Myah Jeffers documents “the regality, the beauty and the inner world of people of the diaspora”

Myah often focusses on individuals or groups doing amazing work to tackle societal issues or causes in her projects.

29 July 2021

Photographer Myah Jeffers sees portraits everywhere. An interminable observer of the world around her, it was during her studies at university in Birmingham that Myah became obsessed with “documenting and illuminating the experiences and the distinct worlds of people,” with a particular interest in “how race, culture and identity inform peoples’ lived experiences and how they present themselves to the world.” With this in mind, when Myah stands behind her camera, she tells us, “I aim to document the truth.”

Myah grew up in Barbados and moved to the UK when she was 16. Having lived in Leicester, Leeds and Birmingham, she’s now a practising photographer and filmmaker in London working across portraiture and documentary and is also a dramaturg. Her work has been featured in a host of publications, including The Guardian, The Sunday Times Magazine and in collaborations with a plethora of institutions like Tate and Somerset House. Myah was also shortlisted for the BJP’s Portrait of Britain award in 2019 with an image of Babirye Bukilwa, an experience she describes as affirming “because it felt like an honouring of the way I see people. So, to then see that portrait exhibited at Euston Station for a good few years really made me understand the importance of documenting and sharing beautiful moments of existence.”

For Myah though, it’s not simply the outcome of a shoot that matters. The process through which she takes a portrait is vital, both as a means to build relationships but also as a way to impact the depth of the portrait itself. “It always feels like a privilege and an honour to be able to spend time with people and to engage in the intimate process of photographing them,” she says. “I think it instantly creates a shared understanding between you.” Myah’s process was made all the more considered when she bought a medium format camera as it “lends itself to the delicate nature of those moments,” due to being a slower, more intricate method of taking pictures.

When it comes to the kinds of projects Myah tends to work on, everything centres on the idea of documenting “the regality, the beauty and the inner world of people of the diaspora,” she explains. She seeks out subjects – both individuals or groups – who are doing amazing work that feels “like social commentary in the way it platforms or brings to light specific societal issues or causes.” For example, last year, Myah worked on a commission with Empathy Museum called From Where I’m Standing, in which she was asked to photograph ten front line health workers at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. “It was so eye opening and humbling to travel the country and meet with these people who have had such a positive impact on their respective working communities during lockdown,” she tells us. The work was exhibited on the streets of Brixton last December and in Peckham this month.

GalleryMyah Jeffers: Newnham College (Copyright © Myah Jeffers, 2021)

In another project, commissioned by Newnham College at Cambridge University, Myah was given the opportunity to photograph a number of Black students as part of the college’s 150th-anniversary celebrations, which will culminate in their portraits being permanently exhibited on the walls of the college. “My starting point was interrogating the composed nature of traditional academic portraiture and then subverting that in a way which felt true to the contemporary nature of the project,” she tells us. Visually, the portraits are simple and somewhat formal in their composition – but it’s a project which represents so much and its momentous nature gives each portrait gravitas.

While she took a fairly considered approach to photograph the students of Newnham College, oftentimes, Myah’s process is more improvised. “Recently I’ve been working towards interweaving the primal feeling jazz evokes into the way I photograph,” she explains. This was the case when she worked on a series last Christmas when she was in Barbados. “I tested positive for Covid-19 and was immediately whisked away to a government-run isolation facility called Harrison’s Point,” she tells us of the moment she decided to make work about the surreal experience. “It was such a rare opportunity to gain first-hand insight into how my island was handling the pandemic,” she says. “I managed to take a number of portraits of not only the doctors and nurses who were always in full PPE but also of the other patients who were sharing this bizarre and unfortunate experience with me.” The project developed organically, she continues to explain, and sees her experimenting with a mix of portraiture and architectural photography for the first time.

No matter what the subject or theme, whether she takes a more formal or free approach, Myah’s work is effervescent. Her subjects are painted in a joyful and celebratory light and it’s hard to not want to know more about them. Having recently taken the plunge to go full-time freelance, Myah is excited to continue this jubilant thread and focus more of her time and energy on it. “It’s a blessing to know I’m working on a number of incredible projects across photography, theatre and film for the rest of the year; and I also may have some international work coming up next year,” she says. “But I think I’m most excited about the development of my debut narrative short film, which is still in the early stages but a real passion project that has been taking up a lot of brain space, which is always a good sign!”

GalleryMyah Jeffers (Copyright © Myah Jeffers, 2021)

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Myah Jeffers (Copyright © Myah Jeffers, 2021)

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

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