In Memoriam Maria Layacona (1926 – 2019)

Maria LaYacona – Image courtesy of Donnette Zacca

The National Gallery of Jamaica received the sad news of the passing of celebrated photojournalist and portrait photographer Maria LaYacona on Sunday April 28, 2019.

Born on November 18, 1926 in Cleveland Ohio to Italian parents, LaYacona first studied photography with her father Mario LaYacona and later trained at the Winona School of Photography in Warsaw Indiana. She went on to work as a photojournalist for LIFE magazine and travelled around the world documenting life in the 1950s for the magazine. She first came to Jamaica in 1955 while on an assignment for LIFE magazine to photograph Australian Cricket team’s first match –and also the first night game – at Sabina Park.  She fell in love with the island and in her own words “felt she had a tremendous future here” and made Jamaica her home until her passing.

She was the official photographer for the National Dance Theatre Company from its inception in 1962 until 1992. From that association, the books Roots and Rhythms and Renewal and Continuity – The National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica – 1962–2008 were developed with both books benefitting from the extensive visual repertoire she had developed for the NDTC over the years.

Maria LaYacona – Rex Nettleford (1965/1993), Collection: National Gallery of Jamaica

Though known primarily for her beautifully lit black and white photography, she was also a founding member of the Colour Photographic Club of Jamaica in 1964 which became one of the leading promoters and innovators of the art form in the island.  With her black and white photography however, she felt that without the distractions of colour, the beauty of her subjects was more evident to her audience.  LaYacona made quite an impact as a commercial photographer. She was one of the early advocates for the use of Jamaican models in local advertising campaigns for such companies as Berger Paints, Milo and Captain Morgan’s Rum, which led to increased local success for these companies.

Video courtesy of Frame By Frame Productions 

Her commercial work led to portraits and she was known for her sensitive and engaging portraiture which she felt “showed the identities and personalities of her subjects.” She was the professional portraitist for many of Jamaica’s Prime Ministers including Alexander Bustamante, Norman Manley and Edward Seaga; her portrait of Prime Minister Michael Manley was also used for the One Thousand Dollar bill. LaYacona also photographed many of Jamaica’s visual artists including David Pottinger, Mallica Kapo Reynolds and Edna Manley and major cultural figures such as Sir Phillip Sherlock, Millie Small and  Paul Campbell, but it was her photographs depicting everyday Jamaicans: fishermen, vendors and children that proved to be her most iconic.

Maria LaYacona – Anthony Simpson, Richard Brown, Jason Clare and Ronald Francis Green Hill Portland (1981)

Her first major exhibition – which featured photographs of the National Dance Theatre Company – was held at Devon House 1972, the same year that she was awarded the Silver Musgrave Award.  Her second major exhibition, a survey of Jamaican portraits, was held at the National Gallery of Jamaica in 1993 (LaYacona would later serve on the National Gallery’s Board of Directors from 1998 to 2004). Her long career of capturing images also led to the production of two collections of her photography Jamaican Portraits and Jamaica Reverie which showcased her enduring passion for the people of Jamaica and its landscape.

The Board of Directors and the staff of the National Gallery of Jamaica wish to extend their sincere condolences to the family, friends and caregivers of Maria LaYacona.

2010 National Biennial Artists Talk: Photography


Join us for a discussion with Petrona Morrison, Storm Saulter, Berette Macauley and Shanti Persaud on their photography-based work and the increasingly important role of photography in contemporary art practice.

This will be the first of two panel discussions relevant to the 2010 National Biennial. The second will be held on Tuesday, February 15 and will explore the use of conventional art media and formats in contemporary art.

Edna Manley’s Bogle: A Contest of Icons – Tell Us What You Think!

Edna Manley - Paul Bogle (1965), Photograph: Amador Packer


Since Independence, there have been several controversies about public monuments in Jamaica, starting in 1963 with the proposed National Monument for the Harbour View Roundabout, which was to be designed and sculpted by Alvin Marriott but which was never completed as a result. The other controversies pertained to Edna Manley’s Bogle (1965), Christopher Gonzales’ Bob Marley (1983) and Laura Facey’s Redemption Song (2003).

By far the most protracted controversy has been about the Bogle monument, which started at the time of its  1965 unveiling in front of the Morant Bay Courthouse, had resurfaced in 1971,  and flared up again in 2009, after the statue had been moved to Kingston for restoration.  A group of Morant Bay stakeholders requested that the monument should not be returned and replaced by a new monument, based on Paul Bogle’s presumed “true likeness” – the photograph reproduced below. The matter remains unresolved and the NGJ has made use of the presence of the recently restored statue in Kingston to present an exhibition on the subject, which opens on September 23 and continues until November 13.

Unknown photographer - portrait of Bogle (?), c1865?, copied from original tintype

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Press Release – Edna Manley’s Bogle: A Contest of Icons

Edna Manley - Bogle (1965), Photograph: David Boxer, 1970

The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition titled Edna Manley’s Bogle: A Contest of Icons, which will open to the public on Sunday, September 26.

This research-based exhibition examines the iconographies of Paul Bogle and the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion, with a specific focus on Edna Manley’s Bogle monument and the assumed photograph of Paul Bogle. The photograph was uncovered in the late 1950s and, while there are unresolved questions about its attribution, has become the de facto official representation of Paul Bogle. Edna Manley’s Bogle was unveiled in 1965 as the official monument to the Morant Bay rebellion and was located in front of the historic Morant Bay courthouse until it was recently removed for restoration. A second, truncated version can be seen in the 1865 Memorial at National Heroes Park in Kingston. Continue reading

Young Talent V: Marvin Bartley

Marvin Bartley, Study from the Enthroned Madonna (2010)

Marvin Bartley, Study from the Enthroned Madonna (2010)

This is our third in the series of posts on artists the upcoming Young Talent V exhibition at the NGJ, which is now confirmed to open on May 16. Marvin Bartley was born in Lionel Town, Clarendon Jamaica. He attended the Edna Manley College from 2003 to 2007 where he studied painting but photography had already become his main interest when he started his final year project, a series of haunting manipulated images inspired by Dante’s Divina Commedia. Since graduating, he has earned acclaim as a fashion and fine art photographer. His fashion photography has been featured in Iconography, She Caribbean, Jamaque, Posh, Skywritings, German Playboy, Buzz, Shabeau, and Back A Yard. He has participated in the following exhibitions: the J.C.D.C. Fine Arts Exhibition, Shortwood Teacher’s College, 2005; Jamaica National Biennial, National Gallery of Jamaica, 2006; Materializing Slavery, National Gallery of Jamaica 2007; and Kingston on the Edge, Gallery 128, 2007. Marvin Bartley’s participation in Young Talent V is curated by Dr. David Boxer, the NGJ’s Chief Curator.

Artist’s Statement

When asked about who I am, I refer to my profession first and then my name. I am a fashion, commercial and fine art photographer. My interest in photography was never planned. I went to the Edna Manley College of the visual and Performing arts to become a painter. Classical painting was my main interest, however despite my intentions then, fate had other plans. I slowly grew an interest in photography and soon realized that the basic understanding of classic painting composition, light and so on, could be applied to digital photography and digital editing in ways unimaginable.

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