Interview: Photographer Jackie Nickerson

We've decided to release partial interview content from the first issue of our print magazine, Persons of Interest. The interview below is with photographer Jackie Nickerson. Jackie is very well known for several of her solo bodies of work, as well as photography and creative direction for every Yeezy Season lookbook, and other projects for Kanye West and Donda. To read the complete interview you may purchase the full magazine issue from our online store.

"Jackie Nickerson’s extensive body of photography has been exhibited in some of the most world-renowned museums— including the Museum of Modern Art; Palais des Beaux-Arts; Irish Museum of Modern Art; and the Vatican Museums. Jackie had been photographing in the commercial fashion industry for a several years until her career took a turn after a traveling to Africa in 1997. She left behind her commercial career to dedicate her time to personal projects and fine art work. By using a camera as an investigative tool, Jackie has photographed farm workers in Southern and Eastern Africa in some of her most well-known works, Terrain and Farm. Jackie has also worked with hip-hop artist and fashion designer Kayne West for the Yeezy Season One and Two lookbooks and was commissioned to photograph Ebola Fighters in Monrovia, Liberia for TIME magazine." 

In your latest book, Terrain, you photograph Eastern and Southern African agricultural laborers in several different farms and locations. How does lifestyle change on each of these different farms? Is there a particular place you felt more attached to than any other? How did your experience photographing Terrain differ from your prior work, Farm?

I visited all kinds of farms and locations. Some were family farms, some commercial and some were farmers were working at a subsistence level. So there was a huge diversity. As to the experience of photographing in the 1990’s and today, well, the cultural connection to the land hasn’t really changed, but the politics around agriculture have. The power of land and nature in context with political power are inextricably linked. Most of the farms that I photographed in Terrain were owned by indigenous Africans. I think everyone agrees that land distribution is an essential part of the decolonization process and empowering indigenous farmers is an important part of that. In Zimbabwe I also visited lots of resettled farms, many of which, for practical reasons, were growing tobacco. The main problem going forward is investment in infrastructure because the new farmers are only given a six month rolling lease and can be evicted at any time.

In your book, Terrain, you photograph Eastern and Southern African agricultural laborers in several different farms and locations. How does lifestyle change on each of these different farms? Is there a particular place you felt more attached to than any other? How did your experience photographing Terrain differ from your prior work, Farm?

In 1997 I was living in Zimbabwe and felt that the society there was divided. The global North often stereotypes Africans in a negative way so I set out to try to photograph individuals to try to challenge this perception. I ended up photographing working people who had made their clothes solely for the purpose of protecting themselves in the workplace. It was a way of concentrating on individual identity. Farm is about personal identity through improvisation—a very personal exploration into perception and individuality. It was my first personal project. I think it’s true to say that, whether you like it or not, no matter where you are in the world, your clothes help people to define your status. Saying that, I think we should wear things that make us feel good about ourselves and help to encourage a positive self-image and I think that means being true to yourself.

In the late 1990’s, you spent upwards of three years exploring Southern Africa for the first time, and you have said in a prior interview that the experience changed your life. What about this specific region held your devoted interest for this period of time? How did it change your perspective on the way you shoot?

Yes, I was based in Zimbabwe for about four years in the 1990’s and traveled all over southern Africa. I’m from an urban background, where I’ve lived in confined spaces and environments made up of concrete. For me, space has always been a precious commodity. So living in rural Africa gave me a feeling of space and freedom and a different perspective on life. I exchanged an indoor life for an outdoor life.

Read the full interview with Jackie Nickerson in the first issue of our in-house magazine Persons of Interest

All images courtesy of Jackie Nickerson and Jack Shainman Gallery.