Emily Stein celebrates movement and dance with Small Islands

Travelling to different Caribbean islands, the photographer captures the passion and freedom of the young people who live there in an excess of colour and joy

“I have always been a bit obsessed with the Caribbean,” says photographer Emily Stein. “It’s artistic community, natural beauty, colours and energy. I hoped to make a project here one day. Little by little I was able to research, plan and attempt to undertake the project.”

The result is Small Islands, a “visual odyssey” to showcase the dynamic vitality of Caribbean island youth. The project is a celebration of dance, music and movement. “Each image attempts to capture the essence of youth embracing their roots with passion and pride. Against the backdrop of sun-kissed shores and azure waters, these young individuals exude confidence and grace, embodying the resilience of their communities,” the photographer explains.

All images: Small Islands, Emily Stein

As well as highlighting the power in cultural expression and collective joy, Stein wanted to document the fun, passion and freedom of youth as she has in past projects such as Black-Tie, which paid homage to teenage rites of passage and Bubblegum, a series capturing kids blowing bubblegum on beaches around the world. “Photographing young people allows me to capture the essence of a transformative stage of life, celebrating the beauty, resilience, and potential of young people, while inviting viewers to connect with their own memories and emotions,” she notes.

Stein travelled around a few Caribbean islands to make this series and on the island of Sint Maarten she met Stacy Ann Taylor, plus a few families and groups who feature, such as Shiloh, the island’s pageant winner. “On other islands I spent a lot of time researching before each visit, contacting existing groups like the incredible Alpha Dance Academy in Tobago, who were doing amazing dance work also creating incredible handmade costumes with the young people there.”

Working in a different environment than she was used to, Stein had to adapt to the Caribbean way of living, which meant a more “relaxed attitude towards timing and schedule” in contrast to busy London. “However, this atmosphere offered many benefits. It encourages a more laid-back and flexible approach to work, which I felt really fostered creativity,” she reflects.

“Embracing the local rhythm and mindset ultimately enhanced the experience, allowing me to appreciate the beauty of living in the moment and prioritising human connections.”

Creative expression plays a central role in many Caribbean countries, and from her time there Stein got a first-hand glimpse of the storytelling and communal bonding that stems from that. “Collaborating there highlighted the strong sense of unity, creativity and camaraderie that exists,” she says.

“These small creative communities inspire these young people to adopt a resourceful and adaptable mindset, finding innovative ways to overcome obstacles and achieve their artistic goals.”