Editorial and portrait photographer Jaimy Gail manipulates and alters reality to participate in social discussions and abrasively communicate.
“With drawing you can draw everything you want, but if you add something strange in a photograph you are able to change reality”.
So, let’s start by you telling me a bit about yourself
My name is Jaimy Gail, I’m 27 years young, born and raised in Amsterdam and I graduated 2 years ago at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague. Currently I work as a photographer, mainly in the field of editorial and portrait photography. Before I went to the art academy in The Hague, I wasn’t into photography at all. I was a painter and drawer, which I first studied for one year at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. For several reasons I suddenly switched to photography but mainly as I wanted to get my drawing skills to the next level by using this unfamiliar technology. With drawing you can draw everything you want, but if you add something strange in a photograph you are able to change reality which for me really is the main [reason why] I love photography so much. I applied for the course of photography, got accepted, bought myself a camera and just started photographing everything and in every style of photography there is.
What made you choose to concentrate on editorial photography, as opposed to other realms?
Editorials illustrate a story. My aim with photography is, in a way, to participate in discussions. Broadly, my work is about social issues I see on the street, television or for instance, when I have an opinion on politics but find it hard to enter the discussion. My way of dealing with those issues is to put it into an image. I used to do this with drawing as a kid, by processing my emotions via making strips, sketches or small fictional stories in books, I now have this medium of photography that helps me deal with thoughts and stuff in life. So, it’s not only the heavier subjects that I can only process with visual tools, it’s how I represent myself as a person, as I have a hard time keeping up with daily social things. It’s how I communicate.
It’s not that I don’t like doing commercial fashion photography, it’s just that my work can be a bit awkward to look at as I always try to have an actual story in the photo and for some reason the story I want to tell is mostly an abrasive one. So, I’m not really selling anything. I’m rather raising a lot more questions with my images than giving any answers. Although it can be a bit abrasive, I try not to be provocative.
What glow does your creativity emit?
It’s very hard to be subjective towards your own work, but if I had to say, I feel my work always carries the feeling of confusion that goes along with the opposite; a very recognisable imagery. On the one hand you look at an image that feels familiar, it has an old-fashioned style of light, setting and pose that refers to a classical home situation but within that something strange is happening that turns the complete image upside down. I hope the viewer has to look twice or just a bit longer then we normally tend to do in this age of overwhelming amounts of imagery.
There is something very cinematic about your style. Your work vaguely reminds me of one of Richard Mosse’ images, the dulled block colours that create poignancy. What inspired or brought you to the photographic identity you embody today?
I’m kind of obsessed with analog family photos from the 60s till the late 90s. I just love the grain, the soft colours, the amateur style of trying to make a professional photo. I guess I just really like the medium and the process of making an actual photo on film. Developing film and seeing that grain still has this magical effect on me. I can’t get enough of that thrill, the not knowing if the whole photo might have failed while making it or is it even better than I imagined. If I can see what I’m doing when working with a Digital camera I get insecure, I can’t make a decision on how to do the light and start doubting everything.
There are often debates around the morals regarding different photographer’s practice. For example, treatment of the model, with journalistic photography it can often be regarding whether to step in or document a situation first. Do you have any practical or technical mantras or rituals?
What I do is keep everyone a bit in the dark. I have this idea which is a bit abrasive and therefore very hard to find models who want to pose for it. So, I tell them vaguely the idea, but not all of it. I’m very charming and convincing in getting my idea done if I’m full of it. Also, the not knowing what will happen makes the model slightly uncomfortable and there is this atmosphere that feels strange which I love. The look in the model’s eyes is so real as they are really confused, but also a bit amused and not certain if they signed up for it. In the end they are all happy they participated but if I told them the plan they might not have wanted to do it.
Do you have any tendencies in terms of the birth and development of your concepts?
I’m pretty single minded and not easily impressed. When something does get my attention, I get this crazy obsession with it and can’t let it go. I’m at my best when the pressure is high, and the consequences are big. When I’m really balancing between failing and winning, I know it’s a good idea. I guess I’m very aware of my own position, gender and nationality and am always looking for stuff that deviates from it so I can play with that. It has to make me laugh but at the same time it should give me this feeling of discomfort.
‘NORMAAL DOEN’ is very striking and my interpretation of it is that it’s a very beautiful satire and commentary of the mundane. Can you tell me about the birth and development of this series?
Normaal Doen is a project that started around two years ago and slowly changed overtime as it grew bigger and turning out to be something really close to me. It all started with a letter the Dutch prime minister wrote in 2017 in one of our national newspapers to all his Dutch Citizens. In that letter he wrote that we should all ‘act normal or leave’.
This idea to not act out and to not be special aside from conventions, is deeply embedded in “our” Dutch culture. There is a common phrase “Doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg” that loosely translates to ‘Just act normal, that is already crazy enough’. The underlying notion of disapprovement is only felt by the people growing up with these (Calvinist) cultural values.
This letter felt so strange to me as I couldn’t imagine what “acting normal” meant. I decided to participate in this discussion and made a series about it. At that time, I had decided that I needed some kind of formula. Over the course of many generations, through art and portrait painting but particularly through photography, these norms and standards developed into an aesthetic. An aesthetic of the normal, the decent, the respectable values. Recognisable for every person familiar with this “normal”.
What one considers normal is in fact so personal that for my project I decided to define the term ‘normaal doen’ (acting normal) in the most extreme ordinary way I could think of and that is recognisable to all of us: the classical home situation. For me the family portrait is the modern equivalent of a seventeenth century guild painting. “Look your best, but please, act normal, civilised and don’t move.” To distort this peaceful image in order to find out where the boundary of a norm might actually lie, I added the current sexual image culture of today presented by the popular mass media, which again is an image we all know so well.
This idea of always being obligated to behave according to (unwritten) rules fascinated and confused me. Even as a child I never felt much for norms and I never understood this collective believe in authority. Although sometimes I might have wanted to fit in more, it just felt off somehow, meanwhile it was supposed to be my fundament.
The essence of the “NORMAAL DOEN” series lies within this confusion. Rationally I know how to behave within these socially accepted boundaries, but emotionally I do not. Emotionally I have questions about the fundamental lines of these boundaries. Who wrote them anyways?
The aim of this series is to find out where the fine line is. To put this compulsory aesthetic imaging into contrast with what might not be so easily socially accepted. With this idea I made 8 individual portraits that together made the series Normaal Doen. Through time I kept on working with it as I kept seeing these settings for the series everywhere. It changed the way I looked at the world as, for the first time, I had questioned my own norm and therefore my own person which was white, female, Dutch. I had never done that before as I’m in a privileged position and therefore never had to. I wrote a thesis which was about my orientalist view and suddenly I felt I saw the world with new eyes. The project Normaal Doen changed with that. It became more political and less about the sexual imagery. My goal is to have another 10 portraits by the end of the year that are even more in depth.
What I like the most about this series is that it reveals that every observer has a different limit concerning what is “normal” and what is “not normal”. This makes it personal. I try to stretch conventional boundaries within my “bubble of truth” and see what happens.
What has been the most influential moment to you, your pearl, during your time taking pictures or that has influenced your formation as a photographer?
Probably my graduation year at the academy. Although the academy was a really good school and taught me a lot, it was pretty conservative with strict rules and there were also clear guidelines the students should follow. Having certain rules for me didn’t work at all as I was constantly trying to bend them or finding a way to get around them. Not only in my behaviour but also in my work there was a type of photography we had to do and if you didn’t stick to that you failed. So, I did. I had a lot of problems and I didn’t feel like they took my work seriously. I had to do a half year over. I was falling hard and besides the fact that I can’t handle criticism, I couldn’t bare that I had low grades all the time. I knew I had to step up my game and show them what I was capable of. I don’t think I ever worked as hard as I had to make my graduation project in less than 3 months and I almost went down under the pressure, but looking back at it, this truly was the moment that really changed my work and attitude.
What’s next for you?
I truly hope I can photograph forever and be crazy famous. Right now, I don’t feel like the fashion world is ready for my photography, but it should be as I believe the merge between those two worlds could be amazing. Also, I want to continue with my Normaal Doen project internationally. Until now, I’ve made everything in my homeland which is tiny. I’m really curious to see what is out there and get influenced by other cultures, religions and behaviour. I also hope that I can make heavy subjects a bit lighter with respect for every human being.
What does your utopia look like?
That every discussion is visual. No words. No social dilemmas, just imagery.
courtesy JAIMY GAIL
words KATE KIDNEY BISHOP
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