IN CONVERSATION WITH
by Minya Quirk
I’m reading Shaniqwa Jarvis’ bio on her website, and I think I helped her write it and that it needs an update. After all, it’s been a few years, and Shaniqwa is prolific. As a commercial photographer she’s captured campaigns for brands like Supreme, Nike, Adidas, Tommy and many more. Editorially she’s shot memorable portraits of celebrities and personalities from downtown cool kids to Obama, Erykah, Pusha, the list goes on. She’s constantly rolling out personal projects, she’s got a book (maybe it’s time for a reprint?), and she recently showed a knockout gallery exhibition of emotional and curated personal photographs spanning twenty years called Sleep to Dream. Shaniqwa flies around the world working nonstop, and when she’s resting it’s in a hotel or in her new home, in a new town, LA. She’s a New Yorker, a supportive friend, caring mentor, life of the party with an infectious laugh, and hard to summarize in one paragraph. But one kernel about her work from the outdated bio rings everlasting: ‘she captures vivid reality across a wide variety of subjects that always appear to be an extension of herself, in images that speak to raw, disparate feelings imbued with a deep, sparkling optimism.’ That is to say she’s emo and gritty, a lover and a teacher, with personality and presence to spare. Like any good artist, Shaniqwa feels deeply and manages to capture things in a way that is singular, but totally relatable.
Afternoon Light is pleased to release a shower curtain and bathmat, perfect to “fuck around and find out” in the bathroom, featuring one of Shaniqwa’s most tender and lovely images, blown up for maximum immersive enjoyment. Read the conversation below for more on how Shaniqwa IS the flowers, on the power of ancestors and where she’s headed next.
MQ: When we first talked about home, and home decor or home goods, you're the one who suggested making a shower curtain and bathmat. And you had a funny quip about the bathroom. Do you remember what it was?
SJ: Fuck no.
MQ: It was something like, “it's where I spend all my time.” And I was reminded of it when some guy at your show said he gets his best thinking done in the shower.
SJ: I think the bathroom is one of the best places in your home to experiment. If you don't have any color in your house, it's a great place to kind of fuck around and find out. You can do all these little things to make it your own. Because you do, I mean, I personally spend a lot of time in the bathroom. IBS, long showers, picking my face. At my new house, it’s the first time I’ve made a bathroom exactly what I want it to be and it's like pure heaven. I fucking love it.
MQ: You recently moved to LA, and bought a house in LA.
SJ: It's true.
MQ: What's the process been like?
SJ: Uh, still working on it. It's been a year and I think we'll work on it forever. It’s a mid-century modern and it was in need of some repair and updating and Raj, my partner, and I wanted to be sustainable, and financially smart about how we chose to do things. It’s been a very interesting process; we've never done anything like this before. Working with Studio BC on the build and interior was amazing. It’s been very fulfilling because we've been able to take a home that, from the minute I walked up the steps, I was like, ‘oh, this is my house’ to living in it, and it's been really beautiful to make our space together in this crazy fucking city.
MQ: What things did you prioritize when renovating - taking something that needs to be improved upon, fixed, personalized?
SJ: This is a weird one, but most mid-century modern homes don't have storage. So we had to figure that out. And color was key. We wanted to keep it very much what it was. Just bring it forward.
MQ: What year was it built?
SJ: ‘63 or ‘53. One of those.
MQ: Somewhere in the middle. How did you approach color?
SJ: We have one bathroom that's eggplant and cream, and then another one that's fully green. We went bold, we went for it. Our kitchen's blue. There are certain pockets, areas that are really dedicated to color.
MQ: Did you do any color research or pick on instinct?
SJ: Strictly instinct and favorites. I love a green bathroom. But of course, the minute you love something, it's like, 'oh, everything's green, the new hot color is green.' So it seems like we're being 'on trend,' but it's just a very calming bathroom.
MQ: Let's talk about this image of tulips that you chose for the shower curtain and mat, you’ve used it a bunch of times. It’s currently hanging in my bathroom and I’ve really enjoyed living with it.
SJ: I used it as a fundraiser for the Pictures for Elmhurst project at the height of the pandemic and also in a project with Awake clothing. I photographed those flowers in Copenhagen in 2020. I went for fashion week with Ganni and the tulips were at the after party for their show. I was staring at them and, I don't know, I was having fun at the party, but I also felt out of place at the party. I only knew four people there. I had a weird little moment where I was like traipsing around the space and I saw the flowers on the floor and I thought, ‘oh, I feel like that.’ They were half sprung. But drooping. I felt like those fucking flowers. I took three shots, one without flash, one with, and one where I did a little shake with my hand to see what that would look like. I love the one that's without flash.
MQ: The relationship to your surroundings and capturing certain moments, how they reflect your mood or state of mind at the time, I think your art photography really does such an amazing job of letting the audience see who you are as a person. That’s the communication, right? So it's interesting that you say that you are literally relating to the flowers.
SJ: A hundred percent. I was like, ‘oh, that's me right there in the corner, chilling.’
MQ: You're really well known for your portraiture and that's what you get hired to do a lot. We've talked about this in the past, but how do you think that something like the work on the shower curtain versus your portraiture work is different or similar?
SJ: They're the same because they all come from me, and they're all about me. Even a portrait of Obama, I photographed him in a way that I'd want to be photographed because I knew that he hated having his photograph taken. So I made him an extension of myself (I hate having my photograph taken too). I think of every photo as an extension of myself. And I’m always trying to be very empathetic. We have 20 minutes. We both have to get two covers out of this. What would you want, what does he want? I made it so that we weren't fucking around. We were very on point and everything was moving in the way that he needed it to be. Whether I'm taking a photograph of an object, a thing, a plant, I still look at it in the same way. How does the light hit that thing? Is this the best use of time? The best use of the thing’s time? I don't just snap things to snap them. I really focus and look hard and ask, ‘well, is it worth me even pressing the button?’ The energy for me to take my camera out, take a phone out, it's all related. And about how I feel, and what I see and what I think. So to me, a portrait of a person or a landscape photograph, I mean, it may sound ridiculous, but I feel like it's all the same. Because it comes from me. It's all the shit up here. And I think it's really just the energy and the grace that I give with my sitters, whatever that is. I pay them all respect because ultimately that's what I want, for you to pay me respect.
MQ: Is there anything you haven't photographed that you want to? I don’t know, the Northern Lights? You've traveled extensively. What's outstanding? Who’s outstanding?
SJ: There's a great amount of people out there who are doing incredibly smart things and I would love to photograph them. This year I went to Johannesburg twice, and that was incredible. I'm positive I will create something from those trips. Raj and I have been dying to go to India. Thailand, Vietnam. I mean, there are so many places out there to explore, but both of us are also in the midst of doing personal projects, so not sure where or when we'll go.
MQ: You went to Japan recently for a vacation. Did you take a lot of pictures?
SJ: Kind of. I'm supposed to send those over actually, to a friend who's putting together a magazine, always working, not working. It’s a break, but you know.
MQ: You're an artist, that's what you do. You can't separate it can you? It’s not like you were working on the clock for clients, but I guess that’s the question: do you ever go anywhere and not take pictures?
SJ: I don't take as many photographs as I used to. Maybe I don't find the beauty in everything like I did when I first picked up a camera. But maybe that’s just getting older. Or maybe because I understand the technical side more than when I started. Now I'm really, really a light chaser. I'm going after the way things look in certain places at certain times that are not replicable. You can't replicate the light in Cornwall. In Hawaii. When it's behind a window, or in London at 4:00 PM on a Thursday after it's just rained. I'm more focused on those things now, not like ‘I'm in Tokyo and it's great!’ I’ve fine tuned the thing that I'm really interested in. Sleep to Dream was an example of that; exploring light and how it relates to my memory. Memory turns into imagination and I make it become real, you know, that's really all this is.
MQ: Is that the essence of the why? Imagination, memory, and reality. Why you’re a photographer or make photography?
SJ: I think I am a photographer because I didn't have a choice. It was passed down from both parents, from grandparents, from their parents. My mom and dad both, if they were in their thirties now, I think that they would be photographers. They would be part of this new Black vanguard wave. They were both really good, and never pursued it professionally. When I look at their photos, I'm like, ‘damn, these are really good.’ So, I think that I am doing it, so that they can do it too. I probably could've just been like, a Montessori teacher, real talk, or a child psychologist. Those are the things that I was really interested in doing. But something bigger than me was like, “no, you have to do this other thing. Go do it. You'll have a good time. You'll see the world. Your ancestors will see the world. You'll get to do this thing that's bigger than you, because it's not just for you.”
MQ: I really always wish I was a teacher too. Maybe that’s something more about your being a photographer, it’s similar, right? ‘Cause it's like being a seer, capturing it and presenting it, relaying it, which is the essence of teaching. It’s the same, like ‘let me show you. I see it this way, and here it is.’
SJ: I think all of those things. Yeah, I think you're right there. And someone told me I was a shaman in a previous life.
SJ: No shit. But I do often say that child psychology does help with taking photographs for sure. Because everyone, no matter how old they are, you know, they fucking act like children. But all of these things help me do what I do, and they help me enjoy it and want to continue doing it. I mean, a lot of photographers wanna be all the things. But I'm still really enjoying photography. Meeting the people, finding out if they are great or if they suck. You know? I try to keep a sense of trust between me and my subjects. That's still interesting. I feel like that's a bit old school, but it seems right to me.
All photos, except product, courtesy of Shaniqwa Jarvis.