalizing images are deconstructed in works by contemporary artists—including Christopher Cozier, David Bailey, and Irénée Shaw—at the same time that they remain a staple of postcolonial governments’ vigorous efforts to attract tourists.

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Krista A. Thompson
Images of Jamaica and the Bahamas as tropical paradises full of palm trees, white sandy beaches, and inviting warm water seem timeless. Surprisingly, the origins of those images can be traced back to the roots of the islands’ tourism industry in the 1880s. As Krista A. Thompson explains, in the late nineteenth century, tourism promoters, backed by British colonial administrators, began to market Jamaica and the Bahamas as picturesque “tropical” paradises. They hired photographers and artists to create carefully crafted representations, which then circulated internationally via postcards and illustrated guides and lectures.

Illustrated with more than one hundred images, including many in color, An Eye for the Tropics is a nuanced evaluation of the aesthetics of the “tropicalizing images” and their effects on Jamaica and the Bahamas. Thompson describes how representations created to project an image to the outside world altered everyday life on the islands. Hoteliers imported tropical plants to make the islands look more like the images. Many prominent tourist-oriented spaces, including hotels and famous beaches, became off-limits to the islands’ black populations, who were encouraged to act like the disciplined, loyal colonial subjects depicted in the pictures.

Analyzing the work of specific photographers and artists who created tropical representations of Jamaica and the Bahamas between the 1880s and the 1930s, Thompson shows how their images differ from the English picturesque landscape tradition. Turning to the present, she examines how tropicalizing images are deconstructed in works by contemporary artists—including Christopher Cozier, David Bailey, and Irénée Shaw—at the same time that they remain a staple of postcolonial governments’ vigorous efforts to attract tourists.

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