Country cultural heritage Jason Shipley masks and costumes performing arts street performance United Kingdom



// Jason is a passionate British documentary photographer from Kingston upon Hull. He documents the people he meets, often in long-term series. His photographs have been featured in magazines and at the British Museum. Jason shared some of his photos from the Leeds West Indian Carnival, the oldest such event in England.

“If your pictures are´nt good enough you aren’t close enough.”

Robert Capa

What draws you to the arts?

“The stories, the people I meet, it leads me into a certain direction and stories lead to more stories about humans”

What impresses you most about the Leeds West Indian Carnival?

“The whole event is created months in advance with the costumes and props made individually by each person.

Music and dancing can make you happy or sad, it can celebrate and tell stories. It can also be a historical document and a tool of social criticism. Caribbean Carnival is a performing art that is rooted in a long tradition, with origins dating back to slavery. Carnival is more than a costume spectacle, even though this is what it is most popular for. Its universal appeal stems from the struggles and resilience of Caribbean communities after emancipation from slavery. It is based on folklore, culture, religion, and tradition.

Carnivals spread from Italian Catholics in Europe to France and Spain, and from there this pre-Lenten tradition travelled with colonialists to the Caribbean. In Trinidad and other Caribbean islands, the European version was transformed in the 18th century to a more heterogeneous cultural festival of all ethnic groups. When in 1834 slavery ended officially, it became a way for the now free population to celebrate their native culture and their emancipation through costume, music, and dancing.

Every (normal) year Caribbean vibes heat up the cold North of England. The Leeds West Indian Carnival marked its 50th anniversary in 2017. Started in 1967 by a group of West Indian students in Leeds (including Arthur France from Nevis, who is still its chair today), it is Europe’s longest running Caribbean carnival parade. Between 1948 and 1970, nearly half a million Caribbean people emigrated to Britain for studies and work. These immigrants were later referred to as “the Windrush generation”, after the ship HMT Empire Windrush that first brought a group of 802 migrants to Tilbury, near London, in 1948. In the Northern English city of Leeds, young Caribbean students were yearning for their cultural feasts. They came up with the idea of introducing a proper Caribbean carnival to their new home. The Leeds Carnival was the first in the UK to incorporate all the essential elements of an authentic West Indian carnival into this event: elaborate costumes, dancing music and a masquerade procession.

More information

Official website of the Leeds Carnival
Wikipedia on the history of the Leeds West Indian Carnival
Wikipedia on the Windrush generation´s history

Click on the photos to see the full image.


To see more of his photography visit Jason´s Instagram page.

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