Welcoming, Jah Grey

I may possibly be Jah Grey’s number one fan - the minute I came across his portrait of Oluseye, I knew I had to keep my eyes on him. His work is packed with emotion, social commentary, and humanness, and this was evidently seen in his solo exhibition “Man Up,” which debuted at Free Space in Toronto in June 2018. He is currently living in LA and recently shot musician B. Slade and actor Jahmil French, and is producing a short doc with filmmaker Sloan McGowan while continuing to explore the disconnect between the concepts of masculinity and vulnerability.

I’ll boldly say it: Jah Grey's photography is putting a stake in the history of the gender binary; his work breaths life into the traditional male construct and explores a topic that so wildly gets overlooked. Absolutely striking at first glance, Jah’s work delves into such important societal issues: the resistance to the ideology of hyper-masculinity, and the exploration of vulnerability primarily in black men.

“The message in my art is about challenging and redefining the social norms of masculinity and rebelling against the constructs others place on our bodies and our identities,” Jah shares. “I strive to explore the disconnect between the concept of masculinity and [true] vulnerability. Society often assumes a notion of masculinity (or hyper-masculinity within a cishet society) which normalizes the idea that men cannot be vulnerable while overlooking men who choose to make their vulnerability visible.”

The emotive mission behind Jah’s work has also given him an outlet for his own vulnerability; his work opens up personal discussions around how he is resisting the ideology of hyper-masculinity, and I’ve even found myself partaking in these discussions with open ears and wide eyes. Jah informs me, “I feel we often let society control and dictate who we are, where we belong and who we need to be and forget to carve out new spaces in ourselves for change, growth and evolution. I choose to fight this in my work by photographing black men who do not fit the label of hyper-masculinity imposed upon them.”

With each person Jah photographs, he strives to reveal that tender moment where the subject connects, not only with the camera but with his/their own self, showing the essence of their soul. You can see proof of that connection reflected every image. I’m constantly impressed by the mission that runs through Jah’s work; it reminds me every day what my own missions are, and I’m inspired by how compelling and unveiling his portraits are.

When asked what is next for him, Jah shares his plans for further uncovering the disconnect between the concepts of masculinity and vulnerability: “As I look back on past work, I realize it [is] just the beginning to a story that so desperately needs to be continued. For the next year, I plan to continue the documenting process under the title 'Portraits of a Black Boy' around the United States. I’ll also be creating a mini-documentary [to accompany the photographic] project.”

You can show your love for Jah’s work by donating to his GoFundMe in support of his ongoing study on masculinity.

Jah Grey is a self-taught portrait photographer who has worked with Manifesto, Long Winter, and has been shown at the AGO, across Toronto, and in LA. Follow him on Instagram @jahgrey or take explore his website, www.jahgrey.com.