The choices we make around who is present, and more importantly, who is omitted in our presentations of beauty are quite often reflective of larger assumptions held within our social consciousness. It is our role as artists to question those assumptions and more importantly create alternate and more inclusive realities. We talked to JAYCEE MENTOOR about how his upcoming exhibition, HOMECOMING KING, tackles this.
How long have you been doing photography and fashion photography more specifically?
I started as a photography assistant when I was 15, just something to do, really. I was 17 when I started to focus on my own work.
What is it that initially drew you to this particular type of photography? Is it the same thing that drives you now?
Looking back I’d say it was the fashion industry itself. In all honesty, I never saw myself ending up as a fashion photographer—it just kind of happened. I’d say my thought process and subsequently, my practice has changed an insane amount since then. I’ve realised I’m not as fulfilled; that it’s not enough for me, as a creative, to just take pretty photos of people. I probably felt this more due to the fact that my work existed for marketing purposes—because that’s what the fashion industry is.
I agree it’s a constant balancing act to make work that is creatively engaging and ‘commercially viable’. So with your upcoming Homecoming King exhibition, what was the inspiration behind it?
The Homecoming King exhibition is a glimpse into my second book.
The inspiration behind it was to focus the book on people who look like me and or people I could relate to and imagine them in the most hyper-real way possible. I feel like no matter how hard the fashion industry attempts to depict black beauty; it often lacks accuracy and comes off as a gimmick. So, reconciling that disconnect is an important driving force behind the book & exhibition.
This is your first solo exhibition, How are you feeling about it all? What do you hope people take away from this collection
I’m so nervous, I think at this point the thing I’m struggling with is this awful habit of fixing things that aren’t broken- the idea that I have to walk away from it and just let it be is kinda difficult. I don’t necessarily think everyone will walk away from my exhibition with something because it’s not for everyone and that’s Ok- it was never my intention for everyone to walk away feeling like they could relate to a largely black depiction but I hope everyone can understand and respect it for what it is.
Having worked in fashion and editorial photography for a while, what are your hopes for the industry?
I’d like to see more variety and new talent, not just in terms of my own work but in general within the fashion industry. It’s important to reflect on our current social situation and act accordingly. From my experience in the industry- coloured models aren’t always the first preference so my work is a reflection and celebration on the true essence and beauty of what has been pushed to the side.
After a decent holiday, do you have other plans for the rest of the year?
Fingers crossed if all goes well I’ll be presenting my exhibition in Auckland, New Zealand later this year and hopefully Bali as well and then I’m taking a bit of a break from fashion photography and studying film.