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.
In March last year Jamil made history again when he launched the Asia Premiere of American Royalty at HG Street, India's premiere Street fashion and Culture Festival. This was a followup to the World Premiere of American Royalty presented in the fall of 2017 at Le Fix Gallery in Copenhagen. The solo show features a selection of Jamil’s most iconic portraiture work, including photographs of Jay Z, Diddy, Mary J. Blige, D’Angelo, Outkast, Nas, Beastie Boys, and A Tribe Called Quest. The show has gained global interest and continues to travel so stay tuned for updates to follow.
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 in both have and have not sections of Copenhagen, providing them with photographic training to help them see beyond the limitations of their world, gain conscious and critical eyes to society and equip them with the skills and perspectives necessary to overcome the challenges of today.
Jamil currently lives in Copenhagen, frequents New York, Chicago and London and still has a weak spot for Jamaica.
You can follow his visual explorations here and on instagram @jamilgshere
2019 Contact High, The Annenberg Space for Photography, group show.
2018 American Royalty, G360, Jakarta, Indonesia, Solo show.
2018 American Royalty/Golden era, CIFF, Copenhagen Fashion Festival, Denmark, solo show presented by BLS Hafnia.
2018 American Royalty, HG Street, Making history at Indias first Street Culture art and culture festival, New Delhi, India, solo show.
2017 American Royalty, Le Fix Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark, solo show.
2014 Selling Dreams, V&A museum collection, traveling group exhibition w. Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and Jurgen Teller. Auckland, NZ.
2013 Selling Dreams, V&A museum collection, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney. Group exhibition w. Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and Jurgen Teller.
2013 Yard Work, showcasing selects works from Jamaica 1993 - 2003, Miss Lily’s, New York. Solo show.
2013 Selling Dreams, Aberdeen, Scotland. Group exhibition w. Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and Jurgen Teller.
2012 Jamaica 50, London, England. commemorating Jamaica’s 50th independence , group exhibition.
2012 Follow the Hummingbird, commemorating Jamaica’s 50th independence, Yard gallery, Copenhagen. Solo show.
2011 Real New York, select works from NY 1999 - 2009, Martin Asbaek Gallery at Copenhagen Photo Festival. Copenhagen. Group show.
2011 Selling Dreams, V&A museum collection, Light House Gallery, Wolverhampton. Group exhibition w. Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and Jurgen Teller.
2011 Japan, the beautiful and myself, The last Gallery, Tokyo. Group exhibition w. Rita Ackermann, Harmony Korine, Mark Gonzales, Spencer Sweeney and more.
2010 Christmas exhibition, Martin Asbaek Gallery, Copenhagen. Group show.
2009 Anonymous, Scope Miami. Group show w. Dave Ellis, Rostarr and Ramellzee.
2008 The Hustle, The powerhouse Arena, Brooklyn, New York, group exhibition w. Ricky Powell, Ron English and Quick.
2005 TEN, Group exhibition w. Brent Rollins, Cincinnatti Arts Center.
2005 Creation stepper, Buck 15, Miami. group exhibition w. Jose Parla, Dave Ellis, Chris Mendoza, Mike Ming og Rostarr.
2004 Outta Darkness, Nom De Guerre”, the old Black Panthers Head Quarters, New York. Solo show
2003 Nueva, curated film festival”, Museum Laforet, Tokyo. group exhibition w.. Atom Agoyan, Harmony Korine og Spike Jones.
2002 If not now, New York Urban Arts museum. group exhibition.
2002 Connect 4, ASR, San Diego. group exhibition
2001 Ass n’ Titties, Houston Gallery, Seattle. Duo show w. Todd James.
2000 Endless Horizon, Municipal Arts Society, New York. Collaboration w. ORFi
1998 Forty years of YSL, New York. collab w. Kaws.
1998 Back to Back, 407 Gallery, New York. Duo show w. Rostarr
1998 Fashion Photography of the 90’s, V&A Museum, London. group exhibition.
1985 Graffiti, Main Library in Gentofte, Denmark, group exhibition w. TMT
All photographs and video © Jamil GS unless other specified
Select book and catalogues:
Contact High, Penguin Random House, 2018
I-D Covers 1980- 2010, Taschen 2011
Supreme: Rizzoli, 2010
Jamaica Absolutely, Hansib books, UK 2010
Maharishi: Disruptive Pattern Material, UK 2005
Outta Darkness, Made & Jamil GS, 2005
Five Boro’s, Premium Goods & Jamil GS, 2003
Supreme calendar, 2001
GS Stickups 2000, Hysteric Glamour & Jamil GS, 2000
YSL: Forty years of Creation, Dap 1998
Notable celebrities and personalities include Adina Howard / Ad Rock / Aidonia / Afrika Bambaataa / Alo Wala / AZ / Beastie Boys / Bow Wow / Chaka Khan / Christina Milian / Christian Bale / Chuck D / Colin Powel / D’Angelo / Da Brat / De La Soul / Donald Byrd / 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 / Large Professor / Mary J Blige / MCA / Mike D / Ms. Thing / Mystikal / Mystic Davis / Nas / Nicole Wray / Outkast / Prince Paul / Prince B / P.Diddy / Praz / Queen Latifah / Rza / Rae Kwon / Russel Simmons / Show Biz and AG / Spike Lee / SWV / Todd Terry / Tifa / Usher / Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def
Clients include Adidas / Avirex / Anhauser Busch / Alo Wala / BLS / Campari / Converse / Hysteric Glamour / KITH / 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
International publications include Arena / Arena Homme Plus / Berlingske / Big / Bitchslap / Black Book / Complex / Dazed and confused / Details / Dune / ELLE / Esquire / Euroman / The Face / The Fader / Harpers Bazaar / i - D / Interview / Index / Intersection / Jane / King / Mass Appeal / Mademoiselle / Nectar / New York Times / T Magazine / The Times India / Nordic Man / Purple / Paper / Q / Rolling Stone / Richardson / Raygun / Relax / Spin / Sleazenation / Source / True / Trace / Tokion / Vibe / Visionaire