All images by Jamiya Wilson. Used with permission. Lead image title: Internet Comments
Photographer Jamiya Wilson is a portrait and headshot photographer residing in New York City. He’s a Phoblographer Alumni and for a while helped out here with tutorials, reviews, etc before moving on to continue to build himself as an artist. Where most people who go through tough artistic slumps combined with a move to a big city that ultimately ends up squashing their dreams, Jamiya rose up.
Born in Jackson, MS, Jamiya was always inspired by visuals from animation to cinema. Eventually he obtained his B.S. in Film from Full Sail University, before furthering his studies in photography, obtaining his MFA from The Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
Most recently, he finished a project called Tattered Women–which strives to search for meaning in various ads here in NYC.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Jamiya: I fell into photography quite unexpectedly. I was going to film school at Full Sail when I took an internship as a video editor. It was my first time doing any video editing and the guy I worked for assured me he’d train me and bring me up to speed. His kindness didn’t last long, however, and he would often berate me for making even the smallest mistakes. So, yeah, I eventually quit my job and went to the mall the same day to clear my head. I stumbled into a camera store and was very impressed with the new digital cameras.
One of the guys there showed me the DSLRs and sold me on my first camera, a Canon Digital Rebel XT. Before then I’d never owned a professional camera. We didn’t have anything beside the old Polaroid cameras growing up so this was uncharted territory to say the least. To my surprise, it quickly became an obsession and as my desire to get better increased I found myself hooked on photography. The rest is history as they say.
Phoblographer: What made you get into portraiture?
Jamiya: When I first started out, like many others, I shot my share of flowers, bugs, my apartment, my girlfriend, and friends while I honed my skills. At the time I didn’t really have a focus. I got into weddings briefly to make some money while in school, but never took to it. It just wasn’t the type of work I sought out to do. I wanted to work in fashion and do more creative work in a controlled environment. I sought out to become the world’s greatest fashion photographer, but someone ended up getting into portraiture back in 2008.
I’d been shooting “fashion” for a while, or at least trying to when I’d used up all my financial resources to hire a team. There was a model visiting from London who saw my work and wanted to shoot while she was in town. I informed her we couldn’t really do any fashion at the moment, so she insisted we shoot beauty. I didn’t even know that was a thing at the time. We did her shoot and it turned out amazing. I was quite surprised and that was when I learned I had a knack for photographing faces.
Beauty has carried me the majority of my career, but over the past several years I’ve branched out into more general portraiture of people. I love working with people, especially in a studio, it’s a very intimate setting. I enjoy having a conversation, listening to good music, and just shooting in a kind of free-form manner. I’ve tried other genres from landscapes to even product photography, but I enjoy shooting portraits the most. I just love working with people and making something memorable. Ultimately, I want to do the type of portraits people want to hang on their walls. Memorable stuff, not the disposable stuff you see that’s so prevalent nowadays.
“I’d been shooting “fashion” for a while, or at least trying to when I’d used up all my financial resources to hire a team.”
Phoblographer: Tell us about the Tattered Women project; what’s your intent, where did the inspiration come from and how did you go about concepting, arranging and creating each image?
Jamiya: Tattered Women is a project I began working on while obtaining my MFA in Photography from Academy of Art University. I needed a compelling thesis project and I spent a lot of time thinking of something unique to focus on.
I came across an advertisement while walking around New York City that really leaped out at me. It was this beautiful model sitting against a wall. The original ad has been torn up and there was this tear across her mouth that almost looked like a gag or duct tape. And there was a newer ad that had been placed over her which made it look like someone tried to hide this woman away. I snapped a picture and found myself studying the image for days. There was a narrative there and at first I wasn’t quite sure what it could relate to.
I let it go for a while, but then I read an article about a young woman who had been murdered by her boyfriend over in the UK. She was an aspiring model with a promising career who he’d murdered in a drunken rage. His family even tried to help him cover it up but they were all eventually found out. So that sparked the interest in my project. I wanted to highlight these sort of issues as it relates to models within the fashion industry. Yeah, morbid territory I know.
My intent of the series is to raise awareness of just some of the issues faced by female models in fashion. I want the viewer to feel somewhat sympathetic towards them. Of course on the outside looking in, it’s all glamorous with high-budget photoshoots, exotic locations, and beautiful people. But there’s a dark side to the business as well and these young women have to deal with some serious issues. Isolation, jealously, eating disorders, people leaching off them, ridiculously long shooting hours, physical and emotional abuse, and on and on. In the end, I hope the series encourages a dialogue and also inspires others(especially those with influence) to develop solutions for improving the conditions for these women.
“I wanted to highlight these sort of issues as it relates to models within the fashion industry. Yeah, morbid territory I know.”
In terms of concepting, I originally approached it by focusing on an issue, let’s say isolation, then venturing out and trying to find ads related to it. This proved inefficient and I would end up walking miles and miles only to find nothing. Eventually I decided to capture the ads first then find the issue within it. This was a much better approach. The biggest challenge was actually finding advertisements that were torn and defaced in a unique way and that also featured imagery related to whatever issue I wanted to focus on. I scoured the streets of NYC week after week in search of new ads.
Ads are replaced at different intervals throughout the year and some parts of the city feature more than others. I had to act fast when I saw one because if I failed to get it, it could be gone or changed dramatically the next day. Timing and persistence were perhaps the most key in finding the ads I wanted.
Once I had an image, I’d develop a unique title for it that reflected the topic I wanted to depict. I usually don’t like titles and captions for my work, but I felt to help guide the viewer, titles could prove useful. I think they’re descriptive enough, but not so much as to make the meaning ridiculously obvious to the viewer. I like a bit of mystery and like for the viewer to interpret the work on their own as well.
Phoblographer: For you as an artist, do you feel like it’s a natural evolution of your portraiture? You know, like in the case that you’re able to have a lot more creative freedom with how you put everything together?
Jamiya: I do think it’s somewhat of an evolution from my portrait work. I’d take it further and say it’s more of an evolution of myself as an artist. Working in beauty as long as I have, I’ve often felt a bit stifled with the work I was doing. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it but sometimes you really want to branch out and push yourself in another area.
This project gave me a new outlet. It allowed me to work on something completely new with more of a statement-based focus which I found myself enjoying a lot. I want to do more work with a message now and it’s encouraged me to do more “project-focused” work. I’ll still shoot beauty, do a bit of fashion, some portraits, but from time-to-time I want to come up with a really out there concept and work on a project that I personally find interesting. If I find a market for it, cool, if not at least I have some amazing photographs!
Phoblographer: Obviously, some of this is a slap in the face to magazines, advertising, etc. But it’s also a commentary on internet culture, trolling, etc. How do you feel what you’re putting forward here is effective enough to get the message across that you’re trying to convey?
Jamiya: Very good question. I’ve pondered if I’m doing enough in terms of effectiveness with the series. And I think this essentially comes down to presentation. While naming each image is a strong method of presenting on its own, I’ve also considered presenting each photograph alongside actual articles that reflect the issues depicted. I really like the idea and think it would be a format suited perfectly for presenting in a gallery.
Imagine seeing a large print from the series and beside it a placard featuring an actual news article about a real woman who went through the exact issue. That could make the message all the more effective and real to people. And I hope that upon seeing it like this, people would be less to think of the issues as a joke or not serious when presented in such a manner. I think the same method could be used effectively online as well. It’s something I’m considering at the moment and may eventually implement.
Phoblographer: You’ve photographed lots of women and have always preached about having respect for your subject. Obviously, photographers for the most part have that. But where do you think the disconnect is with the advertising clients and the photographers that just need to do the work? Do you think it’s all just fueled by money more so than sex?
Jamiya: You know, although my series appropriates the advertisements and, of course, the work of the photographers who actually created the original images, I don’t place blame on them in this case. The goal of advertising is to sell products and the photographer has to create images that helps clients achieve those goals. How they choose to depict the women in the advertising comes down to a myriad of factors from the art direction to the actual style/use of the product itself.
You don’t advertise lingerie the same way you advertise, say, shampoo. So the ads themselves I don’t particularly have an issue with. Especially if the model is a consenting adult and is doing it with full awareness and actually wants to do it. I’m more concerned with the working conditions in the industry as well as issues models may encounter outside of it as a result of being associated with the industry. In this case, I think it’s more on the agencies, clients, and photographers to ensure that the models they work with are treated fairly, with respect, and with genuine concern for their well-being. There’s more to these women than just being a pretty face to help sell products and magazines.
Take acting for example. I also do headshots for actors and have a lot of actor friends as a result. It’s not an easy career, mind you, but actors have so many resources at their disposal. There’s an actual union for them (SAG-AFTRA), where they can go for help. If they have a huge issue with a production or company, there’s someone to back them up. If they’re working overtime on a shoot that was supposed to be only a set number of hours, they’re properly compensated for it. They can go to the SAG-AFTRA website and access dozens and dozens of articles and resources to practically everything from health insurance to general career advice. It’s certainly not a cure-all, but models aren’t afforded the same luxury and will often have to deal with many issues on their own.
“I’m more concerned with the working conditions in the industry as well as issues models may encounter outside of it as a result of being associated with the industry. In this case, I think it’s more on the agencies, clients, and photographers to ensure that the models they work with are treated fairly, with respect, and with genuine concern for their well-being. There’s more to these women than just being a pretty face to help sell products and magazines.”
From agencies who don’t give them a proper push to creepy photographers and clients to sexual harassment in and outside the workplace. Besides friends and family, where can they go in their time of need? Going back to your question, I do think it’s primarily fueled by money. Fashion is a very self-serving industry and doesn’t tend to care unless you’re someone who makes them a ton of money (i.e., supermodel). This is where I think the biggest disconnect is because there’s really no safety-net for models in a very cutthroat and unforgiving industry. I know some who are against them, but imagine if models formed a union. It would really shake the industry up quite a bit, but could prove helpful for models. Having an extra layer of protection or at least a powerful organization having your back is definitely a plus.
Phoblographer: So what’s your long term plan for this project? Shopping it around to galleries? Where do you see it one year from now?
Jamiya: As of now I consider the project done in terms of creating new images. I’m still pondering my final presentation method for both online and in galleries, but should have that finalized soon. I just finished the MFA program in May so I have a lot more free time.
“This is where I think the biggest disconnect is because there’s really no safety-net for models in a very cutthroat and unforgiving industry.”
Much of my time will be spent seeking representation, but I’m also going to shop the project around to some galleries here in New York. I’d really love to display the images to the public. Additionally I could see turning it into a book project, but I wouldn’t take any profits from it. I respect the original work of the photographers, so any proceeds would be donated to charity. This is an awareness project, not something for my own monetary gain. A year from now, I see myself working on a similar project but instead of focusing on female models, I’ll shift my focus to men. It probably won’t be called Tattered Men, but it would be an interesting subject matter since male models are often overlooked in fashion.