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A Joyful Challenge

1st Rhagfyr 2020

Susan Pitter, Consultant, Jamaica Society

Susan Pitter has imaginatively brought to life the stories of the Jamaican community of Leeds for the benefit of everyone associated with the city.

This year on Yorkshire Day - August 1, 2020 - she curated a gallery of 40 images of residents from the 1940s to 1960s, transformed from black and white into colour.

Susan says: “It is more important than ever that we tell the true story of our city and all its communities.

“Seeing how colour transformed black and white pictures, some of which I have looked at for my entire life, was absolutely breath-taking.”

“They bring to life unexpected details: from the patterns on outfits, to the architecture of the buildings and the hopes and dreams in the eyes of a generation who arrived as young people. It is both incredibly moving and an honour to be part of that.”

The ‘Back To Life’ exhibition also helped to highlight the lives and contributions of Jamaicans who came to Leeds in search of opportunity and who helped build the city, along with the industries and sectors that the city benefits from today.

“Whittling it down to 40 photos was a joyful challenge and I worked closely with many of the family and friends of those featured in ‘Back to Life’ to make sure that graphic designer Lee Goater’s colour transformations were as faithful as possible to skin tones, colour of outfits and surroundings,” Susan says.

The exhibition was made by emergency Covid-19 funding from The National Lottery’s Active Community Engagement Fund and follows an earlier exhibition in 2019, called the ‘Eulogy Project’ which was supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Susan says of the previous project: “In 2018, a year to the day after losing my father, we lost one of his dearest friends. In pulling together the eulogies and photographs for the orders of service for my father, and then seeing them again at his friend’s funeral, it occurred to me that the information that’s typically collated for Jamaican and other West Indian funeral programmes tells one life story. “I figured that if one funeral programme tells one life story then a collection will tell the story of a generation, so then Eulogy was born.

“I worked really closely with a good friend of mine also with Jamaican heritage, Dawn Cameron, and we approached The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Jamaica Society to say that we’d like to do the project with the society and the local community.

“It was very much about making sure that an under-represented, and sometimes invisible, story that’s part of the history of Leeds was told. I know that’s what the Jamaica Society has been all about since its inception in 1977, so it was a great fit. However, without The National Lottery’s support it wouldn’t have happened. It was an ambitious project, it was multi-platform and it included community outreach, writing a book and pulling together a record-breaking exhibition that was the most visited exhibition for Leeds Central Library in its history.

“None of that could have happened without the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund and other partners and funders.”