Francine Russell had a vision for a birthday photo shoot in 2019. She explained her concept to photographer Scharad Lighbourne who said he knew they could go bigger and do something that would impact the culture. Russell’s initial vision snowballed into a much larger, more meaningful shoot, that is “Olde Town Lady” – a historic collection of modern-day portraits.
“Olde Town Lady” is a series that brings the stories of different generations of Bahamian women out of the shadows and analyzes how they collectively contributed to the culture and traditions that are common and upheld in Bahamian society today. Their aim is to theorize and construct the historical knowledge of Bahamian women through oral histories and creative interpretations.
“We want people, especially the younger generation, to not forget where we’ve come from,” said Lightbourne. “I learned so much as an artist and how to photograph cultural periods of history. I can only hope this helps people build an appreciation for who paved the way for Bahamian culture and specifically, the role of the woman in this time.”
The images of Russell are stunning and at the same time, haunting and achingly beautiful. They make you pause, think and reflect.
Francine Russell – co-principal of The Heritage Partners, a professional services agency specializing in heritage branding, research and management, with a mission to promote and preserve history, heritage and culture – said they wanted Bahamians to look at the images and read the stories and identify the different women that represent them.
“These women are in their families and their communities and probably have made some impact in their lives. It is important to know that these traditions, beliefs, didn’t just start with us here today, but are derived from our past,” said Russell. “When I saw the images, I felt that I brought our ancestors’ stories to life. These images invoked a very complicated thought process for me because they depict people’s lived realities. I also felt so much joy because I was able to see survival, love and humility.”
It’s a project that was important to Russell because of the many untold stories of women in society and the roles they played.
“The takeaway from this project is that we … people in the history and heritage sector, are valuable, and it is important for us to reflect on our past to make sense of our present and transmit this value into our future. We must be able to influence the creative sector to help us convey a stronger understanding of our identity,” she said.
“At The Heritage Partners, we understand that we can only have a true understanding of who we are as a nation, by families understanding and coming to terms with their past. I wouldn’t consider myself a creative, but I am a person who values how important the creative industry is to my field. They are needed when it comes to telling our historical stories. The team that Scharad put together are the true creatives.”
Russell said being in the history and heritage field, she realized that people tend to think history is boring work, which pushes them to find different ways to educate and to tell historical stories. With women’s history a passion of hers and her business partner, she said the always brainstorm ways they can celebrate the women who came before them.
Russell chose Lightbourne for the project because she says he has the talent and drive to execute a vision like hers.
“I shared with him that I felt that the creatives are the ones who will bring our unique stories to life. Scharad put together his ‘dream team’ to execute this project that same year, and the rest is history,” said Russell.
“Olde Town Lady” is a phased project. Russell is phase one. To see the full story and images you can go to Scharad’s blog scharadlphoto.com/blog/oldetownlady.
In 2020, right before the pandemic, they began work on phase two, a collaboration between The Heritage Partners and Lightbourne, featuring notable Bahamian women. Scharad and his team shot portrait photographs of 12 phenomenal women, and The Heritage Partners began collecting their oral histories, so that their stories can form part of the historic record.
“We’re planning for both phases to be featured in a multimedia exhibition that should hopefully launch this year,” said Russell. “Ultimately, we want Olde Town Lady to be an ongoing project, where we continue to celebrate Bahamian women and their stories.
Lightbourne’s belief is that culture is made up of people and their stories, and he says for a historian like Russell to want to push the photoshoot from a historical and cultural perspective, made it even more important to him to help her tell the stories.
“We want people, especially the younger generation, to not forget where we’ve come from. I learned so much as an artist and how to photograph cultural periods of history, I can only hope this helps people build an appreciation for who paved the way for Bahamian culture and specifically, the role of the woman in this time,” said Lightbourne.
Follow The Heritage Partners for more information. Ig: Theheritagepartners; website: www.myheritagepartners.com.