Jeano Edwards, EverWonderful

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Sand Dice/self (here). Softcover (29 x 22 cm), 172 pages, with 96 color and black and white photographs. Includes essays by Alice Otieno and Ryan Christopher. Design by Sand Dice. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Jeano Edwards was born and raised in Jamaica, and moved to New York when he was sixteen, so the idea of home, as an “ever changing sense of belonging”, is one of the key themes in his work. His first photobook explores this question of home – what does it mean to be Jamaican and to be a Jamaican in a different country? His interest in these questions was inspired by the work of Stuart Hall, the Jamaican born British sociologist, who argued that cultural identity is not only a matter of “being” but of “becoming”, “belonging as much to the future as it does to the past”. 

The first self-published edition of the book, designed and edited by the artist, sold out pretty quickly, and the second edition (with two additional covers) was published in November last year. The title of the book, EverWonderful, is a nod to the song “Be Ever Wonderful” by Ted Taylor. EverWonderful is a softcover book, and a portrait of a young man with a chain on his shirtless chest takes up the entire front cover. There is no text on the cover; instead it is discreetly placed on the book spine. With just a couple of exceptions, the photographs are printed full bleed, creating a continuous visual flow. There are no captions, pages numbers or other design elements, immersing the viewer in the visual narrative. The book also easily lays flat, ensuring an even more enjoyable experience.

Edwards produced this body of work over several years during his annual trips to Jamaica, where he finds himself both an insider and outsider. His early formative years in Jamaica shaped the core of his identity, while the time outside his home country influences the way he sees the world and Jamaica. With this series, he captures “a version of Jamaica that was quaint, mundane, but beautiful.” EverWonderful takes the form of a visual diary. It doesn’t follow any storyline, instead it captures moments, uneventful and subtle, bringing them together in a poetic narrative. His photographs show young Jamaicans, as well as his friends and family, photographed mostly outside, with warm light softening the surroundings. 

The book opens with a black and white side-view portrait of a man, tightly cropped to frame his profile; his hair is braided in pigtail cornrows and he keeps a cigarette behind his ear. Calm, curious, and intimate, the opening image sets the atmosphere of the visual offerings that follow. A couple of pages into the book, another image shows a young man looking up and extending his arms to the gathering of birds cruising in the sky above; this action is set against a gentle gradient, changing from light beige to blue, and the page on the left matches the sky. The moment feels both natural and quietly magical.

As we move through the book, there is a sense of both distance and familiarity. A photo of two men in a room as the light through the window blinds casts horizontal shadows is paired with a smaller image on the left showing a white fence with warped horizontal pickets. Here, and throughout the book, Edwards directs our attention to a particular pattern, which then circulates through the imagery. 

More seaside pictures, including a flying man reminiscent of Nino Migliori’s picture of an Italian diver, add to a feeling of ease, with bodies lounging on the sand or wading in the water. These are balanced by more formal portraits – young men lounging on the top of a car, twins posing on a staircase, and a young redheaded woman in a blue bikini leaning on a motorcycle, with lush greenery serving as a backdrop for the portrait.

Through excellent editing and thoughtful pairing, Edwards creates a mood that feels relaxed and welcoming. Edwards juxtaposes a portrait of a man squatting as he extends his arm holding a beer bottle with an out of focus spray of red bougainvillea by the water, mixing the casual comfort of socializing with the natural beauty that is never far from view. The same is true for a portrait of a woman seen through a metal ladder, which is matched by the dappled pink blossoms that have covered her windshield. 

The very last photograph in the book captures the island’s lush landscape, the misty hills covered in dense green vegetation feeling particularly calm and beautiful. This photograph is a fitting image to end the book, offering both mystery and comfort. As a photobook object, EverWonderful stands out for its printing, its elemental design, and its careful editing, and its pictures offer a tender and intimate vision of the artist’s native land. Edward has said that “My hope is for this book to feel like a piece of home,” and he has certainly succeeded.

Collector’s POV: Jeano Edwards does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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