Sustenance Saturday #7: An Interview with Montreal Freelance Portrait​ Photographer, Jailli

Le Spectacle
Le Spectacle, Conceptual for Commercial, 2019. Photo by Jailli.

Charlotte, who is better known by her artist’s name, Jailli, is a Montreal-based freelance photographer who specializes in portraiture. Her work, which captures the emotions and youthfulness of her subjects regardless of their age, has been exhibited in galleries across the city, such as the Henry Lehmann Gallery and Art Lounge Mtl. She has even done work for the Montreal songwriter, singer & pop sensation, Charlotte Cardin.

Q: What made you want to specialize in portrait photography & what advantages does it have over other fields of photography? 

A: For starters, I find the anatomy of the human body and face, specifically and their endless possibilities of physical forms astonishing.  I have a background in drawing and ever since I was a kid I’ve been obsessed with sketching eyes and faces. Now, I photograph them.

Wanting to freeze people in time, with photography, as they are when they’re in their headspace in the metro, at school, or when their mind is making them wander off and finding people beautiful in distinct manners, whilst they are going through these episodes, is also always something I’ve always been interested in doing (which might be why I’m getting more and more into street photography). In addition, I am absolutely fascinated with contrast. Which we all know is drastic nowadays; between how one views themselves and how the world sees them. 

There’s also the fact that contrarily to objects or landscapes, which I find uninteresting to photograph most of the time, there isn’t one person I wouldn’t want to take a photo of. With conceptual portraiture, I get my 5 minutes to speak to someone and let them know about how I perceive them and what caught my eye about them. I get to be creative about perceptions and invite someone along. If I can’t speak to people directly (in street photography contexts, for instance) I can make others see themselves if they find the photo, or someone else sees how I see the street subject: it’s a fun game of capturing assumptions and letting the viewer do the same.

Me Redevenir du 11 avril
Me Redevenir du 11 avril, Conceptual 2019. Photo by Jailli.

Generally speaking, with conceptual portraiture, there’s something extremely intimate about someone letting you embark them on a journey during which they get to see themselves through someone else’s eyes and trust that person through the process.

Portraiture, is, too, through human connection, a way to turn what I see every day, such as the faces of strangers, into a celebration of their specific beauty and particular charisma, elements which are innate within humans. Contrarily to during daily life, portraiture photography allows a stopping of time to highlight and acknowledge that what both ourselves and the people which we view as routine are in fact already special, as they are. We see this when we allow ourselves or others this recognition. 

With that in mind, people give me way too much credit for “capturing emotion”. If you think about it, every subject has the same potential to demonstrate their presence in a photograph: that presence is what makes a photograph, even if the subject has no clue how to show who they are or how to pose.  All I do is capture what’s already there, a phenomenon within ourselves or others which people mostly don’t think (or want) to celebrate by habituation to thinking that they aren’t worthy of or couldn’t be valued in a non-amorph, special, artistic way. 

As a whole, portraiture to me is about directing people so that they appear like what I view them as, which is usually more positive than how they view themselves. It’s about giving subjects the space to exist as themselves in an unusual context, whether that be by posing as they usually depict themselves and letting me be in charge of the photo-taking, or in more theatrical, eccentric ways, with minimal directions which remind them they’re in an artistic context.

Michael Koui
Michael Koui, Conceptual for Commercial, 2019. Photo by Jailli.
Q: Do you feel your formal education in the arts has influenced your work & helped you improve as a photographer?

A: In college, my photography education was terrible, technically speaking. I learnt more on Youtube at fourteen than I did at school from eighteen to nineteen. That being said, I did take one class which prepared students to build their portfolios as professional artists and the teacher who taught it changed my life, artistically speaking. She pushed students in their critical thinking to the point which we thought our projects were good but never enough (in the best way possible). She’s the one to have convinced me studying art was worth it and that I should be confident in starting this pursuit.

Q: Who would you say is your major influence when it comes to photography?

A: Unsurprisingly, growing up as a millennial who’s addicted to social media, I started out my photography inspiration journey when I was 13, loving photos which had a beach aesthetic (I know, blame Tumblr). Those photos slowly got me into the whole LA-made photographer situation, falling in love with bright colours and heavy editing, contrasting-to-Quebec-sceneries and focusing on how badly I wanted to look like the models on the photos. However, from age 17 until now, I was lucky enough to receive an education in the arts. It opened my eyes to something more profound than black and white photos of girls with features that met typical beauty standards, smoking a cigarette in Santa Monica to something with more content than a Brandon Woelfel, Russell James, Fiona O’Hanlon or Ron Dadon photograph. With all due respect, they’re all very talented; but their work that I once strived to recreate, is not in the same stylistic direction I’m moving towards anymore.

With time, my “style” morphed itself into what it is now because I was presented with the works of many artists, some of whom became favourites. To name a few, they are Rineke Dijkstra, Nan Goldin, Meera Margaret Singh, Francesca Woodman, Sophie Calle, Justine Kurland, Philip Lorca Dicorcia, Gregory Crewdson, Jeff Wall, Carrie Mae Weems, Sharon Lockhart, Sally Man, Marisa Portolese, the duo Hubbard and Birchler, Hannah Starkey, Larry Fink, Kristof Brandl, Yorgos Lanthimos, Sofia Coppola, Nancy Borowick, Diana Markosian, Grace Jackson, Lucy Hilmer, Dita Pepe, Laura Stevens, Aizawa Yoshikazu, Raymonde April, Nick Waplington, Larry Sultan, Tina Barney, Adi Nes, David Uzochukwu, Petra Collins, Bill Viola, Michael Chelbin, Sadie Catt and Manuel Álvarez Brava (and that’s without even mentioning the dozens of talented people I follow on social media who inspire me daily).

Klassik, Conceptual for Commercial, 2019. Photo by Jailli.
Q: How do you come up with the composition for your photos & how did you develop your style?

A: Composition-wise,  I always try to have the eyes be the focal point of my photographs. I like when my subjects are perfectly centred, and I enjoy pairing full body shots with extreme closeups and headshots; a good mix of patterns and movements. I like the medium-format sizing of photos and take mine digitally, having in my mind that I’ll crop them to imitate a medium format film look and the frame to subject ratio I see many of my favourite photographers respecting. I also try to find subjects, alive or inanimate, which could complement other such subjects I may have photographed previously, to make 4:3 collages with them afterwards.

Like many artists’ creation processes, I come up with ideas and composition because I am constantly exposed to great art which inspires me. I developed my style by browsing the internet constantly, hitting my reblog limit on Tumblr every day and by studying the works of some of my favourite artists I mentioned earlier. I also developed it, obviously, by practicing photography, a passion which I discovered when I was 10 years old. This passion first manifested itself through my usage of my iPod touch, in Elementary School, as I learned to understand, very wretchedly, how different technical components affect a photo, unconsciously. Then, it morphed itself more: in High School, I became the “designated photo person” in my friend group, I squeezed in an “Arts & Communication” class amongst my science classes and started my Instagram page, which is now called “@jailli” but used to be “@belttzarana”. It then flourished even more as I decided to follow my artistic passion and to head in that field in college and now as I’ve narrowed down my artistic specialization even more by becoming a Concordia photo student!

Victor and Julien for Globalista, Commercial, 2019. Photo by Jailli.
 Q: Do you do commercial work & how does it differ from your conceptual work? 

A: I do commercial work. which consists of a lot of casting, client-portraiture, event photography and occasionally, product photography.

It’s unlike my conceptual work because it is structured very differently. I am told to take a number of photos in a certain amount of time, to add a specific tone the client wants in the photo, a peculiar this and that. I do enjoy commercial work because, well, it allows me to take a job out of my passion when I do get contracts, and also because it’s really fast-paced, forces me to be on my A-game when creating, helps me with networking, etc. 

Conceptual work, on the other hand, requires me to delve deeper into my ideas, beliefs, and organize informational sources diligently. It can sometimes be unmotivating because I know the project won’t be presented anywhere or won’t end up anywhere concrete apart from my Instagram page unless I make a non-school or work-related, self-initiated effort. Being an artist is a lot of putting a lot of time and energy in the present without knowing if it’ll ever benefit you, but if art is what you want to do, it’s worth it.

Q: What time of day do you prefer to shoot & why? 

A: I mostly only shoot when there’s natural light, therefore anytime except when it’s dark. A golden hour to me is the best because people’s moods are automatically better; they feel warmer and more confident. The orange tint that it provokes is also something I’m comfortable and enjoy shooting with. 

Charlotte Cardin
Charlotte Cardin, Commercial, 2019. Photo by Jailli.
Q: Your work is deeply emotional. What tips would you give a new portrait photographer on how to capture that emotion?

A: Connect with the people you photograph. During a time in which everything is about fast-paced processes, which all use the human figure as a selling tool, it truly makes a difference both for the viewer and the model when there is a genuine connection behind the process.

Figuring out what a portraiture session could be about before shooting has its impact, too; message or e-mail your subject, get to know them if they want to! During the shoot, always with good intentions and kindness, try to guide the models to find how they can use their past, their knowledge and their emotions to be more comfortable with you, in front of the camera, and confident in the fact that they’re a part of a project that honours them. Write about them after the shooting session, ponder about the impact they had on you, find things you have in common with them. If they don’t want the shoot to be about them, personally, which happens a lot, share what you learned from them and how working with them was.

Of course, not all the photography experiences I’ve had were “deeply emotional”. In fact, most of them weren’t. I’ve had more experiences during which the shoot’s focus was capturing a perceivable aesthetic, a look, a product, or a concert, rather than interiority. But I think the fact that I’m interested in capturing interiority, rawness, genuineness and vulnerability might be why people say my work is ‘deeply emotional’, though. I make the effort to at least try and get to know people and to offer them comfort, trust. It’s crucial to try your best to make everyone feel at ease when you are creating with them.

PY1, Commercial, 2019
PY1, Commercial, 2019. Photo by Jailli.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the field in the next 5 years? What would your dream project be?

A: If I start dreaming crazily (like I love to), over the next five years I hope to have had many solo and group exhibitions around the world, have done internships abroad with what I would consider ethical companies or brands, have the opportunity to live from my art and to travel thanks to it. More commercially, and once again allowing myself to think big, my goal has always been to go on tour with Shawn Mendes and be his photographer for a couple concerts, as I’ve grown up being a big fan of his. Touring with Lizzo, Jorja Smith, Frank Ocean, BROCKHAMPTON, Ella Mai, H.E.R., J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Billie Eilish, Xavier Omar, Tory Lanez or Rihanna and having endless possibilities to take “conceptual” photos of them wouldn’t be too bad either… 

More realistically, though, I hope to have obtained my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Photography from Concordia University, to travel and have my own place. My dream “conceptual” project would be to document the lives of people who are semi-permanent residents of hospitals and mental health institutes. I’d also love to continue meeting new people, creating content which moves people and which they can at least somewhat relate to. More generally, I’ve always aimed to help in any way possible, through art. I hope people feel comfortable coming to me with their stories and associate me with someone who can make them feel empowered through our collaborative art-making. With that aim in mind, it’d be fulfilling to become a gallery curator, a photography director in movies, a movie director, an art therapist, a psychology teacher in the Arts, a photojournalist, a travel or set photographer.

Works Cited

Jailli. Charlotte Cardin, Commercial. 2019. Photograph, Web. Aug 31. 2019.

Jailli. Graham Hunt for Sunstroke Magazine, Commercial. 2018. Photograph, Web. Aug 31. 2019.

Jailli. Klassik, Conceptual for Commercial, 2019. Photograph, Web. Aug 31. 2019.

Jailli. Le Spectacle, Conceptual for Commercial. 2019. Photograph, Web. Aug 31. 2019.

Jailli. Me Redevenir du 11 avril, Conceptual. 2019. Photograph, Web. Aug 31. 2019.

Jailli. Michael Koui, Conceptual for Commercial. 2019. Photograph, Web. Aug 31. 2019.

Jailli. Personal Interview. 20 Aug. 2019.

Jailli. PY1, Commercial. 2019. Photograph, Web. Aug 31. 2019.

Jailli. Victor and Julien for Globalista, Commercial. 2019. Photograph, Web. Aug 31. 2019.

Thank you so much for reading this article! If you’d like to learn more about Jailli’s photography or are interested in working with her, be sure to check out her website and her Instagram, @jailli. Also, be sure to show your support for Jailli in the comments below!

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