A Review of Ivar Wigan: Young Love at PM/AM, London
After two years living in downtown Jamaica, Ivar Wigan gives us a rare glimpse of dancehall culture in his recent series Young Love. The hustlers, dancers, street-runners and families that make up the community all come together in the former car park that's now PM/AM gallery.
The photos are not shot at random, but are thoughtfully composed to communicate an honest and natural impression of his subjects, most of who have never left Jamaica due to rigid visa restrictions. Wigan’s success in accessing and immortalising this dynamic corner of life has granted it flight.
Each photo is part of a narrative, of Wigan’s experience but also of how his subjects have sought to portray themselves. The moments captured and the nature of their exchange with him varies from photo to photo but all at the dictation of the people being photographed.
Sometimes it is a photoshoot, other times just a fleeting opportunity or a snap decision. Crucially, it is a fair representation; the shots are natural, unmodified by an outsider’s agenda. It is a project that acknowledges the community’s darkness but also the empowerment, free-will and vibrancy of what has often been deemed a subjugated life style.
Compositions vary from strip clubs and children’s parties, to peaceful horizons and abandoned scenes, like a happened upon car driven into a ditch or an empty bedroom with the window left ajar. Those works that feature people are all Wigan’s friends and discern the relationship between the photographer and his subjects.
However there is a deliberate imbalance; the photos are prescribed by the people who are in them and it is from this that one understands how they have welcomed Wigan and how they would like to be represented.
Any doubts whether a project of this kind has the potential to be exploitative are quickly diminished by Wigan’s unique sense of involvement in the work. If it is based on the photographer’s personal insight into this environment, he feels significantly more involved than removed from the scene. It is a series that could only be created by an insider.
This is supported by the curation of the show, with some of the photos hung in pairs, selected by the artist. Portraits are matched with landscapes based a contextual understanding of who these people are. This might be a literal representation: a group of people next to a scene from their neighbourhood, or a mood captured: a woman next to an undisturbed sea during sunset.
It is not social-political commentary he imposes on these moments; instead they speak for themselves, giving us a feeling of how these communities live in their own contexts, but also in his. He is the invisible subject, as much inside the photographs as outside of them, removing any sense of privilege.
It is definitely worth visiting Young Love before its September end date. Downtown Jamaica through the direct lens of Ivar Wigan doesn’t come with any shocking surprises. His audience are not meant to feel shocked, uncomfortable or even empathetic towards what has frequently been regarded a dangerous and corrupt society. Wigan presents the culture as is, very matter-of-fact.
Each photo is filled with inherent contradictions: saccharin brights and dirty roads, fear and joy, birth and death, all marching to the inimitable sound of Jamaican drums. They are made even easier to like from the reaction of their subjects- they loved them and it’s no surprise.
Written by Tatiana Cheneviere, a Contributor to Arteviste.