Photos Made Out of Sugar Reveal Caribbean’s Brutal History

Sugar Coat

Christina Leslie constructed photos from sugar granules to highlight the sugar trade industry in the Caribbean which relied upon the enslavement of Africans.

Entitled Sugar Coat, Leslie tells PetaPixel that she spent two years researching and testing different methods so that she could construct an image from sugar.

“Using actual sugar as my inspiration, I was deliberate in my aesthetic decisions and the way I made each image. I chose white sugar instead of natural brown sugar as an allusion to the racial concept of purification,” she explains.

Sugar Coat

Sugar Coat

The unique images were created with a specialized paper and sugar solution that becomes an emulsion lift, something that Leslie concocted herself.

“A single image requires around four days to create. After the images have dried and hardened, they are encased in sugar, and after 24 to 48 hours, they transform into three-dimensional works of art,” she explains.

“The image is only visible when light illuminates the object from behind. The image is subsequently transformed into something resembling stained glass and becomes a collectible, artifact, and archival document.”

Sugar Coat

Since the 3D emulsion lifts will disintegrate over time, Leslie photographs them for posterity and preservation. If she wants to view them in their original 3D form there must be a light source behind them.

“I enlisted the assistance of my uncle and cousin to construct a lightbox that would accommodate a portion of them,” she says.

“To successfully shelter them, we had to consider numerous things, including temperature, size, depth, and the usage of materials that would halt the decay process.”

A Harrowing Histroy

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Caribbean became synonymous with sugar plantations where enslaved Africans toiled in horrific conditions so the sweetener could be served in Europe.

“The objective and purpose of my Sugar Coat series was to create an authentic body of work using white sugar as a metaphor to speak/communicate about the sugar trade industry in the Caribbean and the enslavement of Africans,” Leslie says.

“Being of Jamaican heritage, it was essential for me to focus on the Jamaican narrative of this period and develop visuals based on accounts I researched pertaining to the island. The series uses a variety of photographic approaches to illustrate the complexities of this history.”

Sugar Coat

Leslie used photos from her own personal archives of Jamaica and intermixed them with new images of models, costumes, and props.

The project, started in 2020, was the thesis for Leslie’s Master of Fine Arts program which she has since completed.

“I continue to add to the project as I come across more accounts from this period that I believe should be shared,” she adds.

More of Leslie’s work can be found on her website and Instagram.

Image credits: All photos by Christina Leslie.