Like so many Caribbean fathers, my dad tends to be reticent about his past and doesn’t like to reminisce. When I was growing up, he’d often deflect when I asked him questions about his life, and so most of what I know about him are details I’ve learned from his sisters. In 2017, when he gave me these 35mm photographs that he took in Jamaica (where he was born), New York (where he has family), and Toronto (where he eventually moved) throughout the 1970s and ’80s, he handed them to me in this ragged, decomposing camera bag, like they didn’t matter at all. “They’re just pictures,” he said.

Vintage 35mm slide by Clayton Charlton (c. 1979–85)
Untitled (Shai & Lex) by Jorian Charlton (2020)

They’re more than that to me. And I’m sure they mean something to him too, since he kept them for all this time and even thought to give them to me for safekeeping. These pictures are like a gateway into his world, his history, and whom he cares about. As Black people, we have had a lot of our history destroyed and erased. We don’t often see proof of our existence at museums. Many of us don’t even know our full family trees because it’s harder to trace our ancestry. My mother doesn’t have a family album. She tells me stories about my grandmother, but I wish I had a picture. I wish I knew what she looked like.

Untitled (Georgia & Kukua) by Jorian Charlton (2020)
Vintage 35mm slides by Clayton Charlton (c. 1979–85)

Untitled (Whak & Mo) by Jorian Charlton (2020); vintage 35mm slide by Clayton Charlton (c. 1979–85)
Untitled (Whak & Mo) by Jorian Charlton (2020)

I think that’s why the family photo album is so important to Black communities. It’s why I wanted to make my own: photographs of my family, new friends, old friends, and sometimes their kids, also taken between Jamaica, New York, and Toronto. Most of my subjects are Caribbean or of African descent. I remember looking at my dad’s photos and seeing similarities in how we compose our images, even though his are all candid and I’m a professional photographer who always planned to show my work publicly. We both focus on women and kids. We both favour natural light. I think there’s a tender and warm quality to the pictures we take. That’s all mostly accidental, but I consciously decided to use his pictures as a source of inspiration for this project juxtaposing his shots with my own, which is called Out of Many.

When I had my own daughter, two years ago, I started thinking more about what I want to leave behind for my children. I’m a second-generation Canadian, so my kids are going to have a similar experience to mine, growing up here, which is a sense of disconnection from their roots. So, in a way, these images are part of an archive I’ve created for them. I’m preserving my own world so I can give them back a piece of our culture.

As told to Connor Garel. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Vintage 35mm slide by Clayton Charlton (c. 1979–85)
Untitled (Georgia) by Jorian Charlton (2020)
Jorian Charlton
Jorian Charlton is a portrait photographer based in Toronto. Her work focuses on Jamaican Canadian culture, contemporary modes of Black representation, and concepts of beauty.