“I find more and more clarity as to who I am”: Fenn O’Meally documents Jamaica as a process of reconnection

Fenn discusses growing up in a majority white town in middle England, and using the lens to connect with herself and others.

19 January 2023


Sometimes a rival photographer on a shoot sharpens your game. While walking around Port Antonio, Jamaica, Fenn O’Meally found this competition in JJ, a boy of “no older than two”, who took to the camera intuitively. “In between fighting for who was to take the next picture, I managed to take a few photos of him,” Fenn tells us. That “wildly special” moment ended up becoming Fenn’s favourite photo from the series. In capturing a child’s sharp curiosity, Fenn recalls being reminded of her own fascination with taking photos, wrapping up both elements masterfully in the final image.

It’s a near perfect analogy for Fenn’s practice, who uses photography as a method of self reflection as well as for documentation. When Fenn captured her first visit to Jamaica recently, this driving force came to the fore again. “I’m half Jamaican, but don’t know the Jamaican half of my family other than my dad. My brother and I grew up in a very small town in the middle of England where 92 per cent of the population is White British, so we really didn’t have much of an understanding of our heritage.” The photographer decided her sole inspiration going into the project was to be “completely immersed in the moment and connect with people, places, traditions of our motherland”.


Fenn O’Meally: "Errol Flynn Marina with the Merman. A small group of young boys who had just finished school and started diving into the water. I thought it so beautiful how life always returns to the water" (Copyright © Fenn O’Meally / Phenomena)

With “Magnum greats” like Cristina García Rodero and Ian Berry serving as primary inspirations, the images Fenn came away with combine black and white photography. Some images are in full colour, like a pop of blue paint covering a home, taken somewhere between Nanny Falls and Port Antonio. Though even these full colour images carry a hushed, but assured cinematic quality, never dialling up or down moments for the benefit of the viewer. “There’s something very direct and unbiased about emotion when captured in black and white,” says Fenn.

Truth and beauty in the mundane are big for Fenn. “I realise my work is definitely a way of connecting with and finding truth in stories within Black communities. The more I capture, explore, share stories, experiences and find beauty in the most mundane moments of life, I find more and more clarity as to who I am.”

It’s exciting to think about where this approach will take Fenn next – a photographer whose sense of storytelling and subject has led to her shooting the likes of Jorja Smith and Spike Lee. The latter, Fenn explains, is a particularly special moment and “catalyst for so many opportunities". These latest images from the photographer gives us a sense of how her take on documentation continues to blossom.


Fenn O’Meally: "Traveling from Port Antonio to hike the Blue Mountains" (Copyright © Fenn O’Meally/ Phenomena)


Fenn O’Meally: "The very iconic Cynthia, cooking in her restaurant at Winnifred Beach. Maybe the best fish in JA" (Copyright © Fenn O’Meally / Phenomena)


Fenn O’Meally: "Little JJ in Port Antonio town" (Copyright © Fenn O’Meally / Phenomena)


Fenn O’Meally: "Somewhere between Nanny Falls and Port Antonio. I stopped to take a photo of a family outside their blue home" (Copyright © Fenn O’Meally / Phenomena)


Fenn O’Meally: "A still from a maroon village in the mountains. I wish I remembered this man’s name, he had such a beautiful presence that felt otherworldly" (Copyright © Fenn O’Meally / Phenomena)


Fenn O’Meally: "A man selling liquor In the market in Port Antonio" (Copyright © Fenn O’Meally / Phenomena)


Fenn O’Meally: "A young boy and his mother at Winifred Beach" (Copyright © Fenn O’Meally / Phenomena)


Fenn O’Meally: "Driving from Nanny Falls — Mooretown — I stopped to take a photo of a group of boys who had just finished school. That day filled my heart" (Copyright © Fenn O’Meally / Phenomena)

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Fenn O’Meally: "The Blue Lagoon, Portland" (Copyright © Fenn O’Meally / Phenomena)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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