Thank you wifi, cheap plane tickets, post-digital youth culture and rapid-information society for wiring a brave new world for the millennial creative class to roam freely . Thank you for decentralizing the idea of fashion so that talent can now migrate from anywhere and make a mark. Everything is fluid now,( though not everybody is happy with this) and with that state of fluidity comes also a sense of crisis. But as systems meltdown, fail and crash , out that chaos comes new creatives well adapted to states of flux. I sense a lot of that in the work of young fashion photographer Kacey Jeffers who in the early days of The Imagist started emailing in his first work, which is how we struck up a friendship. I call the St Kitts/Nevis native nephew because his persistence, and of course pure talent makes me cheer for all the driven West Indian kids who accustomed to hybrid cultures, don't let borders stop them. Here's some highlights from a conversation we had about Kacey's breakthrough edit currently on Wonderland magazine.
TI: What's up neph. So sorry we didn't cross paths in Jamaica last month but I was on the other side of the lagoon as they say . How did you find the culture, across the spectrum that is?
KJ: Yes uncle, Mi Irie. Having traded in the beaches and warm weather of Nevis ( I love saying 'birthplace of Hamilton') in December for the concrete jungle that is NYC, getting the opportunity to go back to the islands was more than welcome. It was mi first time a yard, courtesy of a little project for Vogue Italia, and it didn't disappoint. I loved eating authentic Jamaican food, the jerk chicken, ackee and salt fish, going to the outdoor clubs hearing old and new Dance Hall, picking up some new dance moves and just having a good ole time. Our cultures are very similar, so I felt at home and oddly enough I continued to be mistaken for a Jamaican.
TI: Congrats on your first big edit at Wonderland. It looks wonderful. How did you conceptualize the story?
KJ: Thank you. The initial concept for this story started with the location which is on 155th street in Harlem then with all that space and structure, my mind moved into its use, societal issues and of course because this is fashion, what was being offered in menswear for Fall/Winter 16/17. The stylist Taryn Bensky and movement director Thomas Gibbons were very instrumental in building upon the initial idea and giving it even more depth.
TI: You have your own movement director then? Clever. And you synched with a great stylist which is always make and break for a young photographer.
KJ: Yes! Taryn is great. We were introduced through Thomas. She has an amazing eye and I love that when I go off on a tangent with my references that she somehow understands
what I'm trying to express-and is really good at not making me feel like a crazy person.
TI: I know you've been shooting also for WWD and nymag.com, how do you find the reception in NY for a photographer such as yourself?
KJ: I came to this city with very few contacts, to say it is tough is an understatement. From the meetings I've had, I think persons have been receptive and enthusiastic about not only working with me but open to listening to my ideas, offering constructive criticism and giving me a chance to take control of the projects with support and confidence which are both very important.
TI: And as opposed to New York, what is it like shopping your portfolio in London ?
KJ: Since I primarily shop my portfolio through emails or I'm referred through 'word of mouth' there isn't much of a difference with the exception of not being able to take a meeting in a physical space since I'm based in NY. But virtual reality is always an option to counteract that limitation.
TI When I first met you in the Bahamas a few years ago you were an aspiring model...What inspired you to make the journey to photography?
KJ: Yes and you were a judge in the model competition. I loved that trip! I was a rack of nerves meeting you! The Zinfandel helped. I had followed the imagist and models.com religiously since I was 17 but I knew I had to wow you with my knowledge, if only to score extra points! Shortly after that I went to London for couple months for a taste of modeling internationally during that time our mutual photographer friend was there and I would assist him and really enjoyed that. After London, I went back to Nevis, unsure of what was next, just knowing that I had to get out, so in a very cliched move I quit my job, bought a 6 months ticket to NYC with no plans and in a few days I said I'm going to give photography a go- it just felt more natural being behind the lens. I have been on this path ever since.
TI: Who would you say are some of the influences that shaped your aesthetic.
KJ: In terms of photographers Peter Lindbergh, David Armstrong, Nan Goldin, William Eggleston, Juergen Teller, Steven Meisel, Philip Lorca di Corcia, Glen Luchford I could go on forever.
TI: I always wonder, with so much digitally available these days, how to go go through all that chaos to find reference points?
KJ: But I love all that chaos though because you find so much goodness especially on Tumblr! I've been collecting images for years now and I'm drawn to an image with
some emotive and narrative component so if I come across something I just store it away in a folder. Another way is I would think about a particular model, Linda
Evangelista and Naomi are always faves, or say Vogue Italia or W from the 80s or 90s and go to a site like Fashionspot and just collate different images into individual themes. I find it super inspiring!
TI: Do you feel like the very hybrid, transnational cultures of the Caribbean has impacted on how you shoot?
KJ: I was having this conversation with a photo editor the other day. I've spent the
larger part of 27 years living and breathing island life, so there is no way I can not draw from those experiences. At the same time I have traveled a bit, met people from all walks of life and been exposed to different schools of thoughts, art etc so for me I like being able to mix things. The ratchet and the luxe, uptown and downtown etc. I didn't grow up going to the ballet or even seeing any representation of that in my culture- what I saw (where dance is concerned) was hips gyrating, bodies grinding, everyone working up a sweat. So for instance, I think I would connect more with a story inspired by Dance Hall Queen than say The Black Swan.
TI: What is the message you'd transmit to young talent who are looking to break into the traditional NY/LON/Paris/Berlin creative circles out of non-traditional spaces?
I think the biggest thing is to believe in yourself 150%. Hear "No" but also know that "there is another way in". It is also very important to be nice and respectful to everyone you meet. I constantly have to keep reminding myself that someone has done this before me and if they could do it, so can I. In the words of brother Bob " I'm just a Buffalo Soldier in the heart of America,
fighting on arrival , fighting for survival".