Everyone loves a great return and Friday, May 9, brings two. Jamaica People, opening in West Asheville, presents images a local photographer brought back from her trips to that Caribbean Island. And in downtown Asheville, media and design forum PechaKucha night returns after a lengthy hiatus.
Not your average vacation photos
Photographer Jessica Rehfield initially traveled to Kingston, Jamaica, to visit a friend. While there she gravitated toward the city and its people rather than the beach — making many local connections along the way. She also got a tutoring job with a Kingston-based reading center, which led to a half-dozen return trips over the past five years.
The result is Jamaica People, comprising more than 70 works by the Asheville-by-way-of-Alaska artist. The show, which opens Friday, May 9, at the West Asheville Library, offers intimate views of an underground urban landscape. Rehfield’s photographs capture street vendors peddling T-shirts and hats. They ease past generations-old sidewalk restaurants and tenements and wind through Kingston’s labyrinthian alleys and into the depths of the capital city’s seldom-seen core: Trenchtown.
Jamaica People revolves around a series of eight 18-by-24-inch color portraits of the Trenchtown denizens whom Rehfield came to know during her trips. She tutored some and did ride-alongs with others. Her subjects are cooks and cabbies, hustlers, friends, parents and Rastafarians. One image of an unnamed, bearded cook was taken deep within the city’s maze. He’s in his kitchen, tucked far enough off the street as to blot out most of the natural light. Like many Jamaican Rastas, his dreadlocks are worn not for fashion but in political protest. And his food is strictly vegetarian. On that particular afternoon, he made a saltless vegan stew and introduced Rehfield to the phrase “Ital is Vital” — ital is the Rasta diet.
Another image captures a woman named Anty J. She’s posed next to her coal-fired stove with a handful of aluminum pots and pans lined up against the wall. Her kitchen isn’t near the alleyway: It’s in it. So is she, barefoot on the dirt-and-rubble floor, wearing a red-and-white checkered apron over shorts and a hot pink shirt. “There aren’t corporate ladders to climb,” Rehfield says. “Instead, there are areas where people live and work that they have inherited. They hold on to them.”
An up-close portrait of a man in the back of a cab sheds light on life off the island, if only for a moment. For some, Rehfield says, “There’s this mentality — the ‘barrel mentality’ — that the people at home will be saved by the people who go out, who leave Jamaica and send money home.” In this case the man is the cabdriver’s cousin, who left Jamaica years ago, bound for the U.S. He was gone a mere month, Rehfield says. He didn’t find work; he returned in defeat.
Each photograph is accompanied by similar excerpts from Rehfield’s conversations with her subjects. The portraits are also supported by smaller atmospheric street shots of the neighborhoods’ narrow corridors and busy avenues.
“There’s a disconnect from what is understood of this culture,” says Rehfield, which is what she wants to open up through these photographs. While searching for a glimpse into each individual, the photos are also about drafting a broader social topography. They seek out and expose the cluttered, densely populated landscape, which seems light-years away from the pristine white sands of a Sandals commercial.
“I’m inspired by the sights and sounds and smells,” Rehfield says. “Each photograph is like a window, a view into their world, a background to the neighborhood.” What’s more, rather than indiscriminately snapping pictures of people in and around town, Rehfield drafted agreements with each of her subjects. Proceeds from the sale of a photograph will be split with its subject.
“I wanted there to be an element of collaboration,” says Rehfield. “These are people’s lives and neighborhoods, and I’m trying to retain respect for that.”
Jamaica People is on display at the West Asheville Library, 942 Haywood Road. The show opens Friday, May 9, 5 to 8 p.m.
The art of chit-chat
It’s been well over two years since the last PechaKucha, an international short-format media and design forum, took place in Asheville. It finally returns (as PechaKucha Night, Vol. 6) on Friday, May 9, held at The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design and organized by the Asheville Design Center and Ninebar Creative, which plan to co-produce such events quarterly.
The program, founded by the Tokyo-based Klein Dytham Architecture in 2003, features a series of rapid-fire Power Point-style presentations underlined by a common design-based theme. PechaKucha, a Japanese phrase that means “chitchat,” is now in over 700 cities worldwide. Each locale adheres to the same simple yet strict guidelines: presenters show 20 slides for 20 seconds each. A presentation lasts exactly six minutes and 40 seconds.
While the format may be streamlined, the thematic content differs from city to city. PechaKucha Night, Vol. 6 will feature eight presentations focused on multimodal transportation. Local nonprofit Asheville on Bikes is a partner for the event.
But that’s not to say that it will be solely about bikes: Multimodal can include any number of approaches, says Chris Joyell, Asheville Design Center’s executive director. “We’ll have folks representing all forms of transportation. Ideally, we’ll have someone doing a presentation on floating down the French Broad River.”
Pecha Kucha Night, Vol. 6 takes place at The Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, 67 Broadway, Friday, May 9, at 8 p.m. $3 suggested donation. craftcreativitydesign.org or ashevilledesigncenter.org.