Jasper Soloff on Photographing Queer Joy: “We’ve All Had to Find Our Own Voice”
It’s not hard to see why: his photography is instantly recognizable – bright colors, playful composition, a sense of realness with his subjects. And Soloff does this intentionally. He grew up as a dancer and switched to photography after getting hooked while taking an introductory class at Sarah Lawrence College. From there, he attended Central Saint Martins in London, and eventually found his voice as an artist by capturing celebratory and authentic moments with queer people.
“When I work with someone who’s queer, there’s a connection there no matter what.
As a queer man himself, Soloff seeks to bring identity to the forefront of the frame. One of his first breakthroughs was photographing the cast of “Pose,” and ever since, Soloff has let queer joy and identity shine in his work.
In honor of Pride Month, we chatted with Soloff about where he finds inspiration, what it’s like working with queer clients, and what Pride means to him. Read on ahead.
POPSUGAR: So much of your work is vibrant and gauzy; it almost has this ethereal, vintage quality. Where do you draw inspiration for your photography?
Jasper Soloff: I think that the inspiration really comes from what my interests are, visually, which is that I like joyful work. I’m very much interested in color and set design and expression. Color is such an interesting and motivating factor for me in the way that we see each other and the way we express ourselves. Every choice of color means something. I’m personally drawn to color, and I’m personally drawn to people that are “out there” and want to be loud and proud – especially if they’re people that are often overlooked in society.
Mj Rodriguez. Image Source: Jasper Soloff
PS: I know that you mentioned that you worked with the cast of “Pose” and a ton of other big names. Are there any that stand out?
JS: I think that [someone] that really stood out for me was Mj Rodriguez. There’s something so special about her as an artist and as a trans woman. She is so honest in her way of portraying herself, and I was really connected to that as an artist myself. It’s been really cool seeing myself reflected in the talent that I’m working with. The type of authenticity that they bring to the table when they show up to a shoot is really beautiful.
Another person that made me go, “Oh sh*t, this is pretty amazing,” was working with Gigi Hadid on the Maybelline campaign. It was really special. I really appreciated her joy and her ability to move on set and just create such amazing dynamic movement.
PS: Speaking of Gigi Hadid, I know you’ve directed several music videos and a Maybelline campaign. Is there a big difference between shooting still photography and directing video?
JS: I feel like there is a difference in that when you’re shooting a commercial and directing a music video, there’s definitely more to think about. It’s more of an expansive version of the world I’m creating within the photos. I have more resources, often – like, I’m able to create sets and do some more intense color-blocking. It’s also really fun to direct movement on video, because obviously you’re able to choreograph and do dynamic things that you can’t do in a still image and I really enjoy that part.
Gigi Goode. Image Source: Jasper Soloff
PS: Especially since you have that dance background.
JS: Totally! All the things that I do really are engaged in identity. Even movement. I think the way someone moves – it could just be pedestrian movement or it can be obviously physical dancing – it all has a root in identity, and I think I’m really interested in that and the way each of us portrays ourselves. I think that’s really special.
PS: What’s it like working with queer subjects?
JS: That’s my favorite thing to do, because it feels like you’re at home when you’re working with someone within your own community. We’ve all had to, as queer people, find our own voices and almost find our own homes because we’re not always accepted in society, unfortunately. When I work with someone who’s queer, there’s a connection there no matter what, especially [when they’re] a queer artist, because that’s another similarity. I think a lot of queer people go to art to express themselves because they might not be able to express themselves honestly within their community because of bigotry and hatred.
Raveena. Image Source: Jasper Soloff
PS: How does being queer impact your work?
JS: For me, being queer impacts my work in that it adds a certain level of passion to what I do. I’m always thinking about that within my work. I’ll often really go for artists that are queer and want to work with someone that is queer because I feel like I’m able to more honestly represent them. There’s a certain excitement with working with someone from your own community, and it’s a passion of mine to show honest representation in media.
“I always try to be confident in my own visual sense.”
That’s a big part of why I wanted to become a commercial artist – being able to express queerness within my work and have people see it and be like, “Oh this is great, let’s celebrate this.” Because a lot of work is dark nowadays. Not only dark in the lighting and the color, but also dark in the subject matter. It’s almost hard to describe, because it’s so innate. It’s also hard to describe in a visual sense, because obviously queerness can mean anything.
A big part is hiring and working with queer people on my sets. I’ll try to hire a queer producer or hire a queer lighting technician. I think especially the makeup artists, as well, and the stylists, a lot of the work is derived from queer artists. The teams that I’m creating with are people that are queer, and I just love doing that because the work just reflects our merging identities, and I think it’s really beautiful.
Rickey Thompson. Image Source: Jasper Soloff
PS: Do you have any tips for inspiring queer photographers or artists out there?
JS: Honesty is really important to me and my work, and I always try to be confident in my own visual sense and not let other people drive me towards a different vision. For example, if a client really wants someone that is doing super dark colors and very moody stuff – for me, that doesn’t bother me. They probably won’t hire me for my work, but that’s okay because I’m really innately interested in brightly colored things. Stay confident in your vision, because the reason why they’ll hire you for something is because you have something that’s different and special and not being afraid to step outside the box or be yourself in fear of losing other jobs. Because at the end of the day, I think it’s so much more special to be hired for what you love than to be hired for following a trend.
Symone. Image Source: Jasper Soloff
PS: What does Pride and Pride Month mean to you? Has that definition changed at all in recent years?
JS: I think that Pride Month is especially important this year because of the political state of the world. Pride is important now more than ever because it’s a reminder of how important it is to get together and be proud of our community and not let [political] officials like [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis dictate who we can love and how we can express ourselves and just erase our history and culture. It’s a reminder to be loud about our identity and be proud of it and just showcase who we are because it’s so easy to fear-monger nowadays. It’s just important that we say no to that and allow true representation to shine through, because the queer community is so beautiful and we offer so much. So we should be celebrated.
PS: I love that idea of “we offer so much.”
JS: We do! It’s easy for people to fear-monger. Pride is great in that way because it sets a portion of time apart for people to be like, “This is really important. Here’s what we offer the community and the world.”
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.