Jamie Lee Taete captures discontent and division in America

View Gallery 6 Photos
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 500 nominations. Collectively, these 15 talents 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 are sharing profiles of the 15 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct through thebjpshop.com

“I’m interested in photographing what the world looks like when we can’t agree on what’s real,” says Taete

British photographer Jamie Lee Taete has lived in the US for almost a decade, and while his documentation of society might feel fantastical, it is also crucial for understanding the discontent and division that has fractured that of America. 

“The main thing I’m interested in photographing is people’s different versions of reality. We all pick and choose things to believe, sometimes because powerful forces manipulate us into believing false information, other times because we like to believe things that make us feel good or make our perceived enemies feel bad,” he reflects. “I’m interested in photographing what the world looks like when we can’t agree on what’s real.”

His bright, colourful images frame contemporary American culture, honing in on the kind of conflicting viewpoints and beliefs that have become so definitive of 21st-century life. “There have always been disagreements over what is and isn’t true, but in recent years it’s reached dizzying new heights,” Taete continues. “There is almost no aspect of the world that we agree on, and that lack of shared reality colours almost every aspect of American society.” 

In one image, Taete captures black signs emblazoned with sickly yellow lettering reading ‘Homo Sex is Sin’, while in another, the forbidding facade of a Scientology church overwhelms the frame. Elsewhere, a man sporting a white mask emblazoned with ‘Covid-19 is a Hoax’ sweats in the sun, and in another image a Black Lives Matter protester stands amid a sea of pro-Trump paraphernalia fluttering in the wind. 

“British people and queer people are two groups that have, historically, used humour and irony to deal with sad or scary things. As someone who is both British and queer, I don’t really know how else to process the world”

Despite confronting weighty, complicated issues, Taete’s images are playful. But this is his nature. “I think British people and queer people are two groups that have, historically, used humour and irony to deal with sad or scary things,” he reflects. “As someone who is both British and queer, I don’t really know how else to process the world.” 

Although the photographer has faced violence and threats during his projects, he insists that most of his interactions have been friendly and respectful. “I should note, however, that I am a white man who doesn’t necessarily read as being queer,” he clarifies. “My experience navigating the world is obviously very different from many other people’s.” 

Cat Lachowskyj

Cat Lachowskyj is a freelance writer, editor and researcher based in London. Prior to pursuing a career in writing, she trained as an archivist in Toronto, developing research on colonial photography albums at the Archive of Modern Conflict. She has completed residencies and fellowships at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Ryerson Image Centre and the Rijksmuseum, and her current research interests involve psychoanalytical approaches to photography and archives. Cat’s writing has appeared in many publications including Unseen Magazine, The British Journal of Photography, Foam Magazine and American Suburb X, and she has held editing roles at both Unseen Magazine and LensCulture.