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Aweng Jordan Hemingway
Aweng for Micol Ragnicourtesy of Jordan Hemingway

Jordan Hemingway is the image maker creating haunting work

We meet the New Jersey-born filmmaker and photographer unsettling the fashion industry with his evocative art

From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to makeup and nail artists, in our Spotlight series we profile the creatives tearing up the rule book in their respective industries.

Jordan Hemingway’s documentative work defies categorisation. It’s often eerie and unsettling. For example, his lookbook for Gio Forbice’s new label “For the Memory of a Lifetime” is a creepy CCTV-meets-Google Earth look at people engaged in behaviour ranging from the mundane to the violent. To accompany his film IN ORDER TO ENDURE SIN, THE SLAVE MASTER MUST INVEST CAPITAL FOR ETERNITY, Jordan’s photographs of Hirakish show the musician with his body contorted, mouth wide open with a crucifix down his throat. Meanwhile, watching Finding Saint, a film collaboration with designer Grace Wales Bonner – a meditation on religion, beauty, and three models’ relationships with their homeland – is an evocative experience that leaves a lump in your throat. Here Jordan speaks to Dazed Beauty about his relationship to his craft.

Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up? How has your background shaped who you are as a person?
I grew up in New Jersey. I was a skateboarder and during an injury I started shooting my friends and fell in love with photography. My father is an incredible jazz musician who spent tireless hours on the road and in his studio. My mother a doctor. Observing their strong work ethic gave me an understanding early on that if you want something you have to work for it. I’m completely self-taught and continue to teach myself things every day, nothing gives me greater joy than working hard.

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
I was always conscious of it because I looked different, my mom would cut my jeans off into shorts for the summer and I’d wear my dad’s big Jazz Festival t-shirts. I didn’t like it at the time because I’d get made fun of but as time went on I stopped caring.  

Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
I didn’t ever have a TV but I was exposed to a lot of cinema as a child. My earliest memory is watching Prince videos with my parents and singing and dancing along. I was obsessed with Prince.  

Why are you a photographer?
I’m a photographer because it’s the only way I know how to express myself.

How did you actually get into it? Is it something you learned or is it more instinctual?
I taught myself in internet forums and message boards. I remember learning the most from this skateboarding forum, SkatePerception. There was a photography section with a lot of awesome photographers sharing work from all over. The biggest teacher, however, is lots of trial and error so I guess it was more instinctual.  

What is it that appeals to you about fashion photography/filmmaking?
Fashion photography and filmmaking offers a platform to be me and make things.

Tell us a bit about your creative process.
I try to make the entirety of the creative process enjoyable and spontaneous, trying to create everything with my camera without using photoshop, printing in the darkroom and spending as little time at the computer as possible.

What is it that draws you to dark subject matters?
I don’t really think my work is that dark. I don’t see it that way it just feels normal. I feel more comfortable around things others may consider “dark.”

Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject? What is your relationship to “beauty”?
I try to capture beauty in my work, just my own version of it. I’m very inspired by beauty.

How would you describe your aesthetic?
I wouldn’t – I’d leave that job to someone else. I find it best to not overanalyse and just let things come out. It's easy to become stuck in some preconceived notion of what one’s aesthetic is.

How does your work engage with notions of gender and sexuality?
My notions of gender and sexuality are encompassed in notions of equality, and freedom to express one’s self and be the person they are inside. I don’t set out to make work directly addressing gender or sexuality but my beliefs on both are very important to me so I’d imagine it’s reflected in my work.  

What are the shoots that you’re most proud of?
The ones I haven’t done yet.

What’s the most significant thing you’ve learned over the course of your career?
Don’t be afraid to fail. Take a leap. Trust yourself.  

What is your dream project to work on?
Photographing Sabar dance in Senegal.

Looking back what would you have done differently?
Nothing. Without everything that I’ve done, good and bad, I wouldn’t be sitting here now.

How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
Social media has changed everything, it's given people who might not have otherwise had a chance some opportunities and also really changed the way photography and film are seen and budgets are distributed. I suppose there is both good and bad in all that.

How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the rise of social media and selfie culture?
It's great that we have wider visibility of different types of beauty and that there is a space for people to share and speak about it.

What advice would you give to young photographers hoping to get into the industry?
Fail upwards.

What is the future of beauty?
Ask Midland Agency’s Walter Pearce for his next season projections on head shapes.

Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?
Sam Rolfes.