When Roy Sweetland’s career as a technician ended at Cable and Wireless 15 years ago, he had no doubt as to his next move — to cover the entertainment beat full-time as a photographer.
For over 40 years Sweetland has captured the changing face of Jamaica’s reggae scene through his camera. Part of his extensive catalogue will be on show at ‘Let There Be Reggae’, a segment of the December 7–10 Art Basel Exhibition, scheduled for the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami.
Over 50 of Sweetland’s photographs will be part of the annual event, which has a Jamaican component for the first time. They date from the late 1970s at Channel One recording studio in Kingston, when Sweetland began ‘shooting’, to contemporary dancehall.
Sweetland told the Jamaica Observer that his contribution to Let There Be Reggae gives a comprehensive look at the dancehall/reggae experience.
“I try to fill out areas that are not just artistes; they are dancers, vendors, sound system selectors. People they don’t look at, even though they are a big part of reggae,” he said.
Many of Sweetland’s early photos were done at Channel One when that studio was the go-to spot for hot artistes like Yellowman, Josey Wales and a then up-an-upcoming singer named Frankie Paul. Lady Saw, sound system selectors Sky Juice and Tony Matterhorn are also part of his portfolio to be shown at the Miami show.
Sweetland said he was approached to be part of Let There Be Reggae by Alain Jean, an American of Haitian-Jamaican heritage who is part of Art Basel’s organising committee. New York dance promoters Irish and Chin, author Maxine Walters, fellow photographer David Muir, and artist Robin Clare are also part of the three-day exhibition.
Being from the Cockburn Gardens community of Kingston, Sweetland grew up around a number of artistes including deejay U Roy and singer Lloyd Robinson. While working at what was then the Jamaica Telephone Company in the 1970s, he pursued his hobby as a photographer and hung out at live shows and recording studios.
Over the years his photos have been used in publications such as Billboard Magazine, The Beat and Sky Writings, as well as for countless album covers. He has posted two exhibitions in Jamaica, at Devon House, in St Andrew.
Approximately 250 galleries from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa will be on show at Art Basel Miami.