From the darkroom to the light: Nathaniel Bailey on his ongoing documentation of Jamaica’s parishes

The photographer reckons with his heritage and experience growing up in Britain as he tells the unique story of Jamaica’s parishes.

9 August 2023

Nathaniel Bailey fell into photography through his love of the darkroom. Invited in by two technicians at just 15 years old, he soon became immersed in the process of bringing an image to life. “It was a place of peace where I could go and hide if I needed to,” he tells us. Some eight years later, he documents behind-the-scenes projects with artists and creates series that can act as a portal into a generation’s way of life. He also dedicates his time to his ongoing project Parish Walls, where he captures the people and way of life in Jamaica’s parishes with an authentic and candid feel. With every look at the series it becomes clear that his photographs are but a glimpse into the conversations happening between him and his subjects.

Nathaniel grew up in the small west London town of Perivale, where he was raised by his Jamaican family. On his regular visits to Jamaica, he takes photos and brings them back to the darkroom in London before returning the prints back to the people on the island. “Parish Walls was initially me trying to open the door to a side of Jamaica that is rarely seen, but it soon became very personal, developing my own connection to the island my family hail from. It informs my identity as a Black man in Britain today,” he tells us. Exploring the parishes on foot, simply walking around the quiet countryside, his process is quite easy-going with authenticity at the heart. “You have to trust the process of documentation. You can’t force the work being created, because it will always reflect on your final portraits, and mine have to be authentic because I want their Jamaican pride to shine,” he adds.

GalleryNathaniel Bailey: Parish Walls (Copyright © Nathaniel Bailey, 2018-present)

Parish Walls covers the breadth of everyday life outside of the common tourist gaze that many photographers travelling to the Caribbean often create for. Photos within the series vary from upfront to fly-on-the-wall as they tell a story of pride, custom and – in the background – nature. One of the most direct photographs in the series is of a man named Belty – because, of course, he sells belts – taken at Morant Bay Market in the southeastern parish of St Thomas. “All I said to him before taking the photo is that he should unapologetically be himself and he did exactly that,” he tells us. “One thing that really became apparent for me throughout the project is that Jamaicans love striking a pose,” he says.

When you look at the series it is clear that Nathaniel is a part of a group of contemporary Jamaican photographers reclaiming representations of people living on the island; he commits to re-imagination like Jeano Edwards and creates with a striking naturalism akin to Dexter McLean. He climbs a mountain and earns the respect of a resident who allows him to take a snap; bumps into a father and son and gets into a deep conversation about fatherhood; and meets distant relatives by chance as he walks around the parishes. His time on the project has seen him develop a greater sense of belonging, integrating his upbringing in the UK with Jamaica as it is now, as he lives an experience that many children of the Caribbean diaspora long for.

Currently working towards an exhibition coming at the end of the year, Parish Walls will be soon be available to see in person. And with such a flair for bringing images to life, we are not only grateful for Nathaniel’s time in the darkroom, but also for his work in the light of day.

GalleryNathaniel Bailey: Parish Walls (Copyright © Nathaniel Bailey, 2018-present)

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Nathaniel Bailey: Parish Walls (Copyright © Nathaniel Bailey, 2018-present)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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