Shaniqwa Jarvis Opens up About Her Unique Perspective & Shares Advice for Aspiring Photographers
Our latest “How Did You Land That Job?” installment features a true master behind the lens.
Photography has become a powerful medium in today’s world. With the Internet’s push for fast content and easily-digestible visuals it’s a wonder that there are still artists committed to developing a unique point of view. For the latest installment of our “How Did You Land That Job?” series we profile photographer Shaniqwa Jarvis who has spent nearly two decades wielding her camera to capture her subjects in their most authentic light. The New York City native pursued her childhood love of photos that transformed into a thriving career complete with exhibits, large scale portrait projects and most recent her self-entitled photography book. Brands like adidas, Supreme and Nike have commissioned Jarvis to create compelling campaigns that appeal to the millennial gaze while still telling a relatable story. She’s shown us the calmer side of spitfire MC Cardi B and the majesty of 5’0 singer Janelle Monáe all with the use of her camera. She further uses her work and platform to advocate on the behalf of underrepresented perspectives in the industry pushing back on the stereotypical narratives that exist.
We got a chance to learn more about Shaniqwa’s inspirations, technique and her advice for aspiring photographers. Read our interview below.
What inspired you to pursue photography as a profession?
As a child, I watched the most influential people around me create. Photography became my way of connecting with my family. A lifelong love of photography grew from there coupled with one of my first opportunities on set for a commercial job as a fashion intern.
How did you develop your shooting and editing style?
A combination of a lot of “head down and just do” attitude while working my butt off. I have always been fortunate to have people around me who were willing to help, be critically honest and push me to open doors. My style was born from my natural approach and vision in life. It all came organically. I look to highlight my subject’s truest self — no matter what I am shooting — and a little piece of how I connect with the subject on a personal level always comes through.
Do you find that you’re still experimenting with your technique and approach?
Yes and no. I feel my approach/technique and vantage point is the same, since the first time I picked up a camera as a child. There are so many ways to visually tell a story and as an artist I think it’s important to experiment so you find your voice and allow its uniqueness to shine through.
How do you get your subjects to get comfortable in front of the camera?
I begin by thinking of what I would like to have happen in a similar situation — particularly because I hate having my photo taken. It’s not enjoyable to have all the attention on you. So I try and keep the vibe mellow and at all times, be myself.
What was one of your favorite subjects to shoot?
I would say two things which haven’t come out yet and both projects I was able to work alongside my husband Raj Debah. One with an absolute legend, and the other is based around the black family.
What are some things that have been inspiring you lately?
Books by black female authors, Maroon World, Mold Magazine, photographer Arielle Bob-Willis, and all of the black women running for office, especially Stacey Abrams who is running for governor in Georgia.
Do you believe that formal training is necessary to thrive as a photographer? Any advice for those on the self-taught route?
I don’t think you need formal training. I believe you need to learn who you are and what it is you are trying to say. What are you trying to communicate between yourself and the world? You have to practice your craft and have it critiqued by those you respect. I think you can find that in and out of school.
Can you share two tips for women who aspire to become photographers? Are there things they should steer to or try to avoid?
Eat everything. Travel anywhere. Take on lovers. Be fantastical. Repeat. Avoid people that do not support your growth or underestimate your capability.
Can you name someone you hope to work with one day?
The human that allows everyone to receive free higher education.
What was the process like choosing photos for your latest book?
Intense. I’m not that organized and dug through my archive for about a year. Once I got to a good place I was able to share images with my designer, Stephen Serrato. He helped me navigate the emotional connection I had with certain images, as well as decide where they should sit, if at all, within the book.
Streetwear and high fashion have begun to merge and the lines between “low-end” and luxury are blurred. Can you talk us through how you would set-up and shoot an editorial to represent the fusion of both worlds?
Is that not what I’ve been doing this whole time with my photography?