In the early hours of the last day of 2014, the inventive Peter Dean Rickards lost his battle with cancer. Rickards was a photographer, cinematographer and director with an original eye, quick wit and unique perspective. He was also an astute user of social media as a vehicle for his thoughts and his art — right up until his death, he held active accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, under the handle Afflicted Yard.
And he was. The consummate creative, Rickards was smart, edgy and a little off the wall. On Facebook, people who knew him said he was a man before his time — that Jamaica and the world weren't yet ready for him.
The day I met Peter summed him up perfectly. Sometime in 2003 I was sitting with my then boss by the Kingston Hilton poolside preparing for a meeting with some businessmen or other, when this man with crazy hair showed up for the first time. ‘I’m gonna go shoot Ninjaman [a dancehall DJ] on the run from police…guns…somewhere in the bush…ya wanna come?’
But that was Peter: prepared to do something completely nuts; a something that occurred only to him, and that only he would risk doing; and trusting me, basically a stranger at that time, to share the experience. The end result was that iconic photo of Ninjaman holding Peter’s ‘Get out of jail free’ Monopoly card – one of a series of shots, which included the deejay waving around a loaded gun.
Little did I know then that I’d have the privilege of crashing on his pleather couch for the best part of the year…and dodging the occasional firework he liked to let off inside the apartment.
The post went on to talk about how Rickards, in hospital towards the end, was “interested only in hearing news about others”:
Peter had lived life to its fullest. And it was his appreciation of life that which was such an essential quality of his art. There weren’t the conventional divides in his work: he crisscrossed uptown as much as downtown as much as country; and he looked outwards of Jamaica as much as he proudly celebrated his own culture.
His eye for a story enabled him to work across different media – from writing to video – and to chance upon random, fascinating subjects that the rest of us would pass on by. Peter would show them in an honest and fresh light: he loved the underdog the unusual, and equally, he shunned the fake or hypocrites.
A self proclaimed “media terrorist”, Rickards often spoke his mind quite bluntly, which didn't always go over well with those with something to lose by it. As an artist and as a Jamaican that understood the nuances and contradictions of his society, Rickards was keenly interested in “challeng[ing] not just the competing foreign depictions of Jamaica as either some ‘Hearts of Darkness’ versus ‘Happy Rastas’ serenading tourists on the beach; but in doing so also to challenge our own insecurities as a small island nation.” Sheil praised Rickards’ “natural sense of inquiry” and autodidacticism:
The moment he found a subject, the little boy inside him became immediately fascinated. He didn’t know how to webcast, so he taught himself, the same way he learned how to build a website and as a photographer began with a crappy 1-megapixel, moving onto a more ‘professional’ camera only after he’d already learned how to frame shots beautifully as well as capture Jamaica’s breathtaking natural light.
I think we call that ‘creativity’. And in the Jamaican context where so many must make do with so little it made his work all the more authentic.
Another close friend, blogger Annie Paul, was heartbroken upon hearing the news of Rickards’ passing and put together a compilation of “some of the most compelling tributes” she found on social media. In the post, Paul made special mention of a tribute from LA Lewis and Rickards’ “magnificent spoof of the artworld –The Concepshional Artist”, which used LA Lewis as his subject. You can see it in this tweet that Rickards sent out shortly before his death:
— Peter Dean Rickards (@afflictedyard) December 19, 2014
Photo: RIP to a great friend. One the most loved, hated, and feared people in the internet. From 1994 on… http://t.co/Oo0JeOyi8c
— Mango chow (@walshyfire) December 31, 2014
Berette Macaulay called Rickards “a brilliant visionary of style, wit, and talent”, saying:
He was committed to showing the world the raw side of #Jamaica that frankly few others really looked at or cared to do honest photo-essays about…and he represented this with poetry and the sexiest style. In this singularity I absolutely respected his stubborn tenacious and incomparable vision.
Sweetland Photos, also mentioned in Paul's post, remembered Rickards as “always thinking outside of the box, always different, always…FIRST”:
Still trying to grasp some of your work, thats how advanced you were.
— Russell Hergert (@russellhergert) December 31, 2014
PETER DEAN. ONE OF THE MOST LOVED, FEARED AND CONTROVERSIAL INNOVATORS OF THE INTERNET AGE. FROM F1RST… http://t.co/OcLvwKptyP
— MAJOR LAZER (@MAJORLAZER) January 4, 2015
— Tobias Huber (@tobiashuber) December 31, 2014
It certainly will. Even in death, Rickards decided how the last page of his story would be written.
— Ross Sheil (@RossSheil) December 31, 2014