Just in time for Art Basel, we caught up with one of our favorite artists and photographers to talk about inspiration, destination, and the individual drive behind the creative spirit.
Jamil GS was multicultural before it was cool. He grew up as the son of Sahib Shihab, one of the founding members of the Bebop Jazz movement from New York. And it was his father who gave him his first camera at age 16. He never put it down.
As a photographer, Jamil has been a recognizable part of the New York art scene since the 1990s, and has shot everywhere from the streets to tropical beaches to palaces to mountaintops and dance floors. His talent for anticipating cultural trends has made him a solid curator of vibrant grassroots content and a highly respected visual artist. These days he lives and works between Copenhagen, New York, and London – of course he’s had a lifelong love affair with sweet Jamaica!
How did you come to photography and what does it give back to you?
I think photography came to me. I had an urge to express myself artistically and was doing so through graffiti. Then it became too risky legally and I was looking for another medium and saw a void to be filled through photography.
Do you remember the first time you picked up a camera?
I was 16, enjoying the summer with my father in New York when he gave me a Pentax K1000. I still have some prints from my first roll of film that summer.
One of the first photo shoots you worked on?
My first commissioned photo shoot was for i-D magazine shooting portraits of Russell Simmons, with an adjacent fashion shoot celebrating the launch of Phat Farm. That same summer I did a shoot with Jeru the Damaga for Dazed & Confused and another shoot for i-D with Chuck D. It just went on from there.
How would you describe your style?
Authentic, sophisticated, fresh, fun, and golden.
You’ve worked for major brands like Supreme, Stussy, Reebok, Levis, Nike, Budweiser, Campari, Wray & Nephew, Kith, and Maharishi to name a few. How did those experiences grow and affect your repertoire?
I have developed my own original style, and I am lucky that people and clients come for that. It gives me creative freedom and makes the dance between artistic and commercial integrity more harmonious.
What have been some of your early artistic and musical influences?
I am a by-product of Bebop. My father, Sahib Shihab, was one of the early boppers that played along side Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Quincy Jones to name a few. Growing up in a jazz environment has inspired me a lot creatively, also visually. Later hip-hop became my life and then reggae. Now I enjoy a healthy mixture of them all – and plenty of bass.
What are you currently working on?
I am writing this on my way to India where I am going to shoot a music video for ALO WALA, an artist whom I also currently manage. Following that I have a few lifestyle, commercial related projects and then I am working on a book looking back at my incredible journey that started 20 years ago.
You have a longstanding relationship with Jamaica and the Geejam family? How would you describe that?
It’s the longest love affair of my life. It started 23 years ago on my first visit to Jamaica where I fell for both Jamaica and Geejam.
What have you learned from your parents?
To keep it real.
What for you is the ultimate intention in life?
Life is a mystery. My intention is to keep wondering and to love, help and hopefully inspire a few along the way.