From her viewpoint, photographer Shaniqwa Jarvis sees her limited-run self-titled book debut as basically her “greatest hits of the past 20 years.”
After Ryan McGinley’s introduction, the 160-page tome features editorial work such as a Billboard shoot with Cardi B from last year and personal work such as “Girls on Track” from her early days teaching photography and writing to underprivileged kids at Union Settlement. Portraits of SZA, Lee Scratch Perry and George Condo are also in the mix, as well as images for Gap, Supreme and Riposte in the Baque Creative Press-published book.
A fan of Bruce Davidson, William Eggleston and Richard Avedon, Jarvis described her own work as “intimate and raw.” For those unfamiliar with her work, she said, “If you were to look at the book, you would have a sense that you were going through different points of my life. You’ve got some of the younger portraits that I took in the bathroom of Ryan McGinley and Harold Hunter. Then fast-forward 10 years to shooting celebrities…Ali Wong. I always say it’s sensitive portraiture with a hint of fashion.”
The way Jarvis sees it, the biggest compliment she can receive for her photography is for a subject’s nearest-and-dearest to say, ’That’s my kid’ or ’That’s my Mom,’” she said. “I’m looking at someone and trying to get their real truth. I really don’t want it to be about me at all. I want you to look at it and see them. My intent is always for you to feel the essence of who that person is.”
In these highly self-stylized times, Jarvis said on-set people recognize that she is being herself. “Then they don’t put on the game, ’This is the way that I want to be seen.’ If I see them performing or doing something that they give to everyone, I’ll say, ‘Let’s stop and have a little conversation,’” Jarvis said.
The Cardi B photo is from a Billboard shoot. “Right before she was about to burst onto the scene, Billboard had an inclination that her song was going to stay on the charts for a minute so they wanted to document her,” Jarvis said, adding the outlet wanted something natural and real so she suggested the restaurant Lovely Day. A favorite hangout for 15-years plus, the snug NoLIta eatery’s recognizable wallpaper would resonate with many and the rapper took to the setting, too. “She walked in and I think just felt comfortable. She was open and ready to give it to me,” Jarvis said. “I knew she was going to be something because she was just so honest and so real. She had this way of connecting. I had no idea it was going to be this massive.”
For her book tour, Jarvis is making limited-edition T–shirts and tote bags for each city stop. In addition, through a collaboration with Sneakersnstuff she has developed a sweatshirt and a blanket imprinted with images of her photography that is available online and in its New York store. Jarvis is looking to do more limited-run collaborations with others.
As for up-and-comers, Jarvis is “obsessed” with Arielle-Bob Willis and recently bought a print from Stephanie Baptist’s Medium Tings gallery. Jarvis is also a fan of Chroma New York, which was started by June Canedo, Ladin Awad and Sienna Fekete to organize networks of mobility through a dialogue of resistance, action and healing. At its last exhibition, the photographer was part of a panel that discussed “revitalizing our truths.”
After taking a hiatus from reading books to use that time watching more films and documentaries, she is back to the book habit, reading three at once. Autobiographies are particularly inspiring, especially those of black women, she said. The bedrock of her craft was put in place by her relatives, who were big on taking photos. The camera and bag she started with was gift from a photojournalist uncle, who had used it during the Vietnam War. “From there, I just kind of spiraled out,” she said. “Also, my style definitely comes from my mother allowing me to document our trips with a video camera and a 110 camera,” she said, adding that her uncle offered tough love advice. “Go for it, but also know it’s superhard to make it as a photographer. I hope you have a plan.”
Her own plans include two new fashion assignments — neither of which she could disclose.