Film photographer Jeremy Grier's work is a masterclass of subtle force. Whether it's giving voice to the black queer community, or turning the spotlight on his own community in his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut, Jeremy's portraits are powerful and intimate, embodying ideas of reconnection to one's own roots as well as the exploration of identity.
Here's our interview with Jeremy on his inspirations, his ongoing project of photographing the people of Hartford, and more.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got into photography, and film in particular?
I'm from Hartford, Connecticut, currently based in New York. I got into photography somewhat in an organic way. I would work at my college in the multi-cultural center, and there I would work with different artists and was really interested in programming at the time, but I would also do things outside of that. I specialized in video, film, tv and digital production in undergrad. I started out in video. That led to me expanding more outside of school into photography.
At that time I was shooting with my digital camera I got from school and that soon led to me just really tapping more into photography, especially in black portraiture. There's a long lineage of that within photography alone. That really interested me but was also something that I felt like I could speak to and that I understood because of my upbringing.
I got into photography through friends, creative expression and through studying some of my favorite photographers and artists who were creating work that speak to a bigger audience or contributing to the world of black portraiture already. I didn't shoot 35 mm, I immediately went to 120 and I primarily shoot medium and large format. I did that because at the time I was watching Youtube videos and I wanted to get the best quality I knew of.
How did you arrive at your preferred themes and style for your photography?
That came organic and natural because photography was a way for me to express myself at a time when words and other things just quite didn't speak to that. As I was coming to who I was as a full human being, photography was just like an exploration of things I was going through...whether it was me starting to date men, getting to know myself, documenting friends who also may have been going through some things and living life.
It was self-expression for me to keep going at a time that was difficult for me – very transitional, 23 or 24 right out of college. I was travelling to New York more frequently from Connecticut and was finding a community out here, and understanding that I could have a career in photography. It was something that I naturally felt like was already in me and photography was a vehicle for me to channel these things for myself through, and with, other people.
What’s your go-to camera now? Favorite camera you use all the time or film stocks?
I have been shooting a lot of 4x5 lately, I have a Toyo camera. What led me to that was that I had left New York in the beginning of 2021 because I caught Covid and I had after effects. I was going through a lot, and never once did I think I'd leave New York so soon cause I moved in 2019 officially, but I found myself needing to retreat, go home and get better.
In the process of me doing that–another transitional period–I was alone, I was going through things but more importantly I was reconnecting with home. Large format allowed me to slow down. I wanted to document the north end of Hartford, where I grew up. I think the lack of documentation of black people, black life up north – you know in the northeast part of America, is lacking – is an issue. There is no photo culture where I'm from, you're raised not used to being photographed by strangers.
It was a learning experience for me, but also an opportunity to reconnect and slow down with my process so large format is primarily what I do. I like color, I will say that, and I really like Lomography's 400 and 800 speed film. Lomography Color Negative 800 is one that I really appreciate and I think does a really good job with darker complexions and color.
You mentioned that where you grew up there wasn't a big photo culture. How was your experience with that as a photographer and someone who wanted to document where you grew up?
The approach was that, as important as this was for me, vice versa it was equally important for the people where I come from, whether they saw it or did not see it. I left New York at 24, there was a lot going on, I came back at 27 or 28, within those four years a lot has changed with me so it was very necessary and integral for me to really give this project some time and attention, and just naturally explore something that I felt like hasn't really been done before.
The process at the time was frustrating because I didn't think people understood what I was trying to do. They didn't necessarily care if I shot for New York Times. Some people were impressed but most people were like "what are you doing?" But I just approached it with–and I'm still approaching it, it's not over and I gotta get back to it–it was about them, it was about me, it was a collective effort and motivation to get it done.
Do you have any projects you're working on right now or maybe collaborations with other photographers?
I'm continuing to work on this, around black people living up north. And there's always going to be images that I'm going to make. One of the things that interest me most about being here in Brooklyn is shedding light on the beautiful and diverse community of black queer people existing in Brooklyn. And these commission jobs that come about – primarily that's my focus.
And I also did a project in France. I went to Paris, my first international trip last October and I can't believe it's almost been a year. I had taken some photos of men, I think I have a really good eye and appreciation for documenting men of color, specifically black men.
I'd like to do something with those photos, possibly put out a little zine or something like that, or some type of presentation of the images and either document that or a whole space for people to engage with that. That's one of the projects that I'm currently at hand with and hoping that I can push for it before the year is out.
Do you have any advice for new photographers, especially for younger photographers thinking about whether to dive into photography?
My advice would be to do your research and homework about who has been doing what you're interested in. What does the lineage look like? What's the history? Who has been contributing to some of the things you're interested in? What are the mediums they're using to make the work they're doing? What is the process like? And what is your inspiration outside of other people, things that you're currently going through.
Inspiration doesn't always have to be joy and happiness. What could help create an image might come from a dark place. It might come from a place of unknown, the lack of words, speaking about the subtleties. When I first started I didn't have the words. Pull from your inspirations. Tap into where you're going through in life. Find your voice.