Kacey Jeffers is a self-taught photographer from the Caribbean island of Nevis. In 2018, After spending three years living in New York City, he returned to Nevis for a year. This period was instrumental in fine-tuning the artist’s purpose. Now more than ever, he is motivated to tell stories that challenge, reinterpret, and disrupt the status quo. Kacey Jeffers offers a fresh perspective. His work merges different genres of the medium to create narratives that are authentic, sensitive, and emotional. In Uniform, his first monograph, Kacey portrays Nevisian youth in their school uniforms. The project is a true celebration of individuality, stirs up nostalgia, and offers hope for a brighter future.
Gili Benita: What brought you to go back to Nevis, the Caribbean island you grew up in, and create the Uniforms Photo Project?
Kacey Jeffers: At the end of 2018, I returned to Nevis after spending three years in NYC, where I was pursuing a photography career. At that time, I was in the 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 the freedom to think deeper about what I wanted to say as an artist: purpose. Once I got over the fear of being back in Nevis, the uncertainty of it all, I started to think deeper about the stories that only I could tell at this very moment. This was my reset.
Visibility and representation are significant. 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 (their) 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 make that wrong right.
GB: Before creating the Uniforms photo series, you had an experience with fashion photography. How was the shift for you from photographing models to collaborating with children?
KJ: I suppose the only shift was that I was photographing non – models. I had the same approach that I would when working within a ‘fashion context.’ I see myself as a photographer/creative/storyteller, not specifically a fashion photographer. In Uniform, there is a fashion element since, on the surface, it is about the school uniforms. I approached the children intending to look past them being children and seeing their presence. I wanted to avoid any cliches about kids and instead present them with having a sense of inferiority. This was further achieved by interviewing each subject and giving them a space to express their thoughts.
GB: As a child who grew up in Nevis, what did the uniforms meant for you?
KJ: Before doing this project, I must admit I never thought much about the uniforms as something cultural or artistic value or any purpose beyond their function. It’s so typical to wear uniforms, so I never questioned it. But now, what the Uniform represented was a connection to my culture, my childhood, a celebration of the people within my country, the Caribbean region, and the African diaspora. It is a nod to our colonial influences. It acted as a bridge to people who might’ve worn uniforms. The Uniform puts into perspective that the clothes we wear have significance. For many parents it’s a source of pride, how you carry yourself in your school clothes reflects them.
GB: Do you feel like there is enough representation of native Caribbean’s in the mainstream media?
KJ: Well, if we look at our influences, we see many of them everywhere, especially in music and fashion. In terms of artists- photographers, etc. I think there needs to be more of us. Many factors prevent talent from the region from having access to extraordinary opportunities, such as geographical isolation, lack of funding, etc. And that’s all before you get to a conversation about race and the role that that plays in who gets what slice of the pie in this business.
GB: How did the idea of making a photo book from the Uniform photo project? Was it something you knew even before starting the project?
KJ: Yes, even before I started it, I knew it would be a book.
I was at a point of wanting to create work that I felt was me through and through. So I started thinking, “What is it that only I can create? What stories can I tell that can be a bridge?” The idea had everything that I needed: available subjects, timelessness, a mix of fashion, portraiture and reportage, personal connection, a human and universal element.
GB: How do you see your work as a power for change?
KJ: I sent some books to a school in Sierra Leone. And that warmed my heart. Hopefully, it planted a seed of more possibility in their spirits. It’s important for kids of the African Diaspora to be able to see themselves in books, in media. The books now live in people’s homes in Australia, New Zealand, small villages in Tokyo, the U.S, Europe-everywhere… I am driven to have my work tell stories that act as a bridge between people from all walks of life.
GB: What are your sources of inspiration in your work?
KJ: Things I’ve seen before, moments from my memory or experiences, works by artists like Gordon Parks- who bring such elegance, dignity, and sensitivity to the medium, to their subjects.
GB: How do you feel the life in New York City shaped you as a photographer?
KJ: It exposed me to so much art and creative people. I came into my creative self in my mid to late 20s and didn’t have many creative people around me. So living in NY around a vibrant, eclectic, forward-moving energy is so …delicious. I love going to the many galleries, seeing the many odd NYC characters at play in the streets–all so inspiring!
GB: What would you like people to take from your work?
KJ: I’d like for them to see themselves in my work.
GB: Is there anything that you are working on these days? If so, can you elaborate?
KJ: I’m working on a few projects at the moment. One is a micro project featuring portraits of Nevisian men that I’m excited about. I’m also actively working on getting Uniform into the right major gallery so that more people can see and experience it in a new way. And as always, working on myself.GB: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
KJ: Thanks for your support: www.kaceyjeffers.com/shop and prints are available to enquire about rates.
To view more of Kacey Jeffers’s work please visit their website.