London-based photographer IVAR WIGAN endeavours to expose the diverse beauty and spirit of humankind from a community perspective. Through Wigan’s journeys into the world’s multilayers of culture, he candidly peels away the often-distorted surface to reveal its vibrancy and magnetism, granting his audience an authentic and intimate glimpse into a world far different from their own.
Your photography allows people to see areas of the world for what it is; although it’s raw and unembellished, your photography has an overwhelming sense of beauty. Were these people and places all that you imagined?
In Jamaica, I wanted to work with the ones who hustle by night to live. It can be quite a raw environment, I think that is where the beauty lies. When I started with the series my watchwords were ’strength’ and ‘beauty’. I think those words describe every work in the series.
How easy or difficult was it to gain access to these subjects and how did you do so?
The projects I’ve shot have evolved very organically. My family have longstanding connections to Jamaica and I’ve been going for over ten years, I know all these creative characters there in the nightlife world so it seemed natural to start recording our lives as we hung out. Eventually I realised I had to stay there more long term to make a meaningful body of work so I’ve been living there for the past 2 years. A lot of the shots are taken late at night so this was a project that involved a lot of rum drinking … hiccup.
The subjects in your photos are compelling and demand attention, do these characters present themselves to you or do you seek them out?
Yes, these are some compelling characters for sure … I want to make emotionally charged work that will stand the test of time. This new work ‘Young Love’ will be a historic series and I want people in the future to know when and where the images were made so I used a film camera that date stamps the negatives. In my circles in Jamaica there is awareness of what I do so sometimes people come to me and ask for a picture and sometimes it will be me asking them to become part of the project. I always share the images where possible so that everyone can see and approve that they are being recorded at their best. It’s a collaboration, the aim is to give people back the pictures that show them how they want to be seen.
Where else do you hope to travel to and document?
There is an Africa body of work cooking. I was in Jo’Berg last year. I’m going to go back there and to Lagos as soon as possible.
What do you shoot on?
‘Young Love’ is shot on Kodak film.
What are you currently working on?
The printing and framing for an exhibition of ‘Young Love’. I came back from Jamaica to make framed prints for a solo exhibition last weekend at Somerset House for Photo London, now I’ve got to make the other half of the series for a bigger solo show at my gallery Pm/Am this month.
Do you think that photograph has lost some of its magic? Not just digital photography, but with the rise of social media and the sheer number of people taking photos?
No no … it’s got better. Everything used to be so slow and limited. Now some of the most exciting pictures are made for social media. Instagram is full of magic … if you dig in a bit.
What initiated your love of photography?
When I was in my early 20’s my cousin got a job assisting Nan Goldin and when I saw her work I knew straight away that this was what I wanted to do.
On a personal level, what have you gained from your experiences with the people you work with?
I’m a bit solitary by nature but I’ve learned how much strength you can have when in a group. I’ve learned how to arrive alone in an unknown town and make friends. Being British this doesn’t come naturally … you know how we can be a bit shy. I had to overcome this but I reckon I could go anywhere and fit in now.
Artistically speaking, who or what do you feel most inspired by?
It’s the people who surround me … photography is not something the artist makes alone in their head like painting. It’s always collaborative. Sometimes I influence what’s going on in front of the camera and sometimes just let things unfold but it’s always ultimately the subject that reveals itself. You can stare at a mountain all day but until the cloud curls around it in a pattern that gives it meaning you are stuck … then when you see a meaning you can come together with the subject to make the picture.
Tell us a story from one of your photographic expeditions …
In February, I was driving some friends home around 4am from a night clubbing in Montego Bay and had to screech to a halt to avoid a group of people in the middle of the road. There was a girl giving birth by street light in the road. We carried her into the car and I drove her to hospital … then a month later in Montego Bay I stopped to get food with a friend, and a man he had issues with took shots at us in the car. The bullet holes through the windscreen were inches from my head … a very close escape. Jamaica is a land of extremes … there are too many stories.
The people you photograph are so full of passion and vibrant style; do you feel that this reflects your own world outlook?
My work to date focusses on my experiences within African diaspora cultures in the USA and Caribbean. My grandmother was born in Africa, my mother has connections to the Caribbean, and I grew up around Jamaicans in London, so I’ve always felt to be part of this world. That said I am British so always an outsider and I think it’s that outsider view which makes me look at all these things with fresh eyes. I’m glad to hear you see that passion in the work. Hopefully when people look back in 100 years my series will show that these important people were the real stars of our time.
Visit Ivar Wigan’s website here