Taking pictures which embody everything that the word dreaminess can embody is only to be expected from a photographer with an online portfolio called “The Dream”. Yet, New York University student Jheyda produces photographs that confront reality in the most stunning of ways. She mercilessly dissects issues such as the fixation on Eurocentric beauty, LGBTQ youth and body insecurities whilst simultaneously churning out an average adolescent’s daydream, freezed into a frame.
I recently spoke to the seventeen-year-old over Whatsapp just as she was moving into her new university dorm room, and we had a good ol’ discussion about the intersections of racism and sexism; body insecurities and the holiness of Beyoncé (amen). Dream on…
Oh hey Jheyda!
Let’s begin with me asking: Why do you focus so much on portraiture?
I focus more on portraiture because I think it highlights an individual. My photography kinda stemmed out of a place of self-hate because I felt very ugly and uncomfortable with myself, so I started taking pictures of others so they could feel beautiful.
Where did the self-hate come from, the media?
Well yeah, as well as a mix of things. [When I was] in, like, 5th grade I got really sick with stomach problems and the medication made me gain a lot of weight. And I looked at these skinny white girls around me and wondered why everyone liked them and not me. It was a competition in my mind, like only one type of beauty was valid.
I feel like it’s impossible to meet a black girl who hasn’t got a story similar to that.
Being black too, I can’t help but feel like there are only these pretty, slender white women posing in expensive stuff and I’m always like… oh.
Exactly! I think, since photography mainly focuses on fashion, a lot of these women featured are cis, white and thin. I think it’s important that everyone gets to see photos of people that look like them being presented as cool, chic; teen, beautiful, whatever.
I felt that when looking through Black Beauty Queen in Tears. I think that’s my favourite series.
Thank-you so much! That’s my best friend. I just really wanted to create a sense of how strong black women are but how hard it is to be [a black woman].
Do you normally shoot with your friends?
Yes. All my pictures are pretty much my best friends. That’s why there are a lot of the same people.
Sweet! Is it important to you to show different types of teens?
Definitely. I think [the media] shows such a one sided version of teenagehood.
Media representation makes those who aren’t cis/white/slim feel like they’re the minority, when white/cis/young/skinny are the only ones who make up the minority.
And then they decide when our features are fashionable, appropriating out features but not us. Smh.
Yeah!! This is what happens when society conforms to Eurocentric beauty standards. I have a little cousin who’s half Mexican and half black like me, and she wants to be white. She has said to me: “I’ve always wanted blonde hair and blue eyes”.
And my entire Google searches when I was younger was, “how to be pretty”; “how to get boys to like me” etc etc.
Same for me! On the flip side, this all reminds me of the two boys in your shoot All I Need in This Life of Sin, and how they’re putting on make-up and kissing. I love how gender fluid it is! He looked so poppin’ in that shade of lipstick, by the way.
Thank you!! He’s gender fluid himself haha! All I Need in This Life of Sin united Bonnie and Clyde, but I also wanted to make it tie into being queer and, like, coming out and how difficult [doing so] is for LGBTQ youth.
Is that why you named it that?
I named it that because I was thinking about how lots of people think that being queer is a sin. Also, the idea came to me when I was listening to 03 Bonnie and Clyde, and it’s a lyric from the song.
That’s so cool because I love that song!!
Me too!! Beyoncé is a goddess!
Is that how you normally name your series, with song lyrics and stuff?
They usually come organically through different channels like song lyrics, but sometimes they just come to me.
It’s just, Do You Remember? reminds me of that bomb Michael Jackson song with Eddie Murphy in Ancient Egypt and Rebellion Isn’t Real sounds like the name of an indie-rock single from some neighbourhood badass boyband.
Hahahahaha!! That’s funny. I don’t even know – they just kinda happen!
And your photoshoots, how do they happen?
I like to conceptualise an idea most of the time, but sometimes they just happen out of spontaneous whims. I never really plan out the pics. The only one I’ve planned was All I Need in This Life of Sin because it was really important to me.
Let’s talk Nasty Nineteen. You’re 17, so was your friend 19?
It was her birthday that day! And it’s called Nasty Nineteen because it’s just kinda what people say.
Nasty ‘cos it’s your last teen year, even though teen years suck too.
Being 17 right now, how long have you been picture-taking?
I got my first camera when I was, like, 7.
Whoa so that’s like, a decade!
Yeah, a super long time! Well, I mean, I got a better camera now and I’m not just a 7 year old messing about!
How has your work morphed since then?
I guess it’s just changed very naturally. I haven’t forced it into a specific category and I try to keep with that. To keep with the notion that everything will fall into place.
Like fate and destiny.
I mean yeah but also no, not really.
Like I think we have to work for things because we can’t sit and wait for fate to give us what we could’ve achieved if we worked.
Whoa that’s so deep! Last but not least, how do you see yourself changing and morphing from now on?
Well, I just moved into my dorm and I’m just getting settled in –
Thank you! Anyway, aside from that I’m not entirely sure how I see myself changing. I think change in a person comes organically through their work ethic and their friends etc.
I’m sure you’ll change in a blossoming flower typa way.
Hahaha thank you so much! You are so sweet. ℘