It was the summer before my senior year of the School of Visual Arts and I needed a second job, something day-time that could balance my night job of cocktail waitressing. College for anyone is expensive, but private art school in New York was astronomical! Financial Aid didn’t cover much and since I was afraid that Sallie Mae would own me upon graduation (she does) – I usually worked two jobs.
A good friend mentioned that legendary (yes, even then) photographer, Jamil GS, was looking for a Photo Assistant – I was instantly down! Jamil GS was known for his extremely iconic work, being able to understand high fashion and hood culture – any young creative would have done the job for free. I went on to be interviewed and hired by the visionary himself. It was only one summer that I would assist him, but in that short time frame – I learned so much!
Me and Jamil GS, circa 2004
Monday through Friday, our days started in the early morning and usually until the early evening (sometimes much later, depending on shooting schedules). I mostly managed the studio; cataloging past works (which were incredible), editing footage, organizing files and coordinating shoots. When we weren’t in the studio or taking meetings, we were on set…where all the magic happened.
Born to a Danish Mother and African-American Dad (Sahib Shihab, one of the founding members of Bebop jazz) in Copenhagen – Jamil GS made his way to New York City in the early 90’s (where his father had grown up). There he quickly flourished…“His first music industry client, Payday Records, hired him to shoot promotional photos for a then-unknown MC from Brooklyn, who went by the name Jay Z; they hopped onto someone else’s yacht on the docks to create a series of aspirational images that would prove to be prophetic.”
His work has become a template and so many people (even photographers and directors that people love) have taken his style and even his format – but, he is the original! It’s important to know!
To watch a creative like him maneuver on set, was magic; mentally calculating the arrangement, verbally directing models/artist to evoke emotion, physically chasing the light and sometimes contorting in tight spaces to get the best shot. Watching a professional like him showed me how to do the same as a Director. It was the things you would never learn in a classroom…the craft, but even the business and the psychology – how to satisfy the client or how to engage a shy model.
Jamil GS, photographed by Vashtie – Copenhagen, 2018
I’m super appreciative for that experience and for years later – to be photographed by him in his home town of Copenhagen for his collaboration with BLS. Check out the images below and cop a piece or two!