The 'Jamaica Girl' Poster: Story Of The Best Tourism Image Of The '70s
Source: Heritage Auctions
Could poster of a girl in a wet t-shirt make Jamaica an appealing tourist destination? Well it was worth a try. In 1972, Sintra Bronte waded into the water of a Jamaican beach wearing a red shirt, and the "Jamaica Girl" was born.
Jamaica's tourism boom began with Bond, James Bond. During World War II, the island was still under British rule and served as an Allied base. Wealthy Brits like 007 author Ian Fleming built resorts and second homes on the island. After gaining independence in 1962, Jamaica became a very in place for tourism but the country couldn't just bring in visitors on word of mouth alone.
A decade after Jamaica opened up as a tourist destination the "Jamaica" poster became a major part of their campaign and it makes perfect sense. This shot of a gorgeous woman wearing a tight, wet t-shirt shows the dream of an island getaway. Featuring Trinidadian model Sintra Bronte -- yes, the famous "Jamaica Girl" is from Trinidad, not Jamaica -- this poster became a mainstay of groovy era tourism.
Jamaica was ready for a tourism explosion
Jamaica's first tourism boom began after World War II when commercial airline routes opened between the island and Miami and then the island and New York and London. By the time Jamaica gained its independence in 1962, the country was aligned with Cuba in its socialist leanings. The capital fell and it was clear to everyone on the island that something needed to change.
By the early '70s, the reggae and Rastafarian movements were becoming a part of the culture at large and people from across the western world wanted to get in on the vibes that they heard in the songs of Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. The Jamaican tourism board needed an image to bring in people from across the world.
Sintra Bronte was in the right place at the right time
The Jamaican tourism board wanted to bring in visitors from Asia in the early '70s, so they decided that what they needed was an image of a woman with mixed Jamaican and Chinese heritage. They performed an exhaustive search but were unable to find the perfect person.
How does one even get employed by an advertising agency? Most models spend years trying to land a lucrative deal that puts them in front of millions of people. All Sintra Bronte had to do was stay at a hotel. While staying at Kingston’s Pegasus Hotel in the early '70s, the 26-year-old Trinidadian model was spotted by members of the advertising agency working for Jamaica's tourism board. They hired her on the spot.
A seven hour shoot
It only took seven hours to take the perfect photo of Bronte in a wet t-shirt emblazoned with the word "Jamaica." But it wasn't just this one shot that made everyone talk, she was also featured in a commercial for the island destination that shows her in the same shirt, likely taken at the same photo shoot. The entire process was a whirlwind for Bronte. In 2015, while speaking with her niece about the shoot she explained that becoming the focal point of Jamaica's tourism board wasn't what she expected:
I just thought it would be a regular ad. It took seven and a half hours to make at Frenchman’s Beach in Port Antonio. Seven and a half hours to complete and I suppose at that time I was young….that was 43 years ago. I was 26 years old.
The photo made its way onto posters around the world, enticing tourists to pack their bags and plan a trip to the Caribbean. The image is incredibly arresting, not just because there's a hot woman in a wet t-shirt, but Bronte has a fascinating look that's impossible to ignore. As if she weren't enough, there's an erotic quality to the colors of the image, almost as if it was pulled from a late night movie on Cinemax.
Did the poster work?
Jamaica's tourism figures throughout the 1970s aren't readily available online so it's hard to parse exactly how well the poster did its job. However, in 1987, the New York Times wrote an article about Jamaica's fluctuating tourism market that refers to the early '70s as a rough time in on the Caribbean island for tourism.
The local government was in turmoil throughout the '70s, making it dangerous for people to travel to the country. Still, the tourism board hoped to bring people in with the poster in order to give the island some much needed cash.
It wasn't until the early '80s that Jamaica began making headway with tourism, but this image has stuck itself in the public consciousness for years so it must have done something right in order to avoid the stigma of the early '70s on the island. As troubled as the early '70s were in Jamaica, the tourism board knew that it needed to sell the idea of hot babes and sun drenched locales. This ad may not have increased tourism immediately, but they created an unforgettable image.
Alicia Keys Recreated The Photo In 2015
As unforgettable as the Jamaica image is, it's not without controversy. Many Jamaicans feel that that by using a non Jamaican woman in an advertisement for the country. They're understandably frustrated that the advertising company didn't work with one of the many beautiful women from their country, and instead chose to work with a model of Trinidadian descent.
It's understandable that locals would be frustrated by this lapse in judgement. Even the explanation that the tourism board was trying to find a specific look doesn't help soothe any wounds. Even when interest in the poster was reunited after Alicia Keys posted her own recreation of the poster on Instagram people were hurt to learn that Bronte wasn't from the island. At the time it may have made sense to hire someone who wasn't from Jamaica, but in hindsight it's not such a hot decision.
Jamaicans didn't love the ad but Bronte's okay with that
Sintra Bronte, who's since gone on to run her own travel company in Trinidad, understands the frustration but believes that the ad is much more encompassing of the Caribbean and not just Jamaica. In 2015, she explained:
I would hope the people who are seeing the pictures through their eyes would see them the right way, because I am a Caribbean woman. Whether I represent Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada – I represent beauty in the Caribbean. We are beautiful women, the way we think, the way we live, the way we enjoy life. We are a happy go lucky people. I am so proud to be a Caribbean woman.
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