I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can.
– Beryl Markham
My parents, like so many others of their generation, would leave one home to go in search of another. Travelling across the seas from Jamaica, they found a new life in the motherland of Great Britain, a space broken by war.
From a Small Island is the first of three inter-generational chapters, which exist under the umbrella title Across the Sea is a Shore. These chapters chart Caribbean migration to Britain, between the post-war period until the present-day post-Brexit world, where notions of Britishness are being redrawn.
Immigrants, as current times so clearly show, often sail treacherous waters, drawn by the ebb and flow of political whims which call them to do the jobs others don’t want and then demonize and banish them when economies falter.
While my parents’ generation, and their journey, acts as the catalyst to these stories, the second and third chapters explore specific aspects of Black Britishness pertaining to each generation’s journey. These are stories not only about those who travelled across the sea to find new lives but also, of course, about their children, born in Britain, who would follow their arrival.
From a Small Island, the set of photos shown here, gives an introduction and overview of the trilogy. It is also a reflection of my personal attempts, as someone born in Britain, to connect with Jamaica for the first time. Because of my parents’ stories of home, until the point of my first visit I had imagined having a strong and powerful connection to the spaces and people there. Sadly, this connection was not as strong as I had hoped, and the tension and perhaps anxiety of that space between my imagination, constructed by my parents’ story of “home,” and the real experience of the Jamaica I encountered is, I hope, felt within the images.
I was born in Britain, unlike my parents, who left their birthplace for what they thought would be a brief sojourn yet would see them never return to Jamaica. It took my journey to become an immigrant in Canada for me to gain a true understanding of my own parents’ journey. Yet while I have frequently returned to Britain, my parents would leave all that which they knew behind— parents, siblings and friends—never to see them again.
The second chapter, The Last Days of Summer, will explore the journey into adulthood of a group of young millennial men, all born in Handsworth, Birmingham. The series follows them from the stock market crash of 2008 to the end of their youths, in a time of Brexit, as Britain reframes itself as a monoculture once more.
The third and final chapter in the trilogy, From Whence We Came, which is framed by notions of belonging and desire for home, explores what ultimately awaits at the end of the migrant journey—what awaited my parents and what ultimately will await me.
I hope that you will join me in the following two chapters to come. Limited copies of From a Small Island are available on my website.