BLACKOUT: KGN 10, Jamaica

In an effort to access what they perceive as a more desirable level of society – one typically defined by light complexions – darker-skinned persons in Jamaica’s inner-city communities have started the dangerous and controversial practice of skin bleaching to lighten their skin tones. This process, which involves harmful and potentially lethal chemicals, can cause significant damage and anomalies to their complexions. The practice has been carried out for decades, but has become more mainstream in the past five years, most notably in 2011 when Jamaican dancehall artist, Vybz Kartel, likened bleaching, which he practices and condones, to simply another element of style.

Instead of readily denouncing bleaching, this photographic project was conceived as an avenue of understanding of the practice, and a means of attempting to highlight a certain kind of beauty where many see none. While photographing the small group of adolescents pictured here, I questioned their motivations for bleaching. The majority couldn’t give a straight answer. A few said they didn’t really know, it was just for style, while others said, simply, that it increased their confidence – they felt that they looked better with lighter skin. The inclination here is to read deeper – to suggest that these sentiments are perhaps born out of a flawed concept of beauty that prevails in Jamaica and throughout the majority of images put forward globally through advertising. But then again, perhaps there is merit in taking the words and motivations of these adolescents at face value.

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