It’s a Wednesday in New York City’s West Village and Sneakersnstuff is packed with an array of cool guys and girls clad in Supreme, beanie caps, and the newest Jordans and Adidas sneakers for photographer Shaniqwa Jarvis’ latest exhibit.
The exhibit is called “Connections,” and it’s a collection of black-and-white photos in collaboration with Mister Mort of a diverse group of guys and girls. “Sneakersnstuff reached out to me about activating me in their artist series, and they wanted to launch it with me being a native New Yorker,” Jarvis says. “They came to me and said, ‘Make something, make anything you’d like.’ I decided to do a portrait shoot with 90 percent native New Yorkers. A few are from somewhere else, but they’ve lived here for, like, 12 years. I cast kids based on my connection with them.”
Jarvis is great at making connections herself, and her body of work over the years is proof of that. If her name sounds familiar, it’s because, amongst a host of other exhibits and books, she’s shot Photo Series T-shirts for Supreme, did a campaign for the Jordan x Kaws collection, and even got her own sneaker collaboration with Adidas in 2012.
We spoke to Jarvis to find out how she’s been involved in so many relevant projects and what everyone wants to know: What’s it like to work with Supreme?
What’s the reaction been to your project with Sneakersnstuff?
The reaction’s been great. I think people love seeing great portraits. We are inundated with shit. We see shit all day long and we don’t stop seeing it. I think it’s nice to see things printed on a wall. I think people are excited to look at something: look at grain, look at softness. Look at real photos.
You did a project called Social Studies with Angelo Baque during Art Basel. How’d that go?
It was a great project. Angelo and I worked on that for a very long time. He came up with the thought of grouping a bunch of people together, and then he and I worked together to flesh it out. We wanted to create a space where people could see a black woman and latino man making things. Also, the crew of kids we brought together were diverse, and we wanted other kids to see, “Hey, you look like us, you can do this.” And even if you don’t look like us, collaborate with your friends, connect, make things. You don’t have to be like, “I’m the man and I’m going to do it on my own.” I think Social Studies was amazing, because it was all authentic and real.
You’ve been doing this for awhile.
In this “cool person” scene.
Is it? I don’t think I’m cool at all. I think people may view it that way. I don’t see myself as that.
How do you remain relevant?
For a long time, I was just plotting and thinking to make things. Now I have the opportunity to put all those things out in the air. I made a photo blanket for SNS. Who ever makes a photo blanket? But these guys were super open to collaborate with me in any way. We made a sweatshirt and a blanket.
A lot of people know you from your work with Supreme.
Or do they? I feel like people don’t even know what I’ve shot for Supreme. I think people relate what I’ve shot with Supreme with other people. I don’t even believe that they realize that I’ve done it.
You’ve shot Lee “Scratch” Perry, Barrington Levy, Shane McGowan. How did you get connected with Supreme?The first job I did [with Supreme] was with Angelo Baque. Angelo is a really good friend of mine. We’ve been best friends for 20 years. Whenever we’ve been able to hire/work with one another, we have. The other shoots after that have come through West or Angelo. It’s kind of been this rolling thing. I shot Lee and Damien Hirst. And after that they were like, “Oh, Shaniqwa shoots like that. Let’s get her to shoot these specific ones.” I do one a year, and that’s it.
What’s it like sitting down with someone like Lee “Scratch” Perry and knowing you’re shooting him for a Supreme T-shirt and it’s going to be seen by millions of people?
I don’t think about it like that. In each essence, you kind of don’t know. They’re like, “Hey you’re going to shoot this thing and a video.” With Barrington Levy, I was like, “What is this going to be?” And it ended up just being this video that my husband and I shot of him singing. I had no idea. I just go in and try to make the best thing that I can each time. Like for these portraits, I tried to make the best thing that I could. I don’t think about the after. I live in the now.
But in the long run, have you looked at those things and been super proud of them?
Of course. I’m happy when people are excited about my work. To me it’s like, “Whoa.” But it’s something that I need to keep doing. I think I can do more and I want to be better.
You got to do your own sneaker.
Yeah, I did. Whenever I get sad, I say to myself, “At least I have my own sneaker.”
That’s pretty significant. You got to do your own Adidas sneaker. How did that come about?
I did that for the 2012 Olympics, and I did it off the back end of doing my first exhibition, “This Charming Man.” Someone at Adidas had seen it, thought it was great, then said, “We should get this artist to come in and make this shoe that’s part of this Consortium series.”
Did you freak out about doing it?
I approached it in a weird way. I said, “OK, I’m going to make this shoe, but I want to make it something that all my guy friends will wear.” I thought of my husband, Angelo Baque, Chris Gibbs. All my good friends who were gonna get this shoe. I was like, “They have to wear it.” In the end I was like, “Would they wear that?” I ended up doing what I wanted and they all wore it.
What do you think of the sneaker scene in New York?
I just started wearing sneakers again. I think sneakers are a massive deal. Watching Virgil Abloh’s “The Ten” to Yeezy and watching kids clamor for it. I find it super, super insane. I think that it is special to have stores like SNS who are supporting local talent, like stores back in the day would, like Stash and Nort. It’s part of their ethos, but you want to bang out the hot gems.
You did a Jordan Brand campaign for the Kaws collaboration. How was that?
The Kaws Jordan stuff? That was family. That was fun. Literally that’s working with fam. For [Kaws], for Jordan. I can’t even say anything else. These are my friends, I can’t let them down. I have to make sure I do a good job.