In the series Jayde, a young girl’s coming-of-age is documented through photographs
Photographer Whitney Hayes met Jayde while working on a different project. Drawn to her unabashed sense of self, they decided to embark on a project together.
- Alif Ibrahim
- 7 April 2021
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Whitney Hayes is a self-taught photographer, citing photo books, photography websites and museums as her best resources when she was first starting out. Like many in her field, she has an image that’s special to her, one that made a lasting impression: an untitled piece by William Eggleston, that she saw in the Met, of a woman in a blue dress sitting on a curb. Her foray into photography first came when she started using it as a hobby to fill time after experiencing loss in her family. Shortly after her daughter was born in 2008, her father died and Whitney became her mother’s caregiver due to her mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Sadly, her mother died of cancer just four years after, merely two weeks after her diagnosis, though she never complained of any discomfort and seemed fine during this period. “After my mother’s death, I unexpectedly had an enormous amount of free time and began to take photos on my iPhone, posting them to Instagram. This became a hugely fulfilling hobby, as it was creative and involved spending hours walking in the woods and taking photos,” she says. “After buying my first proper digital camera in 2014, I was hired by an executive at Donna Karan to work on a fashion campaign. I subsequently had the opportunity to shoot their look book and fashion show.” After this, she followed the opportunities that came to her table: shooting fashion shows, working with brands like Carolina Herrera and Nike, as well as pursuing personal projects that still hold meaning to her.
Whitney transitioned to shooting analogue in 2018, becoming even more captivated by the medium after the switch. “Around this time, inspired by so many photographers who amaze me like Mark Steinmetz, Richard Rothman, Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Dawoud Bey, William Eggleston and many more, I decided to channel my energy into working on a few photo projects,” she says. One of these projects, Jayde, came about by accident. While walking along a New Jersey beach with her film camera to take pictures for one of these projects, she spotted a girl named Jayde and was drawn to the way that she carried herself. “I immediately felt drawn to her casual confidence and decided to ask her father if it would be okay to take her portrait. He so kindly agreed and we exchanged contact information. Jayde’s mother contacted me, and we have since embarked on a photo project about her.”
“Jayde and her family have visited my home in Fair Haven, New Jersey, many times to take portraits and we have become friends. I am so grateful to her parents and Jayde for allowing me to execute this project. Covid-19 set the project back a bit, but this year we plan to continue to document her as she begins her high school years,” she says. Whitney is hoping that this project serves as a window into Jayde’s inner self: a documentation of her dreams for the future and her thoughts about the world that she inhabits. “It’s my sincere desire for this work to enrich Jayde’s life,” Whitney adds.
Outside of Jayde, Whitney continues pursuing other projects. One of them is a long-term project involving the woods that has she spent countless hours in over the past seven years, the woods that she traversed after her mother’s death. “The time between 2008 and my mother’s death in 2012 was an unusual one. While a literal nightmare, I remain fascinated by it and am currently working on a photo project about that time,” she says. “What happens to families when a vital, functioning adult suddenly becomes one who needs 24-hours-a-day care is devastating and not talked about enough. I am passionate about, and committed to possibly raising awareness about this issue.”
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Whitney Hayes: Jayde (Copyright © Whitney Hayes, 2021)
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.