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Maria LaYacona – First Lady of Jamaican photography

Published:Sunday | May 12, 2019 | 12:00 AMDonnette Zacca - Contributor
Lifelong memories – Maria LaYacona with Donnette Zacca.
In this 1972 Gleaner archives photograph then Prime Minister Michael Manley (centre) views the works of Maria LaYacona (left) at a exhibition of her photographs at Devon House, with them is Rex Nettleford (right).
With twirling skirts and cheerful smiles, members of the National Dance Theatre Company are captured in performance of the Bandana Dance by Maria LaYacona in 1969.

“We saw the beauty of this country through your eyes,” might be the apt words that we can use to describe Maria LaYacona, who passed away on Sunday April 28, 2019.

On the behalf of the Society we would like to convey our condolences to her friends and family.

Maria contributed to the development of photography in this country through her many involvements with the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission as either a competitor in the annual photography competitions or as being a competition judge in the same competition.

Maria’s love for this beautiful island started when she came to work as a photojournalist covering a Test Series of Cricket between Australia and the West Indies In 1952. She returned to Jamaica in 1955 and never left.

The beauty of the island captivated her and so did the warmth of the people. With camera always in hand, she went around exploring the country, and she was convinced that Jamaica had a lot to offer.

These ‘adventures’ were life-changing experiences.

LaYacona was an extraordinary photographer – and she was constantly on the move – having a keen eye through which she masterfully captured and documented much of Jamaica and her people’s way of life.

Her images stood out as they highlighted the honesty and innocence of the people and the daily occurrences. She had a profound interest in photographing people, goats, and revivalist movements. She also spent copious hours with Rex Nettleford and the Jamaica Theatre Company.

I met Maria as a young photographer in the early ’80s, upon the advice of a friend, and I believe that she was the best person to give an honest criticism about my work in preparation for a local competition.


In those days, there was no digital photography and photographers had to be supercareful not to lose valuable material. There was no room to make mistakes either by taking the photographs or printing the images.

I pulled out my black and white photography of a church I did in Hectors River, Portland. The image measured sixteen inches by twenty inches. I watched her face, in anticipation, maybe with a tad bit of anticipation, as she looked at it.

“This is good,” she said as I heaved a sigh of relief, compounded with some joy, as she added. “Just come with me … .”


I followed Maria down a narrow passage to her darkroom, was at the back of her house. Here, was the entrance to her work flow area. At the entrance, she had a large guillotine (nothing morbid about it) where images were cropped to specification. Yes, back in the day, it was a manual job, no fancy technology to guide anyone ‘at the click of a mouse, or flick of a button’.

I watched as Maria reduced my large image to a twelve by sixteen size. She then gave it back to me and said: “There is your photograph.”

That was to be my very first practical lesson in composition – a lesson that has remained embedded in me for all my life.

Maria wore many hats, and her jobs were varied as much as they were many. She published two books Jamaica Portraits and Jamaica Reverie. The National Dance Theatre publication was outfitted with Maria images.

Members of the present Photography Society were also members of the Colour Photography Club founded by Maria LaYacona.

Bruce Taylor and Howard MooYoung expressed their memories of this fine woman at the Society’s meeting. All of us have benefited from her knowledge and experiences. We will always remember her for her love of photography, her appreciation for the Jamaican people, and her discipline.

May hersoul rest in peace!


- Donnette Zacca is fine arts photographer, lecturers and artist and is the founder and chair of the Jamaica Photography Society.