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IMAGE HEADER: Kacey Jeffers
In photographer Kacey Jeffers’ latest project, the photobook, Uniform, an exquisite use of formal qualities acts as a framework for his environmental portraits of schoolchildren on the island of Nevis, his native country. While students around the world embark on an uncertain return to school, Jeffers’ portraits may remind viewers of a touch of the familiar. The emotional connection between sitter and photographer is undeniable; it reveals a glimpse into the complex interior lives of childhood and young adulthood. Jeffers’ interest in fashion photography is also present in the images, creating a unique aesthetic for a documentary project, and one that he also applied to a Nevisian public ad campaign on bullying. We reached out to Jeffers to discuss his work and process.
Image from Uniform by Kacey Jeffers
DUGGAL ART SCENE: You are originally from the island of Nevis in the Caribbean. Can you tell us a bit about the island and what inspired you to create the book Uniform?
KACEY: Nevis is located in the Eastern Caribbean. It has a population of roughly 11,000 people and is 36 sq miles in size. It is a former British colony. That influence can be felt through our customs and ways of life. The wearing of school uniforms is part of this ‘colonial influence’.
At the end of 2018, I returned to Nevis after spending three years in NYC, where I was pursuing a photography career. I was in a process of stripping away these ideas of who I should be, what I should do—not specifically as a photographer, but as a human being—a return to essence, if you will. This in turn gave me freedom to think deeper about what I wanted to say as an artist.
Once I got over the fear of being back in Nevis, the uncertainty of it all, I started to think about the stories that only I could tell, in this very moment. This was my reset.
Visibility and representation are very important. Historically, we’ve seen photography focus on the concept of community and home. Unfortunately, people from non-white communities are seldom the authors of said stories.
Growing up, I had not seen an image of myself in a book. I wanted that to exist in the world. With this project, I set out to right that wrong.
The photobook Uniform by Kacey Jeffers
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Now that you’ve reflected on the social context and personal context of wearing a uniform for educational purposes, how has that influenced your relationship to fashion in the context of your photographs in general?
KACEY: Great question. I’ve never felt like a fashion photographer. Coming into the industry, in some ways, my attitude was, “I’m going to figure it out along the way.” Part of that was doing what I thought I should be doing or referencing. However, being home from 2018 to 2019 and having the space to sit and really evaluate the last three years, I decided I’m going to create what I want, how I want, and stick to that vision, which is really empowering. I’m more interested in the psychology of fashion and the meaning clothes hold or convey. Something as basic as a school uniform stirs so much emotion. Even if you’ve never worn a uniform, you’ve been a youth. Fashion and a fashion image can be grounded in what is personal to me. Uniform definitely gave me the confidence and freedom to realize this.
Image from Uniform by Kacey Jeffers
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Have your views on the meaning of individuality and portraiture changed as a result of the Uniform book project?
KACEY: It has certainly evolved and even expanded. For instance, I can root a project in portraiture and tell the story using multiple genres of photography, without compromising the integrity of the idea. I love playing in that space.
By definition, uniform conveys sameness. The book is, however, a celebration of individuality–mine, the subjects’, and the viewers’. When I look through the book, I see myself in many of the photos and the thoughts of the kids. I love that the book (the subject) is as complex as we are complex. It’s not just one thing that makes each person an individual.
Ajak by Kacey Jeffers
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Lastly, can you tell us about your collaborative project on bullying, made with the Nevis Department of Youth, and your interest in the human condition?
KACEY: So much of the language surrounding bullying has only now entered my awareness and understanding. With this project, we wanted to show the complex ways in which bullying exists within our community. We went further than it being a ‘children’ issue in order to spotlight adult participation in bullying; for example, in church, in romantic relationships, in the workplace, and even in the electoral process. For me, it was an opportunity to create work (from that space of mixing genres) to raise awareness.
I’ve always been curious about life beyond what was presented in front of me. In my earlier years, books satisfied that curiosity, giving me a peek into lives different than mine, but ones that somehow, I could relate to. I see myself as a bridge, connecting people, getting to the heart of what makes us human.
Image from Kacey Jeffers’ Bullying Campaign
Find Uniform and view more work by Kacey Jeffers here: www.kaceyjeffers.com