Radio Ballads

In a new show at Serpentine, four artists reveal a three-year collaboration with social workers, carers, organisers and communities to share impactful stories of labour and care

Rory Pilgrim, _RAFTS_, Barking and Dagenham Youth Dance, Production Still, 2021. Photo: Matthew Ritson.

“What keeps us connected? What do we need to repair? How do we listen and how do we hold each other?” This questions are posed by Amal Khalaf, curator and artist who’s currently director of programmes at Cubitt and civic curator at the Serpentine Galleries. Exploring stories about labour and care – plus the important act of how we care – Amal alongside the wider gallery team have embedded these questions into a new exhibition named Radio Ballads, currently on show at Serpentine and running until 29 May 2022. The show is also simultaneously running across the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham from 2-17 April, headed by the council’s New Town Culture programme. 

Over three years, artists Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim and Ilona Sagar were asked to collaborate with social workers, carers, communities and organisers. Radio Ballads is the culmination of this and features long-term projects spanning film, drawing, mixed-media, song and music. It’s an impactful exhibition that shares experiences with mental health, domestic abuse, terminal illness, grief and end of life care. It’s also created in response to 12 years of austerity and the demise of the UK care sector – from privatisation and immigration policies to racism and lack of access to services. All of which is conceived through the voices of social care workers and those giving or receiving care. 

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Sonia Boyce, Yes, I Hear You, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Even the title, Radio Ballads, is rich in personal meaning. It takes its name from the original Radio Ballads broadcast on the BBC from 1957-64; it also looks at the form of a ballad – the poems and narratives set to a song or assortment of sounds – and how the framework centres the voices of people. Artists and musicians spend time “listening to people who were rarely represented in the media and often violently erased form history – centring their voices and words on their own term was a revelation to me,” explains Amal.

Interested in using art to “build political power, create life-sustaining relationships, and enact community and systems change”, says Amal, Radio Ballads is provoking, resilient and brave through its documentation of how social care services and artists can work together. Helen Cammock – former social worker and long-term artist – is deeply aware of the responsibilities that social workers bare for others, and the impact this can have on their lives. In her work with Bass Notes and SiteLines, Helen explores the connection between text, voice and body in order to present resistance and strength. Through sessions with people receiving care and those offering it through an organisation called Pause, Helen’s contribution – spanning film, meditation exercises, group drawings and a live performance – sees a series of artistic workshops come to life, all in all reflecting on the connections made through music and lyric writing to express anger, pain, joy and care. Below, Helen tells me more about her prodigious work at Radio Ballads. 

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

Tell me about your work involved in the show, what stories are you hoping to share?

There are a number of different elements to the show. These elements somehow give a ‘way in’ to the project process, and discuss in different forms the ideas that we were talking about in the project. This included a discussion in its widest sense about care using different activities to find ways for the conversation. We looked at how the body can be a site for resilience and the voice a site for resistance. 

The show includes a film (which weaves together refections from social workers and women who access care that take sung and spoken form, and also texts from people who have written about both voice and care). There is a large fabric banner, a triptych of screen-prints, a series of small line drawings and three larger line drawings made by contributors in the workshop process, a research table full of books that somehow speak about the idea of care and its relationship to body and sound, and a booklet that includes text I’ve written, drawings, images and a project playlist. Most of the works are made by me but some (the line drawings) come from activities on the project. There will also be two performances of a song Listening In Your Silence that I’ve written made up of words, phrases and stories that have come out of the workshop discussions. This will be a group performance of the song that we have been rehearsing together for eight weeks. We will be joined by a small choir from Brighton and Hove who have also been rehearsing the song for the past month.  

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

You worked with social workers, carers and communities for three years. What was this like for you, and what did you learn from them? Can you tell me more about your findings and the conversations you had?

It was a period that involved the lockdown so it included ‘in person’ and online workshops/conversations. This meant changes in participants/collaborators and the way that we could be together. This felt a little de-stabilising and was hard work in a way – when we were trying to be together. We worked with different social work practitioners (from different areas of care services) and with one project where both practitioners and the women who received support came together. A range of different activities were used in order to develop the space for discussion and trust to be built. We used drawing, led meditation to music, creative writing, photography, discursive activities and singing – all as ways to have conversations about care and self care and the relationship between voice and body, and resistance and resilience. We tested some of this out through what we ‘did’ together. We discussed what music means to us, what it feels like to speak and be heard, we used our voices to sing and our bodies to form shapes and gestures to articulate different emotions and states to further these conversations. This forms a foundation of the material in the film.

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

Can you share any stories or anecdotes from working with them?

There is no one story – it was a process of exchange. Each person has many stories and experiences. A process of trust building was key. In order for us to discuss what it means to use your voice (metaphorically or physically) it was important to create structures for those conversations. We had moments of sadness and moments of laughter, moments of connection and situations where conversations were difficult. There was negotiation and deal-making sometimes when asking people to try something new – or something that felt unfamiliar. There were women who felt uncomfortable singing in a group and for others; singing in a choir represented something difficult from their past. This sharing was important and informed how we approached each activity. Some social workers spoke about the power of being vulnerable in certain ways alongside the women they work with in the sessions and how this brought particular benefit to their working relationship. 

What response do you hope you’ll receive from this work?

I often say that I want people to respond both emotionally and intellectually to the work, and that this is about being able to connect to others and their stories but also to one’s own. We all have moments where we feel our voices and our bodies enable us to survive, to resist, to care… the process of this project is ‘the work’, if you like. The exhibition is made up of glimpses of this process. It is a way to touch or be touched by the process, but the process was where the work took its form; the site of the work. 

Helen Cammock, ‘Bass Notes and SiteLines The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience.’ Production Still, 2022.

In what ways can art improve social care and community? How is your work contributing to that?

I am an artist; I am interested in dialogue and in the transformative nature of art to transform the form, shape or sound of stories and ideas. I want to create something new – ideas, sensation and thought through the work. This has a social function, a political function and an artistic function. It isn’t social work. This isn’t my aim here. But any relationships we form with people – individually or collectively – can have a role that supports, invigorates, validates, challenges and this can be seen as a form of labour, in contributing to a way of seeing, changing or interrogating the social fabric. 

I believe all situations in life can benefit from art and social work, and work within and between communities is absolutely one of them. It is a way to express and communicate on different levels and through different forms. It is a way to create channels for communication – say difficult things – and process difficult experiences. Not outside of therapeutic approaches or other structures of care, but alongside or in dialogue with. 

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Rory Pilgrim, RAFTS, Green Shoes Arts, Production Still. Photo: Jessica Emovon.

Rory Pilgrim, Sketch Book. Courtesy of andriesse-eyck galerie.

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Helen Cammock, Bass Notes and SiteLines: The Voice as a Site of Resistance and The Body as a Site of Resilience, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Radio Ballads, Installation view, 31 March – 29 May 2022, Serpentine North Rory Pilgrim, RAFTS, 2022 Photo: George Darrell.

Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, Film Still, 2022.

Ilona Sagar, The Body Blow, Film Still, 2022.

Arturo + Bamboo: Snow

The photography duo explore the tranquility and romanticism of winter sports 

Cinque Torri, Cortina d’Ampezzo

If there’s anything the last two years have taught us is to enjoy life’s simple pleasures: getting outside, taking a walk in the park, sipping a coffee and sitting amongst nature. For photography duo Arturo + Bamboo – the alias of partners Arthur Groeneveld and Bamboo van Kampen – they turned towards the European villages of St. Moritz, Zermatt, Gstaad and Cortina D’Ampezzo. Finding refuge in the tranquil and romantic landscapes of the snowy mountain tops, the duo have spent six years documenting the “timeless pleasures” of winter spots. The result of which is a self-published book, aptly named Snow.

Evoking a dual sense of comfort and adventure, the works are effortlessly luminous as they depict the activities that take place in these locations. From sledding, playing hockey, polo, riding in a cable car to the warmer moments spent in a cabin, there’s a welcomed sense of nostalgia evoked from the almost vintage-looking photographs. Not only is it calming, the both bright and pared back colour palettes depict a sense of wonder; almost too pristine, clear and crisp to be realistic. I chat to the founders below to gain some more insight into the new book. 

Blue, Yellow and Red, Cortina d’Ampezzo

How did you both meet?

10 years ago we met each other on a very cold night in Amsterdam. Ever since then, we’ve lived and worked together as Arturo + Bamboo.

What’s your ethos as image-makers, what excites you?

Our subjects revolve around different themes such as intense intimacy, faraway places and the female and male forms. We try capture a certain lifestyle that seems almost forgotten.

Tell me more about Snow and your reasons for making it.

After six winters and visiting different Alpine places, we knew it was time to bundle our images and create our latest publication Snow. The book brings together a dynamic and intimate collection of images of the startling beauty of the Alps, and the timeless pleasure of winter sports.

Coffee and cigarettes at the Hotel de la Poste, Cortina d’Ampezzo

What stories are you hoping to share?

With Snow we are hoping to share the beauty of what winter sports are truly about. The romantic, cosmopolitan nature of European mountain villages like St. Moritz, Zermatt, Gstaad and Cortina D’Ampezzo evoke a nostalgic, timeless feeling where not much has changed since things took off over more than a century ago.

The work has a hazy, analogue feel about it – like it’s been devised from a dream. Is this intentional?

As we only shoot on film, these colours and dream-like imperfections are a thread throughout our work. We are proud to share that we don’t touch the original images in post-production.

Ice kockey, Cortina d’Ampezzo

Do you have a favourite image that you can discuss?

Let’s talk about the cover, as this image embodies everything our publication stands for: spectacular scenery, a feeling of nostalgia but, most of all, the joy of the great outdoors!

Is there a particular goal or message with this work?

With our visual journey, we hope to bring our audience closer to the beauty of nature and their place within it.

What’s next for you?

We are planning for an exhibition in Paris and are working on several exciting projects – both personal and commercial.

On the slopes, St. Moritz

Hotel de la Poste, Cortina d’Ampezzo

Cresta Run, St. Moritz

Findlerhof, Zermatt

Polo Match, St Moritz

Snow and ice, Courmayeur

Skiiers, Zermatt

Orejarena & Stein

What’s it really like working with your other half? A photographer and video artist discuss

Andrea 2020

Some could say that working with your other half is as polarising as Marmite; it can either break or make you, with half thriving on its divisive flavour while the other forever steering clear. For two creatives Caleb Stein and Andrea Orejarena (aka Orejarena & Stein), their partnership is like spreading it on toast; it’s a logical pairing and natural mediation between communication, flexibility and a shared vision (to name a few benefits). Caleb, on the one hand, is a photographer who was born in London. He lived in New York for a decade before moving to Poughkeepsie in 2013 to study at Vassar College, which is where he met Andrea. He’s gone on to explore many wondrous and timely topics such as memory, mythology and narrative in relation to the United States. Meanwhile, Andrea is a Colombian-born American video artist who looks at play, fantasy and the American dream. Combined, they’re a powerhouse. And their ongoing project Andrea is pinnacle of that. 

Ever since their first meeting in university, Caleb has continued to take Andrea’s portrait. And what first started out as a documentation of their time together – not to mention the early stages of their relationship – soon evolved into a long-term collaboration between them both, aptly named Andrea. Below, I chat to Caleb and Andrea to find out more about the series and, more importantly, what working with each other is really like.

Andrea 2018

I’d love to begin by hearing about how you both met.

Andrea: It was great. We met on our first day of our freshman year at Vassar College. Caleb’s mother was dropping him off at the dorms. She flagged me down and asked if I could show them the dining hall. I happened to know where it was and I walked them over. When we arrived she said, “good I’ll stay here, and now can you show my son to his dorm?” It was hilarious. 

Caleb: She’s a yenta.

What’s the process like while working together? What roles do you take on, and how is it split?

A: We move fluidly between roles, without rigidity. We are working towards a shared vision, making something emergent that neither person could make on their own, something that could only be made between those two people. In terms of the physical act of photographing or filming, we are both involved in all of the decisions. The conceptual framework for the work stems from long term, in deep exchanges with each other. People often ask us who clicks the shutter (we both do). We pass the camera between each other and we never have two cameras on site.

C: That fluidity is very important, it allows us to remain open. In many ways, working as an artist duo is an exercise in questioning conservative (but still widespread) conceptions of authorship, and it’s an effort to move away from an individualistic, ego-driven practice towards something more collaborative and meditative. 

Andrea 2021

Tell me about your ongoing series, Andrea. What’s it about, and what stories are you hoping to share?

A: Andrea is a selection of portraits made as an artist duo. When we first met, Caleb began photographing me in passing and I wouldn’t mind or give it much attention. I grew up with my father recording every moment—we have hours and hours of Wiseman-style footage— so I am comfortable with the camera and I forget it is there quite easily. Eventually, for some reason, I started getting interested in the photos Caleb was taking of me. Then I started having opinions about them, and then, when he continued to ask for feedback, started directing him with the photography in the same way I directed him as the cinematographer for my videos. He’d take his photo, then we’d give it my take, then we bounce off each other’s ideas until it snowballed into a photo we both loved. The collaboration started quite smoothly and it took us a second to realise it was happening. There was a moment where it began to blur between Caleb asking me for advice, and me becoming invested in the formal aspects of the photograph from an auteur perspective. That crossing of the blurred line was what interested us. Blurring these lines is a way of challenging and subverting the male gaze and the long history of men photographing their partners. 

C: Yes, that’s an important aspect of the project – pushing back against a one-sided, only-male perspective. The photographs are made as a collaboration with a realtime, live monitor facing Andrea so that we can both contribute in equal parts to the final image. In other words, all of the creative decisions about the image, including the post-production process, are made as an artist duo. 

A & C: We are interested in questioning the traditional idea of who has a say in how their image is made. This work is also a personal archive intended to function as a set of lyrical, personal documents of our creative and romantic partnership.

Andrea 2018

What’s it like switching from photographer to model?

A I get to skip the step where I have to articulate a creative concept because I am directing myself. Caleb and I basically read each other’s minds so that doesn’t count either. In some ways, this work is a self-portrait, but made as an artist duo. I feel comfortable moving between the roles and blending the two. Apart from anything else, it’s a fun way to make work as an extension of our relationship. It’s also a natural extension of our life; we’re always photographing and filming, so this work comes about, just by living and embracing life. 

Can you share any stories or anecdotes from working on this series?

A: The curtain?

C: That’s a good one.

A: Ok, so, probably one of the first photos that I asked Caleb to make with my ‘take’ was of me behind a curtain. He was photographing me with my hand sticking out and then I asked him to take one for me, where I totally hid behind the curtain and then called it a self-portrait. We thought it was hilarious and had a lot of fun with this and then this opened up to us collaborating in making the photo of me behind the curtain with my face showing and looking directly at the camera. 

C: We were on the floor laughing about this. It was just a photo of a curtain, no one in sight. Very “conceptual”.  

Is it ever difficult working with your partner?

C: No! 

A: Not at all. There’s no thin ice.

What are the benefits?

A: We trust each other very much. Living life and making art get mixed together in a way I’m drawn to.

C: As am I. We talk about this often, and it feels like our love for each other finds a way into the work. 

A: Making work can take many forms, but we’re both interested in working from a place of love. That’s what it’s all about. 

Andrea 2020

What advice would you give someone who’s looking to work with their partner?

C: Listen to each other and let go of your ego as much as possible, it will open up into something rewarding and surprising. 

A: Have fun with it, don’t compromise – keep talking and debating until you both have a shared epiphany, then move forward with this decisively and with energy. 

What’s next for you both?

A: We are working on our next project American Glitch, which is a look at the slippage between fact and fiction and how this manifests in the American landscape. We are traveling to every state in the U.S. and living out of our car for the next year. We’ll also continue to work on Andrea throughout the year. 

Andrea 2020
Andrea 2021
Andrea 2020
Andrea 2020
Andrea 2021

Photography courtesy of Orejarena & Stein

Mabel, Betty & Bette

Yelena Yemchuk’s mixed-media project delves into the identities of three make-believe characters

In a time not too long ago, Yelena Yemchuk had found herself at a flee market, marvelling at a collaged photograph she picked up of two girls sitting on a sofa. Their heads had been replaced by starlets from the 1950s, think Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe; the famed and beautiful symbols of golden era Hollywood. It was in this very moment that Yelena, a visual artist from Ukraine who immigrated to the US at the age of 11, started to think deeply about the context of identity. “Who are we? And how much of it is based on the society that we live in, and how thin is the line between dream and reality?”

To answer these questions, Yelena began working on Mabel, Betty & Bette, a mixed media project that delves into the lives and identities of three make-believe characters. Played by a cast of models dubbed after popular names in America during the 1950s, the subjects – who are adorned in wigs and garb from this era – are composed from Yelena’s childhood memories of these “otherworldly women” she saw in postcards while living in the Soviet Union. It’s a marriage of fiction and hyperreality, and a commentary on what defines us beings in a certain time or place. Below, I chat to Yelena to hear more about the project.

What inspired you to start Mabel, Betty & Bette; why tell this story?

Mabel, Betty & Bette began quite by chance. I wanted to start a new project that was more fictional and had a narrative. I’ve always been fascinated by the mystery of time – the meeting of the dream world and reality – as well as disguise, a different appearance in order to conceal one’s identity or become someone else. I wanted to capture the psychology or the dream states of a person who is at loss with their identity. I wasn’t sure how to go about starting this adventure and, by chance, I found a photograph at a flee market; it was a collage where two girls were sitting on a couch and their heads had been replaced by 1950’s starlets.

It set off a bunch of ideas about identity, about the complexity of self and the projections of self and society. I wanted to explore this vulnerability and this confused state of identity: who are we and who do we try to imitate in our daily life? Who are idols and why have we chosen these particular stereotypes? I started to question the loss of self and what being vulnerable means. Thats how it began. 

Who are Mabel, Betty and Bette, what do they represent?

I created three fictional characters. I looked up popular names from the Americana era of the 50s. I wanted to create these characters from my memory as a child, of these otherworldly women that I saw in postcards as a kid in the Soviet Union – those Western ideals mixed in with the Italian and French actresses like Sophia Lauren, Brigit Bardot and Elizabeth Taylor. It was this mix of fantasy as well as a certain kind of sadness and strength that I remembered as a kid in their faces, so different than the images of the ideal Soviet women.

Also, my immigration to the United States at such a fragile age of 11 played a big part in the project. When one is changing so quickly as a pre-teen, and then to all of a sudden be in a completely different world in every way, I think that has triggered a lot of these questions at an early age. And once I started making art, those questions became part of my work. Who are we? And how much of it is based in the society that we live in, and how thin is the line between dream and reality?

You’ve cast over 50 women for this project, where did you find them and who did you want to photograph specifically?

Each photograph portrays one of the three fictional women – Mabel, Betty, or Bette – as conveyed by a cast member in one of three corresponding wigs, playing out three different storylines written by me. I casted mostly recognisable fashion models (which was also the first time I worked with models for a personal project). Rarely seen as themselves, these women are a template upon which ideas are formed. Their inclusion in this project was a knowing gesture towards the continued malleable nature of female identity in the 21st century. 

I contacted a lot of models that I have worked with though various projects, but the process had to be changed when the shoot was taking place. Destabilising their own working process to intentionally disrupt them from their known actions and poses, I worked quickly (no more then 20 minutes per shoot, sometimes only five minutes) and in scenarios that were often unknown to the model. For the moving image part of the project, the short film that was shot in Odessa, Ukraine, and I worked with one women, an artist Anna Domashyna, who played all three characters  

 

Can you talk me through a couple of favourite images from the project?

I am going to pick three different medias: a photograph, a collage and a film still, since all three makeup the project. This image of Hannelore was taken in a playground around the corner from my house, and Hannelore is someone I’ve worked with a lot and I’ve always admired her as a person, and as a model. She was one of the first women I asked to be in the project. I knew she would trust me to put her in this strange disguise and understand this feeling that I was trying to portray for each of the women: this moment of change, crisis or loss of self; this intersection between dreaming and waking, and the alarm and confusion that accompanies the void.

The film for the project was shot in Odessa, Ukraine. I met Anna while photographing her for a book that I am doing on Odessa, and I was immediately blown away by her. It was like she embodied all the three women in one – her being so otherworldly in every way. I asked her if I could take her picture for the project and showed her some images I already took. She looked at them and said ‘yes I get it, I am the girl’, and I said ‘yes you are!’ Six months later and I was back in Odessa to make the film with her. This is a still from the film I love, you can’t see her face but you can feel the story unfolding from her gaze in what she is seeing. There is a sense of mystery and nostalgia.

The collages came as the last part of the project. Bauhaus, surrealism and Dada deeply influenced me as an artist, and those were my original inspirations when I started making art. In my working process, chance encounters and subconscious influence are always present – while details from my dreams as well as a large cultural anthology of images come into my practice. Working from my archive of old media as well as new materials, I found Soviet Life as well as Hollywood Factory magazine. These collages came to life by splicing Brigit Bardot in half, and I placed her with an image of Elizabeth Taylor. The two women appear as one and as a collage from the cover of Mabel, Betty & Bette. Symbolically their shared features speak to a form of representation that I am interested in analysing.

Can you see me now?

Brunel Johnson’s four-part series provides a necessary platform for Black and minority ethnic groups

Many of Brunel Johnson’s ideas tend to formulate in the shower – it’s where he devises some of his best work. In the past, there’s been Dream, a project documenting the Pembury Estate in Hackney, photographing and videoing young women playing estate football. There’s also the countless sports, commercial, lifestyle and documentary photography projects, that each depict his notably candid style of image-making and, more importantly, his view of the world. It’s my Hair is another fine example, an ongoing project that aims to show the time, effort and skill that goes into maintaining Afro hair. 

Whether it’s a still or moving image, Brunel’s shower-formed concoctions are deeply powerful just as much as they are empathetic. And Brunel’s most recent endeavour is a fine paragon of his goals as a self-taught, documentary photographer-turned-filmmaker. Titled Can you see me now?, the project is a four-part series produced and directed by Brunel himself, that aims to provide a space for Black and minority ethnic groups to tell their stories. For him, creativity is an apt tool for telling these narratives and to ultimately steer change. So by working with a solid team – including Milo Van Giap as the DOP, plus charities Rise.365 and Re:Sole and United Borders – Brunel has cast an array of real-life people with lived experiences to share, heightened by his artful use of mixed-media and 1:1 format. The result of which is a compilation of four films, Young Black Man, The Beauty Of The Hijab, Black Girl Magic and CHiNK. Below, I chat to Brunel to hear more about his impactful series.

 

First, tell me about your ethos as a photographer.

I strive to capture the mundane moments of daily life in an authentic and raw way. If I’m working on a project, I’ll always try to draw out the moments that tell the story I want the audience to see best. My goal as a photographer is to change the narrative that surrounds Black and minority ethic communities. I want to change how we’re shown in the media and how our stories are told. So I strive to bring out the stories that I believe the world needs to hear and see without tainting it from a biased gaze. 

When did the idea arise for Can you see me now? Why tell this story?

It actually came about while I was in the shower (a lot of my ideas happen there). Being a Black creative in this industry can be frustrating, as not only do you have to deal with basic day-to-day struggles of life, you also have to deal with the stereotypes, your work being deemed irrelevant, being labelled unprofessional for stating your mind and making a stand for what you believe in, being randomly stopped and searched because of a vague police description as you walk out your front door. 

All these things and many more make you realise that you’re in a constant upward struggle to achieve a basic human right – to just live. And this can really take a toll on you mentally. Simply screaming, complaining and protesting gets you easily labelled and tossed aside. So how do you tell your pain, struggles and experiences while making those who wouldn’t normally listen, listen? It has to be done creatively. In my opinion, anyway. I believe these stories are important and need to be told, especially with how the world is right now. The mic isn’t being given to those who are truly affected and that needs to change. How will people understand what is happening in these communities if it’s always the white gaze of the media telling us what they think we feel? 

What are your reasons for incorporating mixed-media, and what does this add to the narrative?

While planning this project, I wanted the message to be delivered in a way that hits the viewer from multiple angles. I’ve seen this format done many times before, but I wanted to do it differently. Sometimes the visuals are dope but the poem is a bit meh, other times it’s the visuals that are meh but the poem is dope; I wanted to create something that was both visually and audibly dope yet still digestible. 

As a documentary photographer, I know the face and eyes tell a story and are probably the most captivating part of the human body. I saw the face as a blank canvas that I could use to tell the story with words, and would visually have the viewer spending more time staring at the photo. I didn’t want the viewer to come up with their own interruptions. The monochrome palette and 1:1 format were important for me. I acknowledged that, for some reason, whenever we talk about race, despite its complexities, it always somehow boils down to Black and White, so why not have visuals like that too. The 1:1 format was to create a box, symbolising the stereotypical box many of us have had to live our lives in, but now we were taking control of this box and using it to our benefit, to tell our stories. I made the subjects stare directly into the lens to prevent the viewer from looking elsewhere. The subject is in front of them and there’s no escape; it’s time to listen, read and see what they have to say. 

How did you land on the subject matter, and what do these topics mean to you? 

I decided that I wanted each piece to be direct and unapologetic of how these communities really feel. For the young Black man part of the series, I drew upon my personal experiences and had a friend who is a poet write it out as a spoken word. With the other parts of the series, I spent time speaking to people from those communities to educate me on their experiences, their feelings and what they’d like to say if given the platform to. 

I really enjoyed this process because, for example, with Black Girl Magic I was going down the lines of Maya Angelou and the strong Black woman narrative. However, after speaking with Black women, many said that the era of the strong Black woman had passed and that they wanted the world to know that they experience other feelings too; that they cried, laughed, felt anxious, scared, fatigue and more. So making this a reality was incredible. It was the same situation with CHiNK and The Beauty of The Hijab. One thing I made sure of was that each poem was written by someone from their respective community. This is why I decided to call the series Can You See Me Now? I do what I do so I can learn more about humanity. Each topic for me is an opportunity to learn, to find common ground and build bridges. 

What’s the main message with this powerful series, what can the audience learn? 

Can you see me now? Am I visible now? Can you feel and understand my pain, struggles and experiences? It’s to be visible. I hope the audience can relate to the series and feel a sense of relief that maybe how they’ve felt is finally being put across, and those who haven’t experienced the things said in the series become more understanding and accepting to the fact that they do exist and are happening. 

Film credits:

Producer, Script Writer, Director: @bruneljohnson
DP: @milovangiap
Sound & photographer: @bruneljohnson
AC: @notsergioh
Lighting: @flapjacksss & @milovangiap
Makeup: @ioanasimon_mua @madalina_petreanu
Editor: @jfroudy
Sound Engineer: @flynnwallen
Retouch: @alberto__maro @isahakeemphotography
Runner: @soyd1416

Models: @lenaelghamry @sadiqa.e @_shazfit @alex_fergz @da_bf9 @mrbonsu @proscoviauk @doggsza @jaychelle.1 @youngshahid @belliebooze @_purnimaraicreates @w.cui Gladys & Sandro.

Poems by: Yumna Hussen, @ashleybelalchin @thejasminesims @belliebooze

Brunel Johnson is represented by Studio PI, an award-winning agency with a diverse roster of talent from the most under-represented sections of society
 

 

 

 

 

 

Mundane

Mariam Adesokan’s two-minute short reflects on the idleness and contentment of lockdown

It had been years since I last picked up my crochet hook, which tends to live untamed under the bed with its family of wildly knotted yarn. But as soon as the lockdown first hit, it was time to revisit this old friend, testing my hands with a few simple and tiny bags. It had also been years since I’d felt the smoothness of wet clay; I’d forgotten what it was like moulding something – a bowl, candle holder and dish – out of bare fingers and a splash of water, and how satisfying it was to build something useful. 

It had been years since I last felt comfortable with doing nothing, knowing that everyone else was doing the same. The dread and gut-wrenching perception that others are having more fun than I am, or that I’m missing out constantly – even if there’s nothing going on – had been stripped away. It was a good feeling, even if it was just momentarily. Dancing had been swapped for the kitchen, but it was a welcomed turn for a little while. 

These are a handful of familiar moments that are brought to the surface as I consume the slow and beautiful scenes of Irish-born and London-based Mariam Adesokan’s new short film, Mundane. Made in collaboration with two close friends – DOP Jojo Bossman and Uzi Okotcha who plays the protagonist – it was devised during lockdown in a similar time of idleness and strange bliss. Like Uzi in the film, I too felt myself fall into this unusual state of contentment, returning to old hobbies and searching for some form of creative entertainment; the things I hadn’t had the time to care about in the chaos of adulthood. But that’s not to say that my personal experience had been without sadness or grief. In fact, that’s not to undermine anyone’s sadness or grief; it’s been a struggle for all over the course of the pandemic. However, just like the key touching points in Mundane, it was a chance to change pace; to find some peace in the disconnect from what was previously a hectic routine.

I wasn’t one for making bread or going for daily runs (the latter had been tried, tested and failed), and instead I’d turn to music and crafts. In Mundane, there are scenes akin to my own experiences as the character sits solemnly at the bed, moving to the sound of nearby music. It’s relatable; no performance, no awareness of her surroundings; just the self, the sounds and movement. The film then flickers – brashly but artistically in a simple hue of monochrome – to other moments. Smoking in bed, cosying up for a nap, and more or less doing nothing. How often is it that we can do things like this, without regret or fear of being judged?

When I ask Mariam about her reasons for making this film, she responds stating that it came from a period of reflection and relatability. “I thought of making this film to embody what I and a lot of others were experiencing at the time; sitting at home or living a very stripped back life due to Covid-19 was something I thought would be nice to show on screen in snapshots. Alongside this, I created the film because I needed something to stimulate me.”

Mariam sees the period of lockdown as being a bit of a blur, which is something that myself and I’m sure many others can connect with. That want to fill the day with more than just wading around the house hopelessly, and responsively steering towards sleeping, cooking, breathing, being and, in Mariam’s case, “a lot of introspection”, “crying and of course eating”. She was also studying for a BA in Architecture at Central Saint Martins during the year’s events and, with classes moved on online and all social aspects removed, this would naturally spur on some bizarre emotions. “I got through it in the end,” she adds, “and 2020 was probably the most fact-paced year I’ve experienced weirdly enough.”

And now, after what’s been an anomalous and indeed fleeting year, she has two-minutes’ worth of contemplation to refer back to. Like a bookmark logging a moment in hers and our lives, Mundane reminds us all to find the positives in dark times like this. “The film is everything that I (or we) do day-to-day but just depicted on screen,” she explains. “I suppose I wanted to highlight the really small ritual things that we tend to do, the things that are so essential we almost forget how essential they are.”

“This film was a pandemic project depicting the pandemic; when I made this film with Jojo and Uzi, we had conversations about being content with not necessarily being as social as we used to, or even indulging in habits that were encouraged pre-Covid-19. We all thought solitude and being alone was really important, and I know a lot of us had a tase of that last year.”

Have You Ever Seen a River Stop?

Amazonian fires, dams and the occupation of indigenous land; Barbican Centre’s new series of films looks at climate justice in Brazil

The river is rich in symbolism. It denotes nature, just as much as it suffuses the landscape with moisture, hydrating the soil to bring growth, food, air and life. But in equal parts, the river represents the manmade, and the lengths in which humankind will drain the organic resource to manipulate, guide and provide water to its growing population. And in the case of the climate emergency, the river is perceived as a goldmine. Many are without adequate water supplies and the world is becoming ever-more thirsty. Wild fires are increasing, droughts are more frequent and the reliance on our rivers is becoming imperious. 

This is a global situation, but one that’s particularly prevalent in Brazil – a topic that’s explored in a new series of short films hosted by London’s Barbican Centre, titled Have You Ever Seen a River Stop? Brought in conjunction with an exhibition, Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle – a show dedicated to the work, photography and activism of the Brazilian artist who defended the territory of the Yanomami, one of Brazil’s largest indigenous peoples, from illegal gold mining – the film series considers the problems of Brazil’s attempt to modernise, and the impact this has had on its civilians. Think dams, highway constructs, infrastructures and more, all of which are perceived through the lens of contemporary art and in films titled YWY, a androide by Pedro Neves Marques; A Gente Rio , Carolina Caycedo; Equilíbrio and Yawar by Olinda Muniz Wenderley.

“It is not difficult to imagine why Brazil comes to mind when we discuss climate justice,” explains Francesca Cavallo, researcher, writer, curator, and organiser behind the event. “The fires in the Amazon region, the recent disputes around the occupation of indigenous land, the enormous economic interest that international banks and corporations have in the country, and Bolosnaro’s handling of it all are among the most shocking examples of how climate change is not a thing of the future, but something we should deal with now.”

Indeed provoking change, the event shifts its focus onto those who are directly affected by climate change in Brazil; it’s a welcomed turn, “especially if we think that what we mostly hear from public figures are top-down, techno-modernist solutions,” adds Francesca. “These approaches do not consider that it’s the affected people, indigenous or not, that should decide how change should happen.”

Additionally, those behind Have You Ever Seen a River Stop? wanted to examine how these topics of environmental disasters in Brazil could be brought outside the usual spheres of protest, and instead mobilise the power of art and cultural institutions to reach a wider audience, including those “that are not those already ‘converted’.” This is achieved through working with London’s Barbican, and it gives what Francesca describes as “another important layer” – brought into light through discussions contextualised in Claudia Aundujar’s work and exhibition. “Indigenous people are taking ownership of media tools and of the narratives that, for too long, white people have been telling about them.” says Francesca. “These voices are important if we want to re-asses how we can live tougher on a planet that is warming up.”

Beforehand, as phrased by Francesca, people used to talk of “natural disasters”, yet in the case of the Anthropocene – a unit of geological time used to describe the recent period in Earth’s history wherein humans started to have significant impact – these disasters are never just “natural”. They’re man-made and they’re devastating. As such, the films address the “factual, political, the imaginative and the spiritual”, showcasing different moods and sentiments, rather than the typical documentary manner of things.

Carolina Cyacedo’s film A Gente Rio, for example, indirectly discusses a one of the worst environmental disasters in Brazil caused by the mining industry, whilst showing how livelihoods depend on the river. “The collapse in 2015 of the Samarco dam destroyed and polluted the Rio Doce’s region with poisonous minerals,” says Francesca. “For the post-show discussion, and thanks to Carolina’s fascination (who also renounced her screening fee in favour of the organisation), we were able to invite MUB, the Movement of People affected by Dams, to talk both about their issues and the collaboration with Carolina. In this case, it was terrific to ask the activists themselves what they got from this collaboration. Sometimes people pretend a bit too much from artists that engage with these issues; artists are always prone to criticism for exploiting other people’s tragedies.”

Other works analyse the more science fiction, like Pedo Neves Marques YWY a androide, as the film navigates a plantation of transgenic crops and an Android, played by indigenous activist Zahy Guajajara, talks to the plants about seed sterility and reproductive rights. “The long close-ups on Zahy’s face, the proximity they create between the viewer and the android make a supposed fiction all too familiar if one thinks of how transgenic seeds have been imposed by international corporations, such as Monsanto, across South America and the world,” Francesca explains. While Kaapora and Equilibrio, two interconnected films by Olina Muniz Wanderley, are seen as a reckoning of the filmmaker’s identity as an indigenous woman, “as she becomes inhabited or possessed by this spirit that protects the forest, Kaapora, and how this encounter informs her life and work at the farm.”

The river, then, not only serves as a metaphor throughout this series of events but also across the wider spectrum of things; it’s the veins that run through the earth, keeping it fertile and, more importantly, alive. Yet within Have You Ever Seen a River Stop? these issues of climate justice are raised as if they were poetry, shying away from the political or factual point of view and instead offering up the world on a cinematic platter. “Moreover, these films show for me the interdependence of issues of inequality, race, exploitation, representation and environmental degradation,” concludes Francesca. “One cannot even conceive of climate change without thinking of climate justice, nor can one neglect how spirituality and the imagination can give strength to accept or challenge the current situation. More than anything, all these films are, for me, profoundly poetical.”

Have You Ever Seen a River Stop? is available to watch online until Monday 19 July 2021 

The Endless Sleepover

Allegra Oxborough’s 10-episode web-series affixes a gaze onto the challenges of parenthood over the pandemic

So much as modern societal expectations are concerned, reaching your mid-30s usually means it’s time to start having children. Allegra Oxborough, an artist and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, is currently at this benchmark, where most of her friends are becoming parents. “I know that some people continue to make art after they have children,” she tells me, “but there are so many more time constraints and financial responsibilities – I’ve always been scared of what that would mean for me as a woman, creative freelancer and artist.”

Having grown up predominantly in the mid-west, Allegra has now been rooted in New York City for the last eight years, building on an artistic practice that navigates through research, documentary and narrative. She’s created numerous shorts, experimental films and music videos, all of which are crafted in docu-narrative style – a marriage of documentary and fiction, coupled with a respectful dive into the world of someone else through means of a lens and storyboard. So when Allegra arrived at the age of 30-something, she started to question her options as an artist, woman and person veering onto later-adulthood; someone who might soon be a mother, or might not. 

Let’s just say that many of life’s questions were beginning to brew. “I figured I’d need to get health insurance or an office job, and that I would have to somehow cultivate extreme confidence in my practice and in myself if I wanted to keep making art, or else feel very selfish. I also feared that I might just stop caring about making art if I had a kid. At the same time, I don’t want to regret not becoming a parent.”

These inquisitions formed the basis of her latest release, a 10-episode series titled The Endless Sleepover that affixes a necessary gaze onto the struggles and challenges of parenthood. After previously writing the story of a long-distance breakup (aptly titled Distance), with a real-life long-distanced couple cast as the characters, the idea for a second project was sparked after the couple announced they were expecting their first child. “I started to write something we could make together,” she recalls. “I wanted to know how they, and other people, made decisions around art and kids, and interviewed many other artists and parents.” With a solid plan in mind, she was ready to shoot. However, like many events and projects, the series was put on hold due to the pandemic, but Allegra was able to recalibrate and remotely produce a self-shot web-series instead. And that’s where The Endless Sleepover was borne – a purposefully lo-fi and story-centred series addressing themes such as unaffordable IVF, Black maternal mortality and abortion.

Once the production was in swing, Allegra reached out to (mostly) cinematographers and filmmakers, making sure they were comfortable with setting up their own shot and footage. This was aided by the fact that several of the collaborators are close friends of hers, while others had been introduced in her creative communities. All in all, she interviewed around 20 potential collaborators before landing on the final 10. “Each episode is the result of an extremely close collaboration, coming out of several interviews, and lots of re-working ideas to accommodate needs,” she explains. “I am beyond grateful for the level of vulnerability and honesty each collaborator shared.”

Allegra also knew that the collaborator’s footage would vary, which only generated yet another challenge. To combat this, she decided to opt for a grainy, low-fi aesthetic – the type that sings with nostalgia – to give a heavy-handed treatment and thus a sense of coherency to the contributions. This, plus the fact that Allegra is “very influenced by radical children’s programming from the 70s and 80s” gives the immensely personal stories in The Endless Sleepover a touch of beauty and flavour, packed nicely into a time capsule of parenthood over what’s been a ubiquitously difficult time.

There are many powerful and winding stories to be heard in The Endless Sleepover because, over the course of making it, her contributors had undergone a few changes themselves – be it break-ups, moving house and cites, having children or becoming pregnant, leading communities in activism or prepping for exhibitions. One of Allegra’s particular highlights is within Episode 6, where she’d just wrapped the pre-production for most of the episodes and she’d gotten in touch with Chiara, whom she’d met in an online storytelling workshop offered through the collective Herban Cura last autumn. “I knew she was involved in film, and I reached out to see if she had any interest in the project. Though we hadn’t ever spoken one-on-one before that, it was quickly obvious how deeply and personally she related to the exploration of artisthood and parenthood. She was brave and unguarded, and trusted me with her story; I think it turned out beautifully.”

It’s unclear as to whether or not Allegra would have been able to share such intimate stories if it weren’t for her outlook on creativity. She respects the process, and wholeheartedly wants to voice the lives and narratives of her collaborators – like the feeling of shame or conflict that comes with making art, for example, or not having enough time, taking up too much space or feeling worthless. These are all emotions that Allegra has felt personally, and The Endless Sleepover is a synergetic offshoot of this as it twists and highlights the often hazy, narrow, white and heteronormative depiction of parenthood. “I think it takes a lot of effort to persist,” she adds. “Often the persistence requires creative non-conformity, piecing together an alternative life model – a path that doesn’t lead to a 401k salary, health benefits, and a dual-income nuclear family home.”

“Adding kids into this alternative model – in a country where there is no universal childcare or healthcare, or paid family leave mandates – this just amplifies the precariousness. And deciding to not have kids also feels incredibly fraught. Having kids, at any and all costs, is expected and celebrated. But those who do not have kids are asked to explain themselves.”

“If people watch the Endless Sleepover and find themselves relating to the stories they hear I hope it will make them feel less alone, and more likely to speak about their own experience. Maybe it will start conversations that lead to people feeling more supported, connected and confident.”

The full web-series can be viewed here, and the final episode will go live on 4 July 2021.

Rhyging Sun

Jazz Grant’s collage animation addresses themes of identity, displacement and escape

Rhyging Sun, Film Still © Jazz Grant (2020). Courtesy of the artist

In 1973, Jamaican filmmaker Perry Henzell produced his cult hit, The Harder They Come. Starring singer Jimmy Cliff, who plays the protagonist named Ivanhoe Martin, the film follows a country man as he leaves his rural home for Kingston in a quest to become famous. Things don’t go as planned, and he ends up battling against all-things music industry, police corruption, religion and drug dealers. The film also rose to acclaim for its reggae soundtrack, with some stating that it “brought reggae to the world” – featuring the likes of Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker and, naturally, some songs by Jimmy Cliff.

It’s this very film that informed the latest accomplishment of London-born artist Jazz Grant. Known for her cut-and-paste works and animations, she was recently commissioned by print publication and platform Boy.Brother.Friend to work on an animated film, titled Rhyging Sun – a name taken from ‘Rhyging’, a variant of ‘raging’ in Jamaican Patois. Riddled in signature collage style, the work is composed from imagery sourced from Henzell’s The Harder They Come, ignited by Jazz’s flare for hand-cut processes, research and the arduous (and most enjoyable) method of stop-motion animation. “It was an immensely difficult task,” she says of the film’s initiation, “but I saw it as an opportunity to create something really ambitious.”

Rhyging Sun © Jazz Grant (2020). Courtesy of the artist

The Harder They Come is a film that Jazz has always thought of fondly. “It’s one of the most iconic films and had such a big impact on me when I first watched it,” she says. “It still does.” In this regard, the film manifests as a window into a place that leaves her feeling both connected and disconnected – especially from having to explain her Jamaican roots to others, even if she feels physically distanced from the country. But not too long ago, Jazz found herself at a literary festival in Jamaica and ended up meeting Justine Henzell, the director’s daughter, before asking permission to incorporate the film’s clips into a collaged animation. “She was enthusiastic about it, which came as a really incredible surprise to me. Actually, it was one of the most exciting moments in my life when she said yes. I’ll always treasure that.”

With the project underway, Jazz continued to watch the film “over and over” to seek out the most prominent visuals. It was an interesting take no less, having to observe the film she knew so well with a different angle – or, as she puts it, “with the eye of viewing a still, found image”. Downloading the selected moments as frames per second, she then went on to lay each of these snippets out on A3 paper as if they were a contact sheet or film reel. This was shortly followed by the printing and collage process, where each individual frame was artfully composed with intricate, detailed composure. She then scanned the sheets into her laptop and layered each of them in Photoshop as a stop-motion animation, using Premier Pro as her tool for piecing all the bits together. Dan Hylton-Nuamah was onboarded to work on the score for the film. 

Sun Kissed Sweethearts, Rhyging Sun © Jazz Grant (2020). Courtesy of the artist

The final composition sees the merging of many cinematic moments, each framing the journey of a meteor as it gradually edges close to earth. Signalling the demise of the world, Jazz pinpoints Sun Kissed Sweethearts as one of the key moments from her animation. It’s a piece that references the original film’s protagonist, Ivan (or Jimmy Cliff) and Elsa (Janet Bartley), as they embrace in the water “rebelliously, against the preacher’s wishes – who’s also her guardian.” She adds: “The scene is cut between the both of them singing at church, with them naked in the water. It’s such a visually beautiful and cheeky moment in the film. The water and the lovers are almost indistinguishable; the quality is loose and dreamy. It can feel wrong to mess with an original image, but I cut them out, placed them on top of a rotating sun. Something in the liquid-like quality of the NASA image allowed for a similar texture to the original, yet a completely different feeling occurs. It’s really simple and often the best collages are. It just resonates.”

Sunset Car, Rhyging Sun © Jazz Grant (2020). Courtesy of the artist

The art of collage is a widely used technique, chosen mostly for its ease of telling stories and ability to blend different – sometimes opposing – ideas into one unified approach. For Jazz, it’s a way of making sense of her identity, as well as addressing a reoccurring dream she’s been having: one that centres on the end of the world. “There is lava crawling down my street, the same height as the buildings that surround it. Or, the water levels are rising and increasingly large waves are crashing through the house, and I’m always relatively subdued in them. I’m trying to escape but there’s also a feeling that there is no escape, so I simultaneously marvel at the beauty in the impending doom caused by extreme natural disaster.” 

Perhaps this is why Rhyging Sun has such a wildly illusory manner out it. Because, after all, it’s reflective of a dream. But more importantly, Jazz’s animation has been created as a means of understanding more about herself – which is just what Ivan set out to do in Henzell’s The Harder They Come.

You can watch Jazz’s Rhyging Sun below.

 

Driver Radio: Jamaica

Two twins, Don and Ron Brodie, explore their Jamaican heritage through a four-part docuseries

Don Brodie: Driver Radio Studio

There’s nothing more enchanting than the relationship between two twins; their comparable mannerisms, ability to bounce off one another and communicate with a blank stare or a gentle glance. Don and Ron Brodie, two twins based in New York, find their similarities in more than just their looks and matching quirks: they creatively work together, too. 

Having nurtured interests in film and visual arts from a young age, they both attended Howard University in Washington DC. Ron leaned into the emerging film program and later pursued videography, shifting towards freelance as an independent filmmaker and commercial director. He’s now repped by production company 1stAveMachine and enjoys “every day and every project”, he says. Don, on the other hand, found his niche in photography. After a short hiatus travelling the world, he continued his studies at Parsons The New School for Design before working for distinguished figures such as Nathaniel Goldberg, Steven Klein, Lachlan Bailey and Benjamin Lennox, among others. 

In most recent times, not only have they deciphered their own production and brand, called Fun With Ron or Don (FWRD) – a collaboration formed to work with like-minded creatives and on projects about culture and heritage – they’ve also just completed their first docuseries, Driver Radio: Jamaica. An exploration into their Jamaican heritage, the four-part series chronicles the brothers’ adventures across the island, exploring the culture and people through the lens of taxi drivers. Below, we chat to the brothers to hear more about this three-year-long project and what it’s really like to work with your twin.

 

What’s your relationship like, have you worked together before? 

Ron: Over the years, we’ve partnered on different projects. Most notably with a small collective I used to manage, called Project Fathom. We would produce music videos and commercial projects collaboratively with three other colleagues. Don was often our ‘photographer of choice,’ and I would commonly produce projects that incorporated both stills and motion. Over the last few years, we’ve partnered to curate galleries, host debates, screenings, parties and even produce strange art installations. We’ve even gone as far as to pitch each other to our respective circles if a need for our crafts would be useful. 

Don: In my experience, being a twin in a related field has always required me to be ready to pitch to different people with the same amount of enthusiasm. I really take pride in knowing what my brother has been up to. It still feels like working with my idol when we get the chance to work on projects together, which can create a lot of passion and energy. I wouldn’t say we have our own language when we are teamed up. However, there is a non-verbal and very verbal communication that happens – whether it’s unexplained laughter, hands-on intense focus in silence, or Jamaican pride. It’s easy to tell beyond our appearance that we are cut from the same cloth. 

R: Agreed, our pairing is an art form unto itself! 

 

How did the idea for Driver Radio: Jamaica first come about, what sparked it?

D: For me, this project was a personal adventure in creating something culturally authentic, for which I had creative conceptual influence and control. I started this project shortly after my graduation from Parsons, and at that time, I was working at the studio solely as a photographic study. The project did not have a clear direction or timeline, although it did encompass any and everything around a loose concept: taxi drivers! 

Growing up, we saw friends in Jamaica take on driving as a way to join the tourism industry. They were tending to cars (some on blocks), under the hood, tinting the windows or wiring sound systems. We had the experience of seeing their hobbies and interests in cars develop to careers and independent businesses. 

We also learned so much about life in Jamaica through the storytelling and adventurous excursions. After a few family trips where I was taking pictures, Ron joined in and we discussed creating an independent documentary film and how this project could evolve, and its deeper meaning. We wanted to provide a window to an experience we were having while growing up uniquely different from our American peers. 

Don Brodie: Driver Radio Studio

R: As curious kids visiting Jamaica, Don and I took up an interest in a group of guys who by day worked with our aunt at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, and by night turned vehicle sound systems, paint, decal style and expressions to hit popular strips and parties. Growing up, we became friends as we frequently visited the island, and they often transported us to and from various family functions. When we were old enough, we’d hit the road with them, and every ride became an adventure. The experiences we had and the places we’d go provided us a broader understanding of Jamaica. As we got older, we became interested in observing other drivers in different communities and discovered the tremendous value in unfiltered culture across the island. 

It’s been about six years now since Don proposed interest in documenting these adventures. Over time, we became interested in speaking with a variety of drivers to discover more about our own heritage. We were a little lost in encapsulating this concept within a two-hour feature; the docuseries result is from my approach as a filmmaker to incrementally sharing these stories. 

 

What types of adventures did you have while making this series?

D: My biggest adventure was to Gut River and I still remember the excited expression on Ron’s face upon arrival – the same “kid-in-candy” reaction I had the first time I found it. The beautiful oasis was miles deep on a broken, overgrown road that had no signs of paradise. I had to direct our whole crew back as it was such an uncommon location for Jamaicans from the city. I remember the first day I was taken, my driver jumped out to look for a crocodile in the bushes – he was a mad man! That experience was not in the series but it is totally one I will treasure forever.

Don Brodie: Driver Radio Studio

R: Visiting our grandfather’s grave in Mandeville was very moving. We had visited as children, but returning as adults and reflecting on all we have and to appreciate our Jamaican heritage was quite profound. There was a saddened sense that we had never met him in person, but an overwhelming level of accomplishment and pride that only a flash rainstorm could restore.

It was by chance that we got an exclusive with Orville Hall at the Dancehall Hostile. The phone call came late in the afternoon off schedule and after an already late night in Kingston. He only had availability because another film crew did not show up, so we jumped on the opportunity; and as the series demonstrates, it was more than worth it!

We also ran into Beenie Man, of whom many locals say haunts the dancehall because he is at every party. His talent and love of music and culture is energising at any hour!

 

How do you hope your audience will respond to the work? 

D: The series has made it beyond friends and family; it feels like a good part of Jamaica is hip to it (as perceived from being in the States). People from around the world have reached out and said that it was the first time they had ever seen a story about real country living – it’s not just about the beautiful beaches and party one may seek when traveling to paradise for an escape. For the tourist, it is an opportunity to see the country and not just an island. It starts the conversation of more to explore. It also provides insight into a human condition that is relatable and foreign. 

For the nationalists, I hope it provides a feeling of being seen as more dynamic than pop culture portrays. There are a lot of impressions out there, especially about daily life in Jamaica. Hopefully this provides another or an additional perspective to the beautiful tapestry of our culture. 

R: I hope the series can serve as a conversation starter surrounding what it means to be first-generation, while encouraging others to go back to explore their own heritage. Both Don and I feel as though we are a part of a broader middle culture that is not quite domestic but still not quite a foreigner – which holds a lot in common with any other first-gen person from Trinidad, or Brazil, or Germany or even Korea. Hopefully, Driver Radio could exist all over, and the concepts “FWRD” or moving ahead with no limitations or looking back, can be embraced around the world. 

The full series can be viewed on Independent Lens