Jammi York in Ukraine, 2017
Jammi York is a New York-based photographer who captures a broad range of subjects and styles, from bands and celebrities to photojournalism and street photography. Most recently Jammi's work has been featured on the cover of Constant Elevation's newly-released Freedom Beach 7" EP. With roots in the NYHC community, Jammi has been in the scene since the 1980s and I was stoked to get to chat with him about his work. Read on to learn more about Jammi York.
1) Where are you from and where do you live now?
I'm originally from Jamaica, Queens. I live in Rockaway Park (Queens) now.
2) How did you first get into photography? Were there any specific genres you started out shooting or preferred to shoot early on?
I got into photography when I lived in New Haven, Connecticut. It wasn't serious, though. I'd borrow a camera from a friend who had a SLR, I think it was a Pentax K1000. Later I bought a cheap point-and-shoot. No specific genres. Just walking around taking blurry shots.
Judge at Webster Hall, NYC, 2013
3) What’s your connection to hardcore/punk, specifically NYHC? Did this influence your photography at all?
I got into hardcore and punk through skateboarding. Before that I was really into classic rock, new wave (it was the early 80s) and metal. There was a lot of jazz being played at home, as well. I don't think that it influenced my photography until years later because it really wasn't a thing for me back then. Maybe it did. I wasn't that much into photography. I was more into partying and going to shows. But now when I look at photos by Brooke Smith and Lou Di Bella (Sub-Zero) I really wish I did take more photos of the scene and of shows. I regret that sometimes.
4) At what point did you start shooting live shows and band portraits? What has been your go-to gear setup for shooting live shows?
I got really into shooting live shows and band photos around 2007-2008 (I think). I shoot with just about anything I can get my hands on. Makes no difference to me.
5) Do you prefer to shoot film? What would you say the pros and cons of shooting film are?
I prefer it in most situations. Aesthetically I like it more. I feel more comfortable with it. I guess the con is that it can be pretty expensive. But I roll my own film and process it myself, saving thousands. I do shoot digital though but not nearly as much as film. Some projects, the images are needed as you shoot.
6) I heard you worked at Z-Bar back in the day. What was that place all about and its connection to the NYHC scene?
Z-Bar was pretty awesome. It would get crazy. I remember one night (must have been a Sunday or Monday) that some nurses from Beth Israel Medical Center came by to see where all the people needing stitches kept coming from. Place was only open a few years. A lot of hardcore bands and people from the scene hung out there. Touring bands would stop by.
7) Did you play in any bands?
Yes I did. My first band, Daddy Warbucks, played our first show opening up for GG Allin at the Brick 'N' Wood Club in New Haven, CT. I think it was 1988.
8) You've shot in Ukraine on the front lines of war, that’s pretty fucking hardcore. How did that come about? Any standout incidences?
I was there five times. The first time I was there I was scared as shit. I was thinking to myself, "What have I gotten myself into?" It can get pretty gnarly. It's actual trench warfare. I've always loved photojournalism and conflict photography. I never, ever, in all my years, thought that I would be going to a conflict. I was going to Kiev and Kharkiv to visit a friend and I asked her if she knew anyone that could bring me to the east. Before I left I applied for a press pass and credentials and I was approved shortly after. I met up with a fixer when I arrived and it was off to the races the next day. Running sucked.
9) You have an impressive portfolio of high profile celebrity portraits. How did you get involved with this type of work? Any particular celebrities you enjoyed working with the most?
I stumbled on it, actually. Was never my intention to start shooting portraits of celebs. I mean, I did a few shoots with people I knew who were actors, musicians, etc. But I didn't think that I would be doing it on the regular. I got a phone call from someone I knew saying the media company they shot for was looking for another photographer. And I was trying to get the fuck out of working in bars. Did that for more than twenty five years and I was sober for a few years at that point, and working full time as a photographer was what I wanted to do. I think one of my favorite people to photograph was Norman Lear. But there are a few others, too. But he's way up there. But my main passion is photojournalism.
10) In addition to music, portraits, street photography, and photojournalism, you also shoot a lot of women. Is there a larger message you’re trying to convey there?
I like women.
11) Rumor has it you go by the nickname "Ziggy." What's the story behind that?
Yeah, that's a nickname. I forgot who gave me that. I'm back to Jammi now (pronounced "Jamie").
12) What music have you been listening to lately?
A lot of downtempo, breakbeat and chillout vibes. I still listen to hardcore and metal. My Spotify is a mess.
13) You shot the cover of Constant Elevation's "Freedom Beach" EP. Can you talk a little more about this photo and how it wound up being used for the EP? Was it something you shot specifically for the record, or was it something you had shot before already?
Yeah, it's a photo I took on Rockaway Beach. Just a few blocks from my house. It was taken for the record. Sammy [from Constant Elevation] saw it on my Instagram and he liked it and asked if he could use it.
Constant Elevation Freedom Beach 7" EP
Cover photo by Jammi York
Product photo by Veronika Reinert
14) What projects are you working on now? Where can people see your work? Anything specific you'd like to promote?
I've got some ideas mulling around in my head. Some places I want to go and shoot, and things I'd like to document. I guess my website and Instagram. I'm about to retool my website. I haven't worked on it for about two years. I'm pretty lazy about that.