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Q & A with Jamaican photographer Cookie Kinkead

Photo credit: Tracy Barry

Jamaican-born Cookie Kinkead is a respected international photographer. Her first official assignment in the early 70s was with Bob Marley & the Wailers for their album “Catch a Fire” and spent 3 unforgettable days roaming Kingston in a little jeep trying to pin down members of the group! Since then, her work can be seen in a host of international publications including Elle Décor, Vogue, Australian Vogue Living, National Geography, and The World of Interiors.  She has also photographed HRH the Prince of Wales now His Majesty, King Charles III, and celebrities including Ralph Lauren, Grace Jones, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Bono, Quincy Jones and Nancy Kissinger to name a few.

Cookie has recently collaborated with freelance writer, Alexandra Edwards on a beautiful & elegantly illustrated coffee table book “Living Jamaica Country” capturing interesting and extraordinary homes in Jamaica.

Jenny Mein caught up with Cookie Kinkead to ask her questions about her life and work.

Where do you live and why?
My “soul” home is the South Coast of Jamaica .. near a small fishing village.

What did you aspire to be when you were a child?
Other than to be a good tree climber and not fall and break anything … I don't recall aspiring to be anything as a child … however, from I was about 4 years old I always had a camera (without film!) around my neck. I guess I was destined to be a Photographer!

What drew you into the world of photography?
I had returned to Jamaica after spending two years in Madrid, Spain and after some weeks of going to the beach every day, I realized that I should probably look for something constructive (and fun) to do, so without having any portfolio, I boldly called Maria LaYacona, (an American Photographer living in Jamaica), and asked if I could apprentice with her. She very graciously said yes, and I learned a lot from her and her assistant at the time, (my long-time friend), Cecil Ward.

Where did you study photography?
I never have had any formal study. I just started shooting, asked a lot of questions, and made a lot of mistakes (and still do)!

What is your photographic style?
Relaxed. I “see” rooms, hotels, homes, and people in their mood/essence. I don’t use lighting.

What equipment do you use?
The least possible. I usually have a small Sony camera, perhaps a backup Pentax if needed and if the iPhone can take the image, that’s what I’ll use! I’ve had clients meet me at airports over the years and ask where my equipment is and be mortified when I point to a small bag slung over my shoulder.

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment or which of your work are you most proud of?
For years I did the photography for Island Outpost/Chris Blackwell hotels and we created amazing visuals and vibes.

Publishing books over the last few years has also been very satisfying.

It’s difficult to choose only one really as so many assignments are exciting, and yet a challenge at the same time. To satisfy both the Client and myself is always considered a big accomplishment!

Your favourite photographers?
When I was young I was fascinated by Diane Arbus and how she zoomed right IN to strangers’ souls. It certainly did not appeal to me to photograph like that, but her imagery was haunting and daring. Annie Leibowitz has done some pretty amazing portraits.

For scenic imagery, Ansel Adams.

Who has been your greatest influence?
My parents and grandparents.

If you weren’t a photographer what would you be doing?
I’d be a gardener.

The best piece of advice you have been given?
Find your passion and be yourself

What advice would you give to someone who would like to become a photographer today?
Discover what area you are passionate about in photography and submerse yourself in it.

Some of your best ideas have come while?
Floating on a body of water

An indulgence you will never forgo?
Travel … so much to always be curious about, discover, learn and appreciate

What is your most treasured possession?
My eyes. I don't consider anything that can be bought a treasure.

What would be your dream photographic project?
To capture the complexity of Jamaica on all levels, in imagery

What projects are you working on at the moment?
Another book on Jamaica, very different from “Living Jamaica Country”

The collection you love from Jenny Mein Designs botanical bone china collections?
LOVE the Breadfruit Collection.

November 2022
Jenny Mein

Q & A with Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins
Jamaican High Commissioner