Francis, Armet. (1 of 6). Oral History of British Photography.
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2013-03-13, 2013-06-12, 2013-06-13
The British Library
Francis, Armet, 1945- (speaker, male, interviewee)
Read, Shirley (speaker, female)
Part 1:Armet Francis [AF] born January 29 1945, Santa Cruz mountains, Jamaica. Description of mountain climate, more temperate than Santa Cruz, mix of Irish, Scottish, African, Chinese and Indian peoples, due to colonisation and slavery, that after emancipation a lot of slaves moved to mountains to get land. of close-knit community and intermarriage, examples of names, first legitimate mixed race community in Jamaica (i.e. people married) after slavery. Comparison with plantations where interracial marriage did not happen. Description of his mixed race grandparents and his mother, Eugene, his white great grandfather, born in 1851. Description of growing up in self-sustainable community, the huge variety of food grown on grandparents’ 37 acres in valley, subsistence farming and sale of produce in nearby markets. Description of running 5 miles to school, bitten by dogs on the way. Description of houses. Further comments on problems of local markets and perishable food. [00:10:10] Mention of mother leaving Jamaica when AF was 3, growing up with grandparents, his mother’s siblings also migrated to England after World War Two. [00:12:44] Description of differences between valley and mountain agriculture and why plantation owners had to be in valley for sugar cane. Discussion of 1950 Bauxite mining and Alcan [Canadian mining company] buying rights to take over and mine bauxite in Santa Cruz mountains, continuing today. Comments on workers being paid a pittance by exploitative mine employers. Description of soil and seasonal planting. [00:15:53] Description of extended family, including cousins AF went to school with. Mentions his grandfather going to Cuba, Panama Canal etc. on 2 year contracts to work. Mentions AF born out of wedlock but everyone knew his father, mother educated and a schoolteacher. Description of complicated family relations as like ‘backwoods America’. [00:23:58] Mentions that his uncles were in USA in World War Two. Description of uncle nicknamed ‘Bowtie’ playing steel guitar, and working in paint factory. Mention that AF never met his own father who went to Brooklyn, his mother married in England. [00:28:00] Description of tough farm environment growing up in mountains, helping his granny on farm and learning to plant aged 10. Mentions loneliness, missing his mother. Description of powerful rainforest climate, hurricanes. Comment that life in Jamaica was not idyllic. Comments on strict schooling and grandparenting. Description of grandfather’s corner store, that his grandmother was a musician and taught uncle guitar. [00:40:26] Describes going to church every Sunday with smartly dressed grandparents, that his grandmother made clothes. [00:46:04] Mentions that the Americanisms in AF’s speech started in England from the Blues, films and music. [00:47:43] AF shows interviewer 1969 photo of mountain ridge, lush vegetation, and empty thatched house, taken after grandparents had gone and describes cultivation when they lived there. [00:56:21] Further description of the markets and problems of perishable foods. Comments on differences between mountain people and town people. Comments that people had to work abroad to get enough money to build house. Comments on packaging of Jamaican foods and drink and take-over by US companies. [01:04.05] Description of his schooling as ‘colonial’, and discussion of meaning of being part of British Empire. Comment that his schooling was not continuous. [01:07:33] Describes feelings of separation from mother. [01:08:40] Reminisces about Jamaican ghosts, known as duppies. Anecdotes about upbringing by granny. [01:11:20] Discussion about beliefs in ghosts; powerful spiritualism mix of Celtic and African; his childhood fear of duppies. Anecdote about initiation to spirit world at age of 5 sitting with dead great grandfather’s body, mention filmmaker Spielberg as understanding spirits. Describes sitting by body as helping overcome his Duppy fear. Mention Bob Marley song ‘Duppy Conqueror’. [01:24:59] Discussion of his perception of himself as British. Comment that AF was not taught about black people and slavery; on remembering little about Queen’s Coronation in 1953. Describes limited knowledge of England [01:32:44] Explains relatives’ migration to England, demand for cheap labour, his male relatives came first, mother came when AF was 3, worked in Civil Service; sent for him when he was 10. [01:37:51] Description of getting passport in Kingston, the first time he had seen a photograph, a ‘magical experience’. Description of journey to England on old boat with a female guardian. Describes sex segregation on boat. [01:46:47] Anecdotes about journey; goodbye to granny; first time at sea; could not swim; boat drill; cold on deck and pneumonia; boat hospital for a week; crushed fingers transferring from boat to train in Portugal and his sickness on boat from Calais. [01:59:57] Description of not recognising mother; everyone a stranger; feeling he had travelled two centuries; not understanding the language; and never having seen so many white people. Comparison with Moira Stewart ‘Who do you think I am’, having both master and slave inside. Reference to Pocahontas. [02:07:28] Describes feelings about mother and granny. Comparison of his brother, born in England, with his own Jamaican sensibilities, getting in fights. Mentions his mother had married, a flat in Elephant and Castle. [02:12:00] Comment that black people could not get access to council housing, had to rent privately or buy, that his mother received compensation after problem birth and able to get flat on Rockingham Estate. [02:14:00] Mention he had not known he had a brother, the newness of everything, no blacks in area then. Comments on Rockingham estate today mainly Nigerians. Mentions his [step] father Roy, Jamaican, washed dishes in Lyons Corner house; worked as a waiter; self taught chef; later opened fish and chip restaurant in Lavender Hill, the restaurant problems. His parent’s migration to Canada in 1970s. [02:24:00] Describes being 10 and the only black child at Joseph Lancaster School, verbal insults and fights, difficulties having missed two years education in Jamaica, anecdote about etiquette school in Jamaica. [02:34:28] Comment about hostility in England and how adult migrants did not understand inability to get jobs to match their skills. [02:38:25] Further discussion about school and comparison with colonial education, being unprepared for and failing 11 plus, secondary modern, Tower Bridge School, Bermondsey, being only black child, dockers’ children; verbal abuse, becoming a ‘hard boy’ and fighting.
Life story interview with photographer Armet Francis, 1945-