Shifting Vernaculars: Power, Deviancy and Queer Caribbean Photographic Histories

Linzey Corridon

Keywords: Vernacular Photography; Queer Caribbean; Archives; Power and Deviancy; Phenomenology

Participation: presential

Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology foregrounds the concept of orientation as a new field of inquiry in queer studies and phenomenological research. Orientation is a matter of how one resides and takes up space. For this presentation, I pose the questions: can the vernacular also be phenomenological? Is it possible to look to the practice of vernacular photography, in the context of one exhibition turned digital archive of Caribbean photography (From the Archives to the Everyday: Caribbean Visualities and Meanings, Concordia University, Montréal, 2018), as sites of queer orientations involving the artefact, the archive and the archivist or researcher? And how can traditional understandings of the power dynamics, the subject and the object, those being photographed and those taking the photo, be understood further as queer (re)orientations and (neo)interpretations? Using the teachings of critics such as Tina Campt, Ricardo Punzalan, M. Nourbese Philip, Saidiya Hartman’s “Wayward Lives,” Ashley Glassburn Falzetti and more, this paper explores the underpinnings of sociocultural and political power in the practice of vernacular photography amongst 20th century Caribbean subjects and objects, protagonists and antagonists, miscellaneous concepts and undesignated entities.

Based on the photographic materials which inform the critical analysis in this presentation, I argue that orientation is dually queer for the living and non-living entities being photographed (traditionally labelled the subjects) in alleged everyday scenarios. These entities sustain a symbiotic relationality to both the subject and the object positionalities, which then highlights the greater colonial project of informal documentation through photography meant to maintain inherent and continued imbalances in sociocultural and political influence between locals and those who I refer to as outsiders. Furthermore, these ever-shifting power dynamics are then complicated by two contemporary and troubling entities: (i) the transformation of the physical/individual artefact and narrative into digitized and archival form, and (ii) the intervention and subsequent encounters experienced by the researcher (me, a queer Caribbean and diaspora PhD researcher) within this digitized archipelago of Caribbean photo memory- making. In thinking across the heteronormative representations that come to dominate the narratives in 20th century Caribbean vernacular photography, this presentation asks of us to consider the heteronormative framework in vernacular photography practices as deviant and an oddity which attempts to obscure the presence of queerness in the subject-object entities enshrined in individual photographic artefacts, and in the larger confines of the digital archive.


Ahmed, Sara. Queer Phenomenology. Durham, Duke University Press, 2006.
Campt, Tina M. Image Matters: Archives, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe. Durham, Duke University Press, 2012.
Falzetti, Ashley G. “Archival Absence: the Burden of history.” Settler Colonial Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, 2015, pp. 128-144.
Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” Theorizing Diaspora: A Reader. Edited by Jana Evans Braziel and Anita Mannur, Blackwell, 2003, pp. 233-246.
Narayan, Madhu. “On Archival “Discoveries”: What Does It Mean?” Cultural Heritage Informatics Anthropology, 2013.


Linzey Corridon is a Vanier Canada Scholar, a poet, educator, and a PhD researcher in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University. His doctoral research draws on Caribbean Studies, Policy Studies, Gender and Sexuality, Queer Theory, and Digital Humanities to interrogate failing global north discourses on the nature of West Indian queerness. His body of scholarship is preoccupied with asking readers to rethink how we come to understand the quotidian as it relates to Queeribbean and diaspora places and peoples. Linzey’s writings and criticisms can be found in The Puritan, SX Salon, Insight Journal, Wasafiri and more. A digital humanities research fellow with the Lewis and Ruth Sherman Center for Digital Scholarship, he is currently developing Juks (jooks), a near comprehensive bibliography and interactive data-mapping project of queer West Indian and diaspora published writings from 1900 to present day.