JAMIL GS is the Godfather of the Ghetto Fabulous look, blending street style and attitude with high fashion to flawless effect in his photographs and film work. For more than two decades, the Danish-American artist has played a pivotal role in shaping the look of Hip-Hop music and culture, creating works that have been exhibited alongside the likes of Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.
Born in Copenhagen in 1971 to Sahib Shihab, one of the founding members of Bebop jazz and Maiken Gulmann, Jamil’s multicultural heritage imbued him with a profound sensitivity to the extraordinary complexity of human existence. Adroit at code switching, Jamil studied fine art and wrote graffiti until a bust at age 16 ended his writing career. He turned to photography, discovering the ways in which he could represent his generation coming of age, through the medium.
Captivated by the jazz album covers in his father’s collection and the Blue Note photography of Francis Wolff, Jamil consciously began to bring those elements to his work. After his father passed in 1989, Jamil decided to move to New York, his father’s hometown, where Shihab made his name as a musician, studying at Julliard, and playing with Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis.
Jamil followed the thread from jazz to Hip Hop, using the music of the people to disrupt and reimagine life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. His photography career took off as he seamlessly blended the boundaries between art, music, and fashion in the emerging Hip Hop scene. His first music industry client, Payday Records, hired him to shoot promotional photos for a then-unknown MC from Brooklyn, who went by the name Jay Z; they hopped onto someone else’s yacht on the docks to create a series of aspirational images that would prove to be prophetic.
In September 1994, i-D magazine published his first works, portraits of Russell Simmons and Chuck D, in an issue dedicated to International Street Fashion. He went on to shoot for seminal youth mags like the Face, Trace, and Vibe, crafting the look that became known as “Ghetto Fabulous” worldwide. The look, which cast artists and models from the streets, was an intoxicating combination of strength, dignity, and glamour that quickly found mainstream success as Jamil’s subjects paired the hottest local trends from Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, Queens, and Kingston, Jamaica, with the latest prêt-à-porter collections from Paris, Milan, and London.
Jamil lit his subject to sparkle, glow, and shine, driving people to tear his pictures out of magazines and stick them on the walls. Understanding the desire to have something more permanent. In 2000, Jamil launched the GS Stickups Calendar, a series of collaborations with Hysteric Glamour and Dune magazine, and later Supreme. Inspired by Harri Peccinotti’s work for the Pirelli Calendars, Vaughn Bodē’s cartoons, ‘70s Playboy magazines, and Marvel comics, GS Stickups featured multicultural models from streetcasting sessions in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, as well as Brazilian supermodel Adrianna Lima, creating an updated vixen aesthetic for the new millennium.
At a time when the industry made a hard delineation between fashion and music photography, Jamil blurred the lines with ease and grace, helping to craft a new lane. By 1997, the art world took note, when the Victoria and Albert Museum(V&A) in London purchased his works for the exhibit, Contemporary Fashion Photography, making him the youngest artist featured in the show. A year later, the V&A featured him alongside Mario Testino and Helmut Newton for Fashion Photography of the ‘90s, kicking his exhibition career into high speed. Jamil has exhibited in 20 shows over the intervening years, including with the V&A’s traveling show, Selling Dreams: 100 Years of Fashion Photography, alongside Avedon, Penn, Newton, Juergen Teller, and Edward Steichen.
This fall, Le Fix Gallery, Copenhagen, will present the world premiere of American Royalty, a solo show featuring a selection of Jamil’s most iconic work, including photographs of Jay Z, Diddy, Mary J. Blige, D’Angelo, Outkast, Nas, Beastie Boys, and A Tribe Called Quest.
In addition to collaborations with artists KAWS, Rostarr, and Todd “REAS” James, as well as commercial work for clients including Adidas, Campari, and Supreme, Jamil also pays it forward by giving back to the community. He works with Young Stringers, an innovative educational program for youth from disadvantaged sections of Copenhagen, providing them with photographic training to help them see beyond the limitations of their world and equip them with the skills and perspectives necessary to overcome the challenges of poverty.
Jamil currently lives in Copenhagen, frequents New York and London and still has a weak spot for Jamaica.
You can follow his visual explorations here and on instagram @jamilgshere
All photographs and video © Jamil GS unless other specified
Clients include Adidas / Avirex / Anhauser Busch / Alo Wala / Campari / Hysteric Glamour / Levi’s / Nike / Reebok / Supreme / Triple Five Soul / Def Jam / Delabel / Danish Film Institute / Danish Technological University / Electra Records / Eastwest Records / Epic records / For Life music / Gee Street / Gee Jam / Island Records / Jamaican Tourist Board / Polygram / Sequence Records / Sony Music / Soul Fire Records / Tommyboy Records / Universal Music / Ultra Records / Virgin Records / Warner Music / Wea / Wray & Nephews
Notable celebrities and personalities include Adina Howard / Aidonia / Afrika Bambaataa / Alo Wala / AZ / Beastie Boys / Bow Wow / Chaka Khan / Christina Milian / Christian Bale / Chuck D / Colin Powel / D’Angelo / Da Brat / Double / Faith Evans / Foxy Brown / Flo Rida / Ghost Face Killa / Geto Boys / Goldie / Groove Rider / Jay Z / John F Kennedy Jr. / Juvenile / Jermaine Dupri / Keysha Cole / Kelis / Mary J Blige / Ms. Thing / Mystikal / Mystic Davis / Nas / Nicole Wray / Outkast / Prince Paul / P.Diddy / Praz / Queen Latifah / Rza / Rae Kwon / Russel Simmons / Spike Lee / SWV / Todd Terry / Tifa / Usher / Yasiin Bey akaMos Def
International publications include Arena / Arena Homme Plus / Berlingske MS / Big / Bitchslap / Black Book / Complex / Dazed and confused / Details / Dune / ELLE / Esquire / The Face / The Fader / i - D / Interview / Index / Intersection / Jane / King / Mass Appeal / Mademoiselle / New York Times / The Times India / Nordic Man / Purple / Paper / Q / Rolling Stone / Richardson / Raygun / Relax / Spin / Sleazenation / Source / True / Trace / Tokion / Vibe / Visionaire