Photographer, Jeary Sylves, On The Importance of Cultivating Your “Eye”

"A majority of my subject matter is centered on Blackness, Black people and Black experiences. I want to capture beautiful images but I also want to tell & convey very specific narratives. Whether I’m out in the streets or shooting portraits in studio, I’m looking for stories to tell. From the mundane to the extraordinary."

Can you describe your path to becoming a photographer?

My path was unconventional. It was born out of necessity. I’m also a musician and I was traveling and touring at that time. I hated depending on people for visuals of my performance or quick headshots for promo whenever I needed them, so I pulled the money together for a Canon T2i off Craigslist. My thinking was that I would just hand off the camera to one of my homies before my shows or if I needed some on the fly shots. But what ended up happening is that I started carrying the camera around with me all the time and I started capturing everything.

What unique opportunities have you had as a result of your choice to pursue photography as a career?

Last year I collaborated with a Brooklyn artist named Civil to create a photo series based on his recent album, B26. He wanted to create a series of photos documenting his neighborhood and persevering the history and culture of the community through imagery before gentrification would make that impossible.

Most recently, I started a collaboration with El Museo Del Barrio, a museum in Harlem focused primarily on Latin American and Caribbean art, to document children’s art-making classes throughout the city.

“You have to develop that skill all on your own. You can supplement the process with overall knowledge but strengthening your eye for photography comes down to time, energy and effort in the craft.”

What’s one thing you can’t live without while working on a project?

Music. Music lends itself to the story and creates the world my images live and take place in. It’s the soundtrack. But also Gummi Bears.

What’s the biggest creative risk you’ve taken in your career?

In January of 2015, I moved to NYC from Phoenix, Arizona to pursue music and the Arts. I sold my car, multiple pairs of retro Jordan’s and all my furniture. I arrived with no job and just under 10 grand in my checking account and thanks to a friend of a friend I had a place to stay. I wrote a check for 3 months rent up front and started building.

What are your three greatest influences?

My sister, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill & Hip Hop, the culture.

Are there any specific images, themes or subjects you search for to photograph?

A majority of my subject matter is centered on Blackness, Black people and Black experiences. I want to capture beautiful images but I also want to tell & convey very specific narratives. Whether I’m out in the streets or shooting portraits in studio, I’m looking for stories to tell. From the mundane to the extraordinary.

What advice would you give someone just starting off in their photography career?

To me, the single most important thing for any fledgling photographer, in my opinion, is cultivating your “eye”.

No one can teach you to see.

You have to develop that skill all on your own. You can supplement the process with overall knowledge but strengthening your eye for photography comes down to time, energy and effort in the craft.

When I first got into photography I reached out to a dope photographer I admired named Jai Hall, asking for advice. What I remember, what stuck, was her saying “Just shoot.” What I understood was that she couldn’t tell me what it was I needed to see.

Melanin in order of appearance Leeza Joneé, Civil, LaChrisha Brown, and Jáhan Jones,

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Jeary Sylves is a multi-faceted artist, creating expressions of art throughout many different mediums. Based in Brooklyn, NY he see’s himself as musician, poet, writer, orator, photographer & educator- but above all, he’s a storyteller who uses various disciplines to articulate, demonstrate and positively impact the world around him through his art.

View more of Jeary’s work by clicking here.

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