King of the dreamy portrait and lover of a good cowboy hat, Jaycee Mentor is a Sydney-based photographer with a unique eye. We sat down and had a chat with Jaycee about his process, inspiration and his honest thoughts on the fashion industry.
BYO: Tell us a bit about yourself!
JAYCEE: I was born in Capetown, South Africa. My family moved when I was 3 to New Zealand so I’ve grown up there. I’ve been in Sydney for the past year and a half now.
BYO: How do you like Sydney?
JAYCEE: It’s been interesting, it’s had its moments where it’s been really, really eh. But for the most part its good. I’m settled now which is good. Finding your feet in a new city is always really difficult. I moved right before my 20 birthday, so I was 19, and alone. My family was like ‘what are you doing?!’ but I’ve done okay!
BYO: How did you get into photography?
JAYCEE: I started assisting when I was 15, and then I progressed into taking photos myself when I was about 16, 17. Most of my friends were development models, so it was easy for me to get subjects to shoot. I guess my work picked up from there. I think my turning point or defining moment was probably when I went to New York when I was 18, alone. I keep doing things alone, for some reason!
BYO: First camera that you shot on?
JAYCEE: I got it as a birthday present from my parents. It was the most standard Canon that you could ever get. The student canon, the 1100D. But I actually shot so much on that. Whenever people ask me about camera equipment and lighting, I just say it really doesn’t matter about the camera that you have, its more just the ability to take the photo correctly. You could have the worst camera in the world, but you’ll still be able to take better photos than a huge 5D with heaps of lighting equipment if you know what you’re doing. It’s just about knowing the types of photos you want to take and knowing how you want to do them.
I’m pretty lucky now, because me and my boyfriend share cameras. His dad used to take photos at the V8 supercars a lot. So, all in all we have like 4 cameras and we get to pick and choose.
BYO: Do you have any artistic influences that impact your work?
JAYCEE: Realistically, moving into taking professional photos when I am so young, I always looked up to a lot of other photographers. I have a plethora of people that I think, now even, you can look at my work and see some similarities to a lot of people.
Alasdair McLellan, who else…
I think a thing that differentiates my work to a lot of people on this side of the world is probably the fact that its more European influenced. I feel like every country and every part of the world shoot their own way. The tones and colours they use, you can tell where that photographer is from. I think, for me, I’ve always stuck to one style. Even if I didn’t know consciously what I was doing, because I was so young, I did stick to a specific thing.
BYO: Do you use any filters on your lens?
JAYCEE: No! I always get asked this. You’re probably going to assume that I’m lying but a lot of the photos that I get from my camera are very raw. I’ll only touch up skin and fix a bit of brightness, but apart from that it’s really just lighting. It always trips me out that people think that I have this huge team behind me, or people holding lights and reflectors, but realistically I’m not.
BYO: How do you work?
JAYCEE: I generally try to work alone. It’s not like I don’t like working in teams. I am very specific on how I want things done and I’m very quick at what I do. Even if it’s a test shoot, I’ll treat it as if it’s an editorial. If I need a stylist, I’ll sift through whatever wardrobe I have, in terms of what will already be in my house. I just like to keep it very, very small. You get a really genuine interaction with the person you’re shooting.
The minute you involve too many people it gets too big. It becomes uncomfortable; I can tell when the model is uncomfortable and I usually garner up a lot of that energy as well. It becomes harder to get a genuine interaction out of it if there is a lot of people around.
BYO: If you had an unlimited budget, unlimited location restrictions, unlimited wardrobe and could shoot whoever you wanted, what would be your dream shoot?
JAYCEE: I eventually want to progress into doing a lot of film stuff instead of fashion photography. I love fashion photography, it started me, but I think now I’m very selective of the types of jobs I take on because I want to move into that film sphere.
Dream shoot though, hmm. It would more or less depend on the wardrobe. I would probably use a lot of Gucci. I love what Gucci is doing at the moment, especially with Petra on board, it’s amazing. Her sense of direction for that whole brand has revived it. I would probably use a lot of Gucci.
I’m also so obsessed with Naomi Campbell, it’s an unhealthy obsession, so I would love to shoot her. Or even just meet her.
BYO: What have been some of your favourite jobs or shoots in the past?
JAYCEE: I think working on my first solo exhibition [Homecoming King at Goodspace Gallery]. Even though I didn’t know I would be exhibiting anything, because I’m so critical, when I eventually did decide I was going to do my own personal exhibition, I dedicated two months into working on that one project. I describe it as like, you know when a woman gives birth, postpartum; the minute that it was over I was like ‘I don’t know what to do now! I just gave birth to this baby, it was great, everyone loved it (I hope) and it’s done’ and I didn’t know what to do after it. Now I’m slowly getting back into shooting and doing things that I like.
BYO: What was the exhibition about?
JAYCEE: I focused a lot on people of colour because I felt like, moving to Sydney, all of what was pushed to me was not anything that was very familiar to me. The models I was shooting, they didn’t represent me, they didn’t represent anyone I knew. I think, for me, I’m less likely to be attached to my own work if I don’t see a hint of myself in it.
The exhibition focused on a lot of people of colour, which was fun. And because of the climate that we’re in, it was very important and necessary to do that. That being said, it was super taxing, because I was giving my entire soul into this thing. I needed to take the longest break after it.
BYO: What are your thoughts on the fashion industry as it stands in Australia?
JAYCEE: It’s so strange. I feel like I’ve seen the backs of everything. I know how things operate. I was an assistant for like probably a year, up until the point where I was like ‘No, it doesn’t need to be like this’. It doesn’t have to be that there is only a selection of five models, four of which are the same white girls that we’ve used in every single show now. It doesn’t need to be like that. It’s up to young creatives to be spearhead this thing and say if we really want diversity we can get it. It obviously won’t be the safest option in terms of what I think everyone needs to see. Diversity is a big deal, and all of that older mentality of ‘this look will sell’ is no longer a thing, because I think the older generation of people who work in fashion, they don’t necessarily understand how a lot of young creatives think now, or what we want to see.
It’s one of these things that’s such an old tale in the industry, the ‘this look will sell so we will mass produce this one thing over and over again’, it’s like, I’m bored.
BYO: It seems like it is changing though.
JAYCEE: I think it is changing, and I’m so glad, but I think the thing that really irks me, is that it’s great that I have the leverage to do whatever I want to do, but I also want it to get to the level where people are no longer surprised; do you know what I mean?
My exhibition was very people of colour spearheaded, but that wasn’t a selling tactic, it wasn’t a driving thing to get people to go. I wanted people to go because I wanted people to see my work, but at the same time I think I want to produce work, and other creatives as well, where I’ll be shooting a black model or a white model, or an Asian model or an Indian model and it won’t seem like ‘Woah, such a huge surprise’. It’s always really strange to me when people react like that.
It’s always kind of uncomfortable how young models start out too. I think because when I was 15, 16, I had the luxury of being on the same level as most of the development models so it’s not like an old creepy photographer working with 14 year olds. It’s very weird.
I think the fashion industry should stop doing that, there should be an age. At least 18. Because consent. A lot of the time, my friends who started modelling when they were 15, they would get a random text message with a random address telling them to go to this house, shoot for a couple of hours and go home. It’s very transactional and very cold.
BYO: Any tips for upcoming artists and photographers?
JAYCEE: Stick to your guns. I think there was a point for me where I thought I wouldn’t be able to work if I wasn’t doing things that people like. And I think a lot of that is influenced by a lot of older people in the industry, whether that be agents or management, dictating what they want to see because they think its sellable. You have to be the one to dictate what you want to sell and I think it’s important, not even on a selling perspective, but ‘I like to see this, I’m going to shoot this.’
Hone in on your craft, and work it. It’s going to take a really, really long time. I’m not even sure I like my own work. I look at my work from like a year ago, two years ago, and I’m like ‘wow I’m so much better than I was.’ I think you almost have to be a child looking through a camera for the first time, and be like ‘I’m going to take a photo of that leaf, because I can’. You just have to have fun with it.
I think human interaction is so important to what I do, and it’s neat because I get to meet so many cool people because I like to talk to people. A lot of other photographers don’t do that because they see it as work, which it is, it is a job, but I think you can definitely tell who is able to capture a moment rather than capture something that is just a photo.
Pretty photos are a dime a dozen.
BYO: How can young artists start getting paid for their work?
JAYCEE: So, payment is the bitch that no one wants to talk about. At all. Especially when you’re young. Do not ever ever ever let someone tell you that you don’t deserve payment for what you do. Because at the end of the day, they’re the ones benefitting off of your work, not you. I am 21, I pay rent, work is work. We’re all having fun, it’s all fine and dandy, but when money is a thing, no one wants to talk about it. Because you’re young, they’ll assume you needed to build up your portfolio, you need to build up your blog.
But it’s really about standing your ground and being like, you know what, no! This is my rate, I will invoice you, that’s it! You need to be very assertive because people will assume that because of your age, you will do it for free, do it for contra! It’s like, if I wanted a pair of jeans from your brand, I would buy them.
The minute that you do let it slide and do it for free, that’s when they’ll box you in and then they’ll turn around and be like ‘why is this person charging now?’ And it irritates me when young people do this because they get into this mindset where they think they’re not good enough, because they’ve been told and bullied into submission to think that they’re not good enough. Then it messes up the money for everybody else, because companies will think ‘why would we pay this person if someone else will do it for free?’ You just have to stay assertive.
BYO: That is amazing advice! Thank you for chatting with us.
JAYCEE: No problem. Oh … Bruce Weber! That’s who I was trying to think of. He has this way of capturing moments rather than just capturing photos.
You can find Jaycee on Instagram @jayceementoor.