Remembering Ray Chen
Ray Chen, was a world-renowned photographer and used his vast skills to tell pictorial stories that portray Jamaican life like none has. He stumbled into photography by chance, and it became his life's driving passion doing extensive work in photography in the island.
Chen's love of photography started in the early 1950s when the aunt of his close friend presented him with a Kodak Brownie for his birthday while he was enrolled in Wolmer's Boys School. After graduating in 1965, he assisted in the family business before taking up photography full-time.
Chen attended school at the New York Institute of Photography, after which he went to live in Montreal, Canada, where he gained exposure to different styles and techniques. His first job was in a laboratory processing film for a professional photographer. As a successful commercial photographer in Montreal, he worked for some of the leading international companies including Air Canada and British Airways.
After 15 years in Canada developing his craft, learning new art forms and doing well as a photographer, he decided it was time to fulfill his wish of photographing the land of his birth.
Armed with his cameras, notebook and a map, Chen travelled the length and breadth of Jamaica shooting landscapes, people, and anything else that he found interesting. He would also take time to explore the landscape and secluded areas and photograph new places that he had not seen before.
After being away from Jamaica for so long, he saw things in a different light. His first book 'Jamaica' was one of the most popular photo essay books about the island. His love for the environment and people was a focal point of his work.
He published other books of pictorial essays - Jamaica: The Land and the People (1984) and Jamaica: The Beauty and the Soul of the Land We Love (1993) - as well as The Shopkeepers (2005) which was a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Han Chinese to Jamaica.
The book a historical document and a collection of warm-hearted experiences of Chinese Jamaicans depicted the tales of the descendants of the Chinese who first arrived in Jamaica, in part, generated by the shortage of labour on the sugar plantations when slavery was abolished.
Chen's last book titled: Jamaica: My 50 Years in Photography was launched in March 2015 at the Grogge Shop, Devon House in Kingston. From his extensive collection, he selected 350 images that were divided into several sections. They included the Early Years, Jamaicans, Culture, Arts and Music, Religions, Sports, Landscapes, Architecture, Flora, Fauna and Food and Favourites.
It represented the most complete photographic portrayal of Jamaica and is dedicated to the people of Jamaica.
His photographic portrayal of Jamaica earned him respect and recognition among his compatriots at home and in the diaspora. In 2002, the Government of Jamaica conferred on him the honour of the Order of Distinction, rank of Officer, for excellence in photography.