à New York : l'entretien avec Jamil GS

interview excerpt from volume 05

It’s a long shot but for people that don’t know you, please tell us more about your background?

I come from an artistic background. My father Sahib Shihab was an american Jazz musician from New York. Playing a vital part of the Be bop evolution, he travelled to Europe with Quincy Jones in the early sixties. He fell in love with Scandinavia and later settled down in Denmark where he met my mother. As a young child I lived in Los Angeles and have clearly been shaped by the culture there in the 70’s; Funk Music, Jazz, Disney, Skateboarding, Surfing, Million dollar man and Marvel comics. I later lived my early teen years in Copenhagen and settled in Downtown New York when I was 18. I am a B boy at heart and a product of the Hip Hop generation from its birth in the early 80’s.

Where do your passions for photography & fashion come from?

It came out my love and my conflict with Graffiti. I was an active painter and writer in Copenhagen until I was 16 when two things happened.

I saw an exhibition with the Subway kings from NY, Lee, Dondi, Futura, Rammellzee and Quick at Lousiana museum of modern art in Denmark, and even though they inspired me, I felt that I could never surpass the level they had reached.

My crew got busted and were facing fines near the million $ mark. I felt that before I continue down a path with that could potentially fuck up my future, I better find a new way to express 

my self. I looked to the camera. I felt that it hadn’t been explored to represent my generation and the things that interested me. I was also playing music at the time and later had to choose between following my father footsteps as a musician or the camera. My father told me that if I wanted to be good at either, I should dedicate at least 6 hours a day practicing, and in the end the camera won.

Who did you want to be when you were fifteen?

I wanted to be a mix between the Graffiti kings mentioned above and my dad.

What was your first exposure to something that was the counterculture?

It was in the early mid 70’s when I saw skateboarders at Venice beach, California. I used to push my skateboard on my knee when I was 3. My second, and maybe the first when I realized what counterculture meant, was when hearing ‘ Planet Rock’ by Africa Bambata and The Soul Sonic force for the first time in the radio. I was visiting family in Nashville, Tennessee and I remember getting naturally high and needing to freak a move. This was ’81.

You were born and bred in Copenhagen, why did you move to New York in the first place?

I moved to New York as a youngster both out of conflict and for natural reasons. My dad was a New Yorker, and being both american and danish, having lived and visited the states and New York several times, it wasn’t a far reach. Being dismayed and in conflict because I couldn’t find an apprenticeship with a photographer in Copenhagen, so I looked elsewhere, even in terms of visual explorations. I ended up applying to Parsons School of Design for product design. It was a great school, but I couldn’t sit still and only lasted a short while before I dropped out. This eventually led me on my path back to photography and finding my dream job.

photographer in Copenhagen, so I looked elsewhere, even in terms of visual explorations. I ended up applying to Parsons School of Design for product design. It was a great school, but I couldn’t sit still and only lasted a short while before I dropped out. This eventually led me on my path back to photography and finding my dream job.

It’s a very creative city, how does that affect your practice?

The creative flux and energy of New York affects my practice in every way. Its non stop inspiration, as you are being bombarded with impressions from a completely unique multicultural society and all the elements that comes with it; people, personalities, music, art, fashion, philosophy, religion, food, style etc. Too much and too many impressions can also become an overload and be counterproductive. One needs to know when to retract to reload. 

What is something that only NY offers?

 NY swag. it’s something that comes with being surrounded by greatness and that is acquired from a multitude of experiences, hard and easy, from life in the big city. There is also a very particular sexual energy that only New York emanates.

Your work is hip hop inspired, how did you start working in this specific industry?

I started working in in the Hip Hop industry because I was needed. During my apprentice ship I was being groomed to become the next fashion photography prince. My teacher, Patrick Andersson, was shooting hi end fashion all day everyday, including Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, W magazine and Calvin Klein ads, but I was into Hip Hop and the streets. 

Could you describe your approach before doing a shooting, for example if we take those beautiful shot from D’angelo that were published in the Face Magazine… What was your process?

It was pretty simple, I was into capturing shots that looked real on some quick snap shit, but with high production value. Being that D’angelo is a southern soul boy, I wanted to capture him in a soulful environment in NY and Harlem was an obvious choice.

What’s your favorite camera to shoot with?

My favorite camera is the one I carry with me. Currently thats a faithful Canon Mark 2 and my Iphone, but i am about to switch back to film and shoot w a Pentax 6/7 and Hasselblad.

You have some strong artist influences in some of your work, Jay Z, Faith Evans, Outkast, Rza, P.Diddy, Nas..and the list goes on! Is there much talent out there in the 21st Century?

Music talent for the 21 century, I really like Shabazz Palaces, the Tropical Bass band Alo Wala and the young producer Gustav Shihab.

You did your first cover magazine for I-D in 1998, do you collect stuff, magazines?

 I have a nice collection of magazines and printed matters. I still rate print very high for the experience in the physical realm.

You did your first cover magazine for I-D in 1998, do you collect stuff, magazines?

 I have a nice collection of magazines and printed matters. I still rate print very high for the experience in the physical realm.

How do you feel the digital age has transformedphotography? I’m interested to know your view on it..

Speaking of..digital..I embrace many aspects of the digital age, especially the access to information and knowledge, including access the images, I also like the swiftness that one can turn out images and see results. There are downsides to this as well. I think clients expectations have become to high and due to the near instant result and cutting out the photolabs, too much work is left in photographers hands without a clear understanding of the workload involved or the compensation.

What does analog photography have that digital is missing?

To an extend digital photography is missing the human touch that analog has. Again back to the fact that all the work that used to go to people at the photolabs are now only going through one hand or a few if assisitant are involved. Before the work was touched by up to 10 people before it was finished.

There is also something to be said by the chemical process contra digital, but human vibration is important.

You also work with Iconic Skate brand Supreme to produce a Calendar late 2001 & also videos..can you talk a little bit about how that collaboration came up?

The collab with Supreme happened pretty naturally. I had produced my first calendar in 2000 with Japanese brand Hysteric Glamour, which was a good fit since I liked their take on American pop culture and they liked my take on shooting women. They were more on a 70’s retro tip and after that I was then looking to collaborate w someone who was into what was happening on the streets of NY like I was. Supreme seemed 

obvious. I reached out to James Jebbia and it turned out that he had seen the JAMIL GS STICKUPS 2000 calendar with Hysteric Glamour and he was looking for me too. Basically the attraction was mutual and the timing perfect. The result was epic and the calendar sold out in a flash. A positive experience like this is always the grounds for a good working relationship.

How do you continue to stay relevant and reinvent yourself?

 I can only stay relevant by staying true to myself. I started shooting and working with things that i could truly relate to and was inspired by. I have also tried being motivated by money alone, and this is when shit gets stale, so when you are true to self, you tap into a source that remains timeless.

 A lot of people talk about the difference between an artist practicing photography and a photographer. What do you think about this ? Would you call yourself an artist or a photographer?

 I have always considered myself an artist who does photography, same thing. I came from Graffiti as an artist, the camera just became a new method and tool of choice to explore and create visually.

You exhibit your work overseas : England, Copenhagen and more : how was it ? Did you enjoy the process...?

When exhibiting globally it is a beautiful thing. Like music that can be enjoyed by all with ears, photographs can be enjoyed by all who can see, and seeing photographs in a larger context in physical form can really inspire. Cultural exchange is where new ideas happen and it is how we evolve as humans and as a species.


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Which artist, photographers and otherwise have been most influential to your work?

Most influential to my work...Before photography I was inspired by cartoon artist Vaughn Bode, then Graffiti masters in NYC. Early days photography I was inspired by Francis Wolff who did most of the early Blue Note records covers. 

Last week i shot in Irving Penn’s old studio in NY, he had inspired me further in shooting portraits and some fashion, I got inspired by the Magnum reportage photographers for that real shit, and Helmut Newton got me into the bird game. Fab Five Freddy, Martha Cooper and Jamel Shabazz have inspired me too. I am very inspired by music. Subconsciously the list is probably very long. Currently I am inspired by the Philosopher Hazrat Inyat Khan, My son Zacharias, my lady, my family members, fellow artist and friends like Kostas Seremetis, Rostarr, Jose Parla, Brent Rollins, Ebon Heath, Todd James, Lee Quinones and Futura 2000 is still doing it for me.

What would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?

What would I like to do next ? I’d like to see the current projects im working on take flight, and during the process, I’d want to continue having succesful and positive experiences along the way, spreading love, seeing people smile and laugh and keep inspiring. Some of these projects involves Nectar which is about sharing all the things that inspire and interest me under one umbrella, like harmony, insight, beauty, science, philosophy, health, love, authenticity, access, energy and swag, I call it ‘The honey of life’

Is there such a thing as a normal day?

Normal day...? I dont really do normal. 


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Jamil GS.

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