Ones To Watch 2021: Kyle Jeffers

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Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 20 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 450 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we will be sharing profiles of the 20 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct with an 1854 Subscription

Building a “fake reality” out of nostalgia and spontaneity, Jeffers reimagines product photography

Like many budding photographers, Kyle Jeffers’ first camera was his phone. “I was at elementary school, filming skateboarding videos in the driveway,” he remembers. Jeffers was raised in Toronto, where the “ominous and bold” abandoned industrial buildings and smooth, wide roads created dynamic backdrops for his shoots. “I would film as we explored. This developed into photography, and eventually into a career.”

© Kyle Jeffers.

Jeffers graduated from Sheridan College, Ontario, in 2020. Since then he has developed a lively style with visual references originating in the curated, youth-culture accounts popular in the early days of Instagram. These pages blended street, fashion and product photography, creating a digital archive that reflected the aesthetics of growing online subcultures.

Bright colours, clean edges and a glossy glamour populate his sets, and absurdity and humour are always at play. “In my images, I’m trying to have fun,” he says, adding that he does not plan the compositions. “Any ideas I sketch beforehand never work out. Instead I wait until I’m on set, mess around with the space, and try to find something interesting.” Spontaneity is essential, both during his shoots and when location scouting.

© Kyle Jeffers.

“Straight from graduation, Kyle showed an extraordinary level of artistic development with a strong signature style,” explains MaryAnn Camilleri, founder of the nonprofit publishing house The Magenta Foundation, who nominated Jeffers. “There is a youthful vibe to his work, paired with an elevated production language,” she adds.

Among Jeffers’ influences are the British fashion photographer Myles Aldridge, and the cinematic style of American image-maker Alex Prager. “Prager’s work is very odd. I learned so much from her use of the environment,” he says. This ‘oddness’ is what Jeffers strives for; he revels in the strange, using his images to complicate the visual language of the traditional billboard and magazine advertisement. He does not hide the artificial nature of product photography, instead he highlights it, searching for a “fake reality”.

In his latest works, Jeffers returns to his skating days, focusing on architectural lighting and shape, but also blending the superficial quality of the studio into the real world. “I want to bring the outdoors into the studio, and use that harsh Canadian mid-afternoon sunlight,” he explains. He incorporates imagined skies, buildings and found objects in an attempt to “find a middle ground” between reality and fiction, as well as product and still life photography. Jeffers has built a database of locations, references, influences and styles, mixing them together in a self-aware playfulness.

© Kyle Jeffers.
Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.