Photographer Ray Chen was an advocate for Jamaica’
Ray Chen will be fondly remembered for his pictorial stories depicting Jamaican life in a profoundly entrancing way.
The eminent commercial photographer, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1980, died on February 7 at age 76.
The third of five children, Chen’s love of photography started in the early 1950s when the aunt of his close friend – Tony Buckley – presented him with a Kodak Brownie for his birthday while he was enrolled in Wolmer’s Boys School. Graduating in 1965, he assisted in the family business before taking up photography full-time.
After pursuing photography studies in New York for six months, Chen – along with his wife and son – arrived in Montreal in 1965.
“Montreal really exposed me to the different aspects of the craft,” he told Share in an interview last summer. “My first job was at a commercial lab that processed film for most of the professionals in the city. It was just before Expo 67, a period when business was booming and filled with excitement. Images of fashion, architecture, annual reports, food shots for cookbooks, portraits, landscapes, art and design were all at my fingertips to view.”
After 15 years in Canada developing his craft, learning new art forms and thriving as a commercial photographer, he decided it was time to fulfill his wish of photographing the land of his birth.
With the encouragement of his wife, Chen – who divided his time between Toronto and Jamaica – returned to the Caribbean island just over three decades ago.
“Having being away from Jamaica for so long allowed me to see things in a different light,” he said. “There was so much to be photographed.”
Armed with his cameras, notebook and a Texaco map, Chen travelled the length and breadth of Jamaica shooting landscapes, people and anything else that he found interesting.
His photographic journey of his birth country culminated in his third pictorial book, Jamaica: My 50 Years in Photographs, which was released two years ago.
From his extensive collection, he selected 350 images that are divided into several sections. They are the Early Years; Jamaicans; Culture, Arts & Music; Religions; Sports; Landscapes; Architecture; Flora, Fauna & Food and Favourites.
With one exception, Chen recorded the names and dates of every photo he captured.
All of the photos are in colour except one shot from the top level of his family’s grocery store of Jamaicans celebrating the country’s independence at the corner of Molynes and Cassia Park Rds. in Kingston on the night of August 6, 1962.
Donette Chin-Loy and her late husband, Ray Chang, teamed up with Chin-Loy’s former business partner, Lucy LaGrassa, just over a decade ago to launch Chen’s book, The Shopkeepers, chronicling 150 years of the Chinese presence in Jamaica.
“Ray’s iconic coffee table books can be found in the homes of world leaders and many others all over the world,” said Chin-Loy. “He was a gift to Jamaica and to Canada and his body of work was a gift to the world. I will miss his indomitable spirit, humour, positive energy and famous greeting, ‘Wan Love’.”
Chen’s other pictorial books are Jamaica: The Land and the People that was published in 1984 and Jamaica: The Beauty and the Soul of the Land we Love, which was released eight years later.
He is survived by his wife Linette, who he married in 1962 and their two children, Roderick and Stephanie.
“I will remember him as being very determined, persistent, artistic and creative,” said his widow. “He was happiest with camera in hand.”
The viewing takes place on Friday, February 19, at Elgin Mills Cemetery & Visitation Centre, 1591 Elgin Mills Rd. E. in Richmond Hill from 4-8 p.m. The funeral takes place on Saturday, February 20, at the same venue starting at 10:30 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, family and friends are asked to consider making a donation in Chen’s name to the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.