Photography for Understanding


Photography for Understanding

Photography for Understanding.

Photography for Understanding is a project which uses documentation, and the creativity and power of photography to highlight issues which demand attention and action – throughout the the United States and around the world.

Photography for Understanding → The Jamaica Project.

The current Photography for Understanding Project is the Jamaica Project. It focuses on the issue of violence against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexuals, Transgendered and Queer population in Jamaica.

The Issue

Being a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer person in Jamaica means one’s life is in danger.

In Jamaica, it is not just a matter of an unwelcome life choice – it means possible death by beating, stabbing, fire or shooting. The entire LGBTQ population of Jamaica faces the threat of violence and death each and every day.

Jamaica has been labeled as the most Homophobic place on earth. (See: April 12, 2006 article in Time.) This problem has been documented by Human Rights Watch, which has condemned the widespread problem and called for action by the governing body of Jamaica. (See: 2004 Human Rights Watch Report. and News.) The deaths and violence continue to make international headlines, even with the low rate of people who actually report the violence they have encountered. (See: Sept. 13, 2009 article in The Economist.)


Although the conditions in Jamaica are both dangerous and tragic, there is hope for change and understanding. While awareness builds on an international level, inside the country, groups have formed which promote the causes of the LGBTQ population, strive to support individuals in need, and educate and create awareness in the general population. The Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays, J-FLAG is the main group that supports the LGBTQ population, and newer groups, like Outweekly are starting to organize.

The Project

The project shows individuals of the Jamaican LGBTQ community and the simple request they have to be able to live their lives as themselves.

The Photographs

Each portrait shows an individual or couple with their written request for the basics of a full life: to Love; to Live without Fear; for Justice; to Hold Hands; Sex Without Breaking the Law; for Stigma-Free Medical Treatment . The requests are simple, but the message is powerful in such simplicity.

Why can’t I see any faces?

Each person photographed took a terrible risk to even be a part of this project. If their identities are known in Jamaica, it could be a death sentence.

Why is the situation in Jamaica so complex?

Homophobia is a cultural issue. It has its basis in tradition, slavery, religion and gender dynamics which requires specific male/female roles.

The level of ingrained roles goes so deep into day to day activities, that things like listening to mellow music, an interest in education and reading are seen as “soft” and men and boys are actively steered away or pressured through social stigma to stay clear of such benign activities. Only a roots-level positive education endeavor can begin to bring about acceptance and understanding of diversity.

The laws of Jamaica make the sex acts between two males illegal. Labeled the 'abominable act of buggery'.

Although the police have made improvements, they are still slow to protect, investigate and follow up on violence against or the murder of a person in the LGBTQ community.

Often times the instigators of homophobic violence are themselves gay. The fear of being labeled gay is so strong that out of pure self preservation, and in order to shield themselves from unwanted attention gay people will be the instigator of homophobic violence on other gays.

The poverty that is faced by the population of Jamaica exacerbates the issues faced by the LGBT population. Boycotting Jamaican products in general will not help – it will merely insulate the culture that exists and cut off the hope of funding positive education efforts.

So what it is needed?

It is important to understand that this is not a call against Jamaica, the people who live there, or the products that are from there. The issues that the LGBTQ population face in Jamaica are so unusually complex that a backlash against an already impoverished country, would only make the situation for the LGBT population more dangerous.

In short -- A united front of positive efforts targeted to the LGBT population and causes in Jamaica!

Tolerance Education in general is important. The laws need to change. Individuals will continue to need support from J-FLAG and the other groups. Money is needed to fund all these efforts.

What can you do?

Just knowing the facts is a great start.

When you visit Jamaica, don’t just stay at resorts. Become informed about tourism and how you can safely enjoy the entire country.

Write letters to people in the Jamaican community and government (lead by example on tolerance) and request positive change to end violence, change the laws, protect the LGBTQ population and spread understanding and acceptance.

Donate to the Groups that support the LGBTQ population – even a small donation will make a large difference in the ability of the J-FLAG to support the LGBTQ community it serves and continue with the ability to promote tolerance in Jamaica. To donate to J-FLAG, click HERE.

50% of the profit from this project will be donated back to Jamaica. The rest will go back into the Photography for Understanding to fund additional projects.

Only boycott Jamaican products/people/services/music that specifically are hate orientated.

Focus Bio Contact

Blakely Slater behind the lens

Photography can open the eyes,

inform the head,

capture the soul,

and inspire action in us all.


Blakely Slater was trained in photojournalism at the US military’s Defense Information School, and began her photography career doing photojournalism for the US Air Force.  Ms. Slater later received a Juris Doctorate from Michigan State University and currently practices law in addition to her Photography.

Ms. Slater uses her unique background and knowledge to both capture contemporary and unique images, and to create and develop documentary photography projects that highlight and bring understanding to issues of concern in the states and around the globe.


Blakely Slater ············································ To email me, click: here.

Tel.: (248) 417-2686.