Meet: Jennie Baptiste
Jennie Baptiste is a London-born photographer who finds inspiration in music and youth culture. As a 1994 graduate of the London College of Communication, UAL, Jennie’s successful career has included work for big-name clients like Nike, Virgin Airways, Levi’s and Sony Music, as well as portraits of music artists Nas, Jay Z, Biggie, Estelle and Cheryl Cole.
Jennie’s photographs have been exhibited widely in Paris, Berlin, London and New York, and some of her work is in the collection of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. We took a moment with Jennie to learn about her career journey since UAL.
Thanks for your time Jennie. We’re really excited about your photograph (Brixton Boyz) currently on display at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum for the exhibition Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. How did this opportunity arise?
The V&A Museum has acquired some of my work for their photography collection. Since then selected pieces have been featured, firstly in the exhibition Black British Style in 2004 and then Staying Power in 2015, which was in partnership with the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton. The latest opportunity came about due to the photograph already being in their archive and being chosen for the Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear exhibition.
Can you tell me more about the photograph and the story behind it?
Brixton Boyz was shot in Brixton. I was in the studio and had finished earlier than expected, so I decided to go out on the Brixton high street and find some people I could bring back to photograph. At the time I was doing a project on tattoos and portraits, and I wanted to bring youth culture into the studio.
You’re a LCC graduate; what did you learn during your time there that has stayed with you throughout your career?
I spent most of my time at LCC in the darkroom or in the studio as I was always trying to create and experiment with different types of printing techniques. I loved colour, black and white, lith and toning my own prints. It is so important to do personal work, as you have control over everything including the concept and aesthetic look of the final product. It allows you to explore and create in your own way with no commercial restrictions. My first published work was in Touch Magazine (a music magazine) and was a personal body of work that was used in the fashion section.
Since Touch Magazine, you have photographed everyday people as well as celebrities like Jay Z, Mary J Blige, and P Diddy. Who is the most inspiring person you have photographed? Why?
UK hip-hop artist Roots Manuva was a really cool guy to photograph. The photo shoot required him to have camouflage make-up on his face, which took hours to put on. He was just really cool and relaxed about it and allowed me to push some creative boundaries, which as a photographer is great!
Earlier this year that photograph was shown at The National Portrait Gallery in London and is in the photographic archive collection. Recently it was done as a postcard for the NPG gallery shop which I was really excited about, as this is a first for UK hip-hop.
On your website you say that your work is inspired by music and youth culture, which is ever evolving: how do you keep up?
I keep up to date with technology; it’s important in order to evolve in this multimedia age because you can reach a global audience much quicker than ever before.
What advice do you have for students trying to break into a career in photography?
Study and research other photographers, shoot as much as possible to develop your craft, learn the history and then apply that knowledge in your practice. Be prepared to give in order to create further opportunities, or if you believe an institution, company or publisher needs to see your work.
And always believe in yourself, as that internal drive is fundamental to your creativity and success. Don’t follow trends but create your own, and you will have something special and unique that makes you as a photographer.
Jennie Baptiste will be discussing Brixton Boyz with Dr Michael McMillan and Dr Christine Checinska at a free talk on Friday 18 November 2016 from 6.30pm-9.30pm at The V&A Museum. Click here for more information.
To see more of Jennie’s work, visit her website.