"I felt I saw the world with different eyes": Jaimy Gail on photographing the concept of normalcy
- Lucy Bourton
- 17 October 2019
Born and raised in The Netherlands, photographer Jaimy Gail’s work often serves as a commentary on her home country, with a portfolio that sits “somewhere between fashion, documentary and portraiture,” as she puts it.
Originally studying painting at university, it was during her studies that Jaimy picked up a camera for the first time, switching mediums “even though I had zero experience with it,” she tells It’s Nice That. Despite ditching the practice of painting the approach remains a key factor in Jaimy’s process, setting up a shoot as if alone with a blank canvas in the studio where she can construct "this image and concept I have in my mind,” she explains. However it’s the creative attributes of photography which encouraged Jaimy to fall for the medium, noting how “with drawing I could draw everything I wanted but when I added something truly strange into a photograph, I was suddenly able to change reality,” she explains. “This is the main reason I love photography.”
Changing reality in turn has become a main focus of Jaimy’s lens, who has settled on creating works which are not “reality nor fiction”. The aim of the photographer’s images is to at first make the viewer comfortable with familiarity, usually applied through aesthetic choices, such as using “an old-fashioned style of light, setting and poses”. The next step is to shift the viewer out of this mindset once they look a little closer, maybe through a particular prop choice or hidden motif. As a result, “sometimes my work can feel a bit abrasive, as it’s also political and has social issues attached to it,” she adds, alluding to the more disturbing images of children with guns. “But I try to only start a discussion, I’m not pretending to have the solution,” often also finding that her work “raises a lot more questions than providing you with answers”.
One project of Jaimy’s which executes this aim in particular is Normaal Doen, a project borne out of a comment made by the Dutch prime minister, addressing the public to “act normal”. Working on the series for the past two years, the photographs collated address this comment – which the photographer describes has “an underlying tone of excluding without really saying anything” – as well as commenting on the topic of normalcy in a wider context too.
Beginning by looking at the definition of the norm, Jaimy realised that it’s a concept based on several factors, whether it be an individual’s gender, nationality, religion or culture. “These factors are very personal, thus what one considers normal is extremely personal,” the photographer explains.
Starting with her own considerations of “normal” as a white Dutch, non-religious woman, the series began as a reflection of herself, focusing portraits mainly on women, and the position of a woman. As a result, some of the photographer’s images may be difficult to look at – and purposefully so. “In a lot of my portraits women are photographed in a certain way that might feel as sexist, or inferior, to the setting they are photographed in and this is deliberate,” she adds. “I’m stereotyping women the same way I’ve been thought of by popular culture, the country I was born in, maybe even my parents.” Later expanding the series by writing a thesis on the subject Jaimy "felt I saw the world with different eyes,” therefore leading the series to become “more political and less about the stereotyping of women.”
In turn the series now harks back to this original comment by the Netherland’s prime minister, creating a visual interpretation of the Dutch “calvinist notion of being normal”. Jaimy’s hope therefore is to remind viewers (and the prime minister) that “The Netherlands is a multicultural society which is complex and rich,” she tells us. “It’s all about human relationships, standards or expectations on how to behave, dress or what’s expected within a relationship from family to friends. These are all constructed by society and maybe demanded by you.”
Reflecting on the series now, after years of coming to fruition, Normaal Doen presents Jaimy’s aim of utilising photography to alter discussions. “Broadly, my work is about social issues I see on the street, television or politics where of course I have an opinion, but find it hard to enter the discussion,” she concludes. “My way of dealing with those issues is frankly to put it into an image.” And while the project has changed over time, “you could also see how it truly reflects the images I’m dealing with at a particular time. In that sense, the project is a reflection of me.”
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.