Marlon James was born in Kingston in 1980. In 1998, he began his studies at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. While majoring in sculpture he discovered his passion for photography and chose to dedicate all his free electives in that direction. Under the tutelage of Donette Zacca, he began his creative development as a photographer and photography quickly became his primary medium.
In 2001 the Pulse Entertainment Group recommended Marlon to work with international, awarding winning photographer Jeffrey Gamble. Over the next year, Marlon was nominated for the Under 40 Artist of the Year competition at the Mutual Gallery, worked as one of two photographers for the fashion designer SIIM and freelanced on a number of commercial projects. Seeking to develop his skills, he sought the advice of a noted photographer Franz Marzouca. Marzouca, impressed with Marlon’s portfolio, became a mentor and invited him to work on a number of projects. Thus began the first of a series of apprenticeships that would serve to increase his proficiency as a photographer. Marlon continued to enhance his skills by working with other seasoned and respected photographers such as William Richards, a fashion and commercial photographer working between NYC and Jamaica; Anthony Mandler, a noted photographer and music video director from LA; and Mark Seliger, the renowned celebrity photographer whose images have made the covers of Vanity Fair and other international publications. These experiences have allowed him to access a pool of expertise that continues to inform his work as he develops his own creative style.
As an artist Marlon is committed to creating powerful images that will command the viewer’s full and undivided attention. His defines himself as an unorthodox photographer who strives to break the cycle of monotony. His photographic practice is varied and includes dark room and digital, colour and black and white, and fashion and fine art although he has focused mainly on the human figure. For Young Talent V, the exhibition will consist of a series of portraits of fellow artists, most of which were made on site at the Edna Manley College.
Marlon James is currently employed in the Photography department of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts as a photography technician, and assistant curator of the College’s CAG[e] Gallery. He also teaches Beginner’s Photography in the Dept of Continuing Education.
Capturing the soul of someone was never my initial objective. I just wanted my subjects to be relaxed in front of my camera. I don’t like to impose any directions on them, I just let them be and the results have been fascinating, especially to me, as these people unveil in front of my lens. Mainly using one source of light with a monochromatic tone allows me to create a mood that seems to bring out their true character, to reveal the individual beneath the layers.
– Marlon James
Marlon James’ stark black and white portraits of fellow artists are powerful physical and psychological presences and they will be shown at or near life size in the exhibition, to reinforce this effect. As Marlon explains, he lets his subject be themselves in front of the camera and this leads to acute portrayals of their personalities and physical appearance, some of them haunting, to the point of being disturbing, some amusing and some both. While working on this exhibition, several noteworthy trends have come to the fore. One is the increased reliance on collaboration between contemporary Jamaican artists who are less concerned than their predecessors with drawing a firm line between their own work and that of their peers. In this exhibition, this new thrust towards collaboration and collective approaches is particularly evident in the work of Marlon James, Stefan Clarke, Ebony Patterson and Marvin Bartley.
The other emerging trend, which is a source of particular fascination to me, is the performative self-presentation of certain young artists in Jamaica, who create a spectacular public persona in which provocative fashion, body adornment and posturing play an important role – quite a contrast with the more modest, at times even self-effacing stance of many of our older artists. Their self-presentation recognizably draws from contemporary youth culture — dancehall, hip-hop and goth stand out — but is taken to a level where it becomes part of the artistic practice. Marlon James’ portraits powerfully capture this development, most obviously in his portrayals of Stefan Clarke, who is also in the Young Talent V exhibition and whose body, with his self-designed tattoos and jewelry, piercings and radical hairstyles, is an ever-evolving performance piece.
– Veerle Poupeye