We had the pleasure of chatting with artist and photographer Jai Lennard. This New Yorker spoke to us about early influences, breakdancing, communication, music and a funny thing with his hip-hop star cousin -
Tell us about what was cool about growing up in California's Bay Area - I grew up in San Jose, California which is just below San Francisco. Northern California is extremely special for its landscape. You can live the suburban or city life while having access to the beach, mountains, snow, forest and desert within a few hours drive in all directions. Access like this was special to me and my family because it allowed so much opportunity to be active -- which has shaped my outlook on life and the wellness of my body. Because of this outlook and appreciation to be constantly active, I also grew up dancing. One of the first forms of dance I learned was breakdancing. I listened to DJ Shadow, who is also from San Jose, for years practicing my moves with friends and beating competition at high school dances. Living in the Silicon Valley during the internet boom makes it even more special, considering where we are today in the world with ever growing tech startups. I've been around tech and tech talk my entire life and absolutely love to stay in the know, despite the fact I don't work directly in the industry. However, I have shot awesome tech like HTC phones, SONY, and Hewlett Packard.
Tell us how you got your start in photography and creative work! I grew up in a household filled with art. Books, paintings, statues, photos, and much more filled my house because my mother is a huge fan of African art. I've always had an appreciation and need to create things because of this. My first experience with photography was due to a girl who was rather well off at my school bringing a new camera to school. Being the young and rather forward girl that she was, she pushed the camera in my hands and asked me to take pictures of her and her friends hanging out. I obliged and was suddenly hooked. I then borrowed my moms camera, a 35mm automatic Olympus. I started constantly shooting friends, and by the time I graduated high school I owned my first professional camera which I took to college. In college I was focusing on Business and Psychology while minoring in music. All the while, I was constantly taking pictures of new friends and also got a gig shooting fashion shows, living in Atlanta the time, produced by a NYC company and producer. After just a year, I decided I needed to go abroad to study photography which lead me to believe it was the career for me. I left school in Atlanta and London and enrolled at The School Of Visual Arts in NY.
We've had the pleasure of seeing you in action at work! You've definitely got a vision and have great energy when on set. Tell us how communicating on-set is important. Communication is the number one asset you have as a creative. Being able to eloquently articulate what, how, when, and where you want your vision is so important because it often takes the help and collaboration of others. Being a California kid, I'm told I have a very easy-going and chilled attitude. Making people comfortable is the most important factor, otherwise I can't get the shots I want. The people I photograph are not models as I don't shoot fashion and therefore are likely to be inexperienced in front of the camera. A lot of being a photographer in this way is knowing also when to not take a photo and make time to talk and connect with my subjects. I often relate this to the musical theory of a "rest" being just as important as the bar with notes -- I played music from 4th grade all the way through college. Tell us about a funny/coincidental thing that happened with your work. Common (the rapper) is a cousin of mine through marriage. He was adopted into my family on my mom's side. Over the past decade of living in NY, my family has had a few family reunions which I have failed to attend because of work and being young and "on the grind" -- my family is extremely supportive, proud and understands. Because of this, I've failed to meet him on a familial capacity, as my other cousins and family hang with him and see him at shows. A few years back however, my roommate was producing a music video featuring Kid Cudi, Kanye West, and Common. He hired me to shoot stills on the set and I met Common, this extremely talented man who is influenced my music taste growing up, and it was really funny, coincidental, and awkward. "Um, hey . .. so my grandma says hello. We have a lot of family in common and I talk to your step dad a bit. I've unfortunately missed the reunions but thought I should say something now that we're here." Common's response, "You know Ralph and the fam?? Well I'll be dammed!"
If you met someone who wanted to get their start in a creative field, what would be the most important advice you could give? Make as much work as possible, don't stop, and don't overthink it. Making work in this way helps you produce a rigorous work ethic and allows you to more easily find the true diamonds within your body of work as you have more to choose from.
Like many of the other people we feature, you travel a lot for work and for pleasure - where is the best place you've ever visited? I've truly been blessed to have traveled so much over the last few years. More recently my favorite places have become Tokyo and Taiwan. The food is absolutely amazing and that's the thing I appreciate most about traveling -- eating.
What is your favorite season of the year, what is the best thing about New York in your favorite season? Fall has always been my favorite season. I love sweaters, light jackets, and layering. There's a calm about the city that is cozy and the color palette is so beautiful.
Let's talk about music - What is your favorite record, and why? Since I was in 1st grade, I wanted to play the saxophone. My dad played a lot of music growing up and I guess I just immediately fell in love with jazz. Finally in the 4th grade they got me my own saxophone, I joined the school band and they also got me private lessons. I continued to play in school through college and although photography is now my first love, for creative and survival purposes, I still pick it up here and again. For these reasons, my favorite album is by Cannonball Adderley, an alto sax player who made an album called Somethin' Else. It features greats like Miles Davis, Hank Jones, Sam Jones, and Art Blakey. My favorite jazz tune ever is on this 6 track album and is titled One For Daddy-O. It's my theme song.
Talk about the watch you got, what do you like most about it? I got the ET0T watch. It's really an amazing time piece. What I love about it most is that it's so versatile with what I'm doing or wearing. The deep blue face is classic and allows me to dress up or down without the watch taking over as an accessory--it's the perfect accent to my wardrobe. It also doesn't just tell me the time, but the date, day, and how close I am to sunrise or night fall. All these instruments lay under a gorgeous large face, which is something I'm honestly not accustomed to, but fits my wrist just right. I'm a huge "details" guy. I love handing over my watch to friends so they can see it, in which when they turn it over they notice that the back of the face is clear, allowing you to see the automatic movement of the watch working. Easy to use, classic, comfortable and versatile--I picked the right one.
If you could go anywhere, any time past/future/present - where would you go and why? Woodstock Festival, 1969. It would be amazing to be surrounded by people who share a love of music, ideals of freedom and liberation from injustice in such a mixed up and hateful time. To see Jimi Hendrix perform on stage and be brought to another place through his talents along with the other amazing performers at that time would be something I could never put a price on. Experiences like that define who people are, were, and become. Jai Lennard is an artist and commercial photographer based in New York City. His commercial work has him traveling the world making portraits of people of interest. Artists, healers, dancers, businessmen/women and people with interesting perspectives are all fair game when it comes to Jai's work. You can keep up with him on instagram - @jaibirdn