Whether it’s Cardi B, Arthur Jafa, or her young niece – there’s a deep intimacy that runs through New York photographer Shaniqwa Jarivis’s work
Shaniqwa Jarvis’s photography career began at five-years-old when her mum would task her with the responsibility of capturing the family holidays. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve still got photographs from then,” she says. “My mum has always allowed me to document everything, she would just pass me the camera and be like ‘take this’.” Naturally, she’s dedicated the book to her parents – neither of whom were creative, but knew all about hard work; her mum was a working professional and her dad, who came to America from Antigua, “did all the things”, including construction and owning a store.
Her self-titled book, released last week in all its 160-page glory at Angelo Baque’s Social Studies temporary concept space (hosted at the Miami Design District’s newly launched Paradise Plaza), continues to pay homage to the special people who have come into her life. Throughout the New York-born and based photographer’s work, runs a common thread of intimacy – whether it’s a photo of Cardi B, Arthur Jafa, or one of her young niece. Jarvis has the ability to shoot everyone like they’re her closest friend. Featuring photos that range from 1997 to 2017, she takes us on a deeply personal journey throughout her life – two decades that have also been punctuated with her more recognised work for Gap, Supreme, The New York Times, and Riposte magazine. But, as she says, it’s time for us to really get to know her work. So we did.
“Doing something like this really allows people to fully grasp what my portraits are about” – Shaniqwa Jarvis
Why did you decide that now was the time to make a book?
Shaniqwa Jarvis: I decide to make this book maybe two years ago because I wanted to put together a book of images that I love – images that I've been staring at for years and years. I always knew that I wanted to allow people to see what I've been shooting because they might know my commercial work – like what I did with Supreme – but doing something like this really allows people to fully grasp what my portraits are about. There’s an intimacy to them.
You mentioned that you do a lot of commercial work, do you find it difficult to create a distinction between your commercial and your personal work?
Shaniqwa Jarvis: Sometimes I do, but I think a lot of the commercial clients come to me because they're coming specifically for my vibe, which allows me to not have to shoot in a box that I don't belong in. I never have to act like someone that I'm not. I've been lucky and fortunate to have created my own style that people want.
How do you choose who you want to shoot?
Shaniqwa Jarvis: It's a mixture of things. I personally always choose people based on my gut… it’s completely instinctive. Sometimes I'm like, “okay I'm going to this place, I would love to photograph some people there”. So now I think more about it prior to me going places, whereas back in the day, I would just be somewhere with friends and take photos to capture the moment. I'm fortunate enough to have amazing people around me and I really love photographing them. As you can see from this project, these are all friends.
Some of these photos date back to 1997 and some are more recent, from just a few months ago – how did you go about putting the book together? How long did that process take?
Shaniqwa Jarvis: I mean, I'm gonna say forever – but once we knew that we were gonna do this (Social Studies) and we had the dates, then we did it really quickly – but that’s also because it had been kind of in the works for the past two years, so there was a first draft that had been put together.
Tell us a bit about the way it’s been curated. Does it tell a story?
Shaniqwa Jarvis: I have such an emotional connection to all of the photographs, specifically to how they're meant to be laid out. Working with the designer of the book, Stephen Serato, he put things into these little packages, so when you look through the book you'll see that the first section is soft tender moments with women, then it goes onto kids, then it goes onto Black men, and then it goes into my bathroom portraits section. It's all one thing, but the vibe has been separated into these little moments. Seeing it like this has really allowed me to admire my own work in a different way and it really allows me to understand and accept the skill and talent that I do actually have. It's different from what I have seen and thought about my work.
How did you get involved with Social Studies?
Shaniqwa Jarvis: It’s all family here. I know Virgil (Abloh) because I met him through Benji B, either in London or Paris. Angelo (Baque) and I have been best friends since about 1999. (We met in New York) because he wanted to go to art school and we had a mutual friend who said "can you please speak to my friend about going to Parsons”, because that was where I was attending school. We talked on the phone and it took a little while but then we just connected – at the hip. And through that, I met Chris Gibbs from Union (Los Angeles) through hanging out in New York during the same time. Our friendship became one of those where it’s like, "Oh, that's my new best friend!"
Everyone involved in Social Studies here in Miami does so many different things. As do you – you’ve also directed some things.
Shaniqwa Jarvis: We are all people who are living and trying out things. Coming up with concepts and ideas, and, for me, I don't want to sit here and be like "I'm a creative director, a photographer and I'm also a director." No – I come up with ideas and I make them happen. And if that's in film, or if that's with photography or an experiential marketing situation, it’s just that one skill has evolved into another and that evolves into another. To me, it's all one thing.
There will be more opportunities to buy Jarvis’s books soon – follow her on Instagram here to be the first to know