Interview with photographer Jeremiah OC Jahi


Jeremiah OC Jahi is an international award winning actor, photographer, filmmaker and playwright. Originally from the southern United States, Jeremiah spent the majority of his life living and working in New York City, but is currently based in Los Angeles. Jeremiah aims to center his work around Black bodies and Black culture, as well as around finding ways to visually highlight the least, last and the lost in the world. Jeremiah is a Marine Corps war veteran who holds an associate degree in photography from Los Angeles Valley College, a bachelor and a masters degree from The City University of New York: Brooklyn College and City College. Jeremiah has studied filmmaking at the School Of Visual Arts in New York City,  playwriting at the Echo Theater Company in Los Angeles, Creative Writing at Fordham University in their writing program for Veterans and he is a past fellow in the WGA Foundation year long television and film writing training programs for military veterans. 

  • How did it all start out? What inspired you to pursue photography as a profession (or as a hobby)?

Photography actually started for me while I was in the military. I was always in awe of the various architectural structures and the various landscapes in my military travels. As I met and took pictures with various people in these spaces and places it just added to my desire to study photography, although I did not until some years later. I trained at the graduate level in Sociology, so I am always interested in people and systems. I use my photography to specifically focus on the working class and the working poor. I think it is important to shine a light on these populations in a way that not only highlights their struggles, but their success as well.

  • Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

I am from a proud native of southwest Atlanta, Georgia and I am a Marine Corps veteran. I mention these two things because growing up in inner city Atlanta and joining the Marine Corps are the two dominating forces that shaped a large portion of who I am and what I value. Growing up in inner city Atlanta allowed me to understand how resilient the poor and the working poor can be. The same was learned spending a number of summers helping my mother work the fields of the family farm in rural Georgia. Joining the Marine Corps was a similar experience as it relates to my personal make up. With many military bases in small towns it really helped me get a better understanding of the needs and wants of those communities. As I became a photographer, writer, actor and filmmaker, I realized the lens in which I see through my viewfinder and my writing as well, have been heavily shaped by these worlds.

  • Who were your early influences?

As a person, my early life influences were my parents (especially my mother). My early photography influences were Gordon Parks, Nan Goldin and Brooklyn based photographer Jamal Shabazz. I enjoy photographers that use their work to tell a story, yet deal with the world of everyday people. I find that the photographers mentioned really had a caring eye that leaned heavily towards people whom I consider to be a part of the least, last and the lost in our society, which in part goes hand in hand with the poor and working poor. Overtime, LaToya Ruby Frazier has captured my spirit with her photography of the working poor in her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. Finally, the Black prophetic tradition as it relates to church and religious life was an early influence for me as well. While this has very little to do with photography as a craft, the Black prophetic tradition was a huge early influence on me as it relates to ethics, morals and values. All of which I bring to my photography.

  • What are the subjects that you enjoy photographing the most? What draws you to a particular scene or subject as a photographer?

Outside of photographing the working poor, I am working on projects where the subjects are ministers of storefront churches and a project where the subjects are Black military veterans. These are two communities that I have several creative projects geared towards. I am immediately drawn to populations that align in some way with caring and humility. Often, I find these people more interesting in their posture, body movement and facial make-up. Also, I like having older people as my subjects. Unknowingly, their faces offer more of a story than younger people. I love trying to capture the emotion that shows up on their faces. I am in the development stage of a project about this population.

  • What has been your most memorable experience related to photography?

My most memorable experience as a photographer happened in November 2022, when I was afforded the chance to go to Cabos Mexico to shoot. Being able to photograph the people of Cabos as they make yeoman-like efforts at making a living and living decent lives was a memorable experience. A close second was my first trip to New Orleans in the fall of 2021. I went there to work as an actor on the Hulu series MIKE (about boxer Mike Tyson) and during my free time, I grabbed my camera and immediately went to the bus station and near the New Orleans Superdome (now called Caesar Superdome) to document via photographs a large homeless encampment. I am always in awe of the resiliency of humans in what can be and often is dire circumstances.

  • What are some of the challenges of photography?

Well, considering I am very early in my journey as a photographer, the technical aspect of the craft is always an ongoing challenge as I continue to develop. Lol. Beyond that real obstacle, the other big challenge is really giving myself permission to tell the type of visual stories I want to tell through the medium of photography. While my main interest is grounded in observing Black bodies and culture through my own personal lens of the Black prophetic tradition, I have a fast growing thirst to observe and photograph people (and places) of other cultures, races and varying gender norms than mine. I find it to really be a spiritual thirst more than anything. I am constantly desiring to connect with people spiritually but through a visual platform such as photography. The problem is that I find myself constantly in an internal quagmire as it relates to my right and authority to photograph these worlds as a fully straight middle age Black American who wholeheartedly adheres to leaning into the Black prophetic tradition as my lens of choice to view the world. In short, I am often hesitant not because of skills, but due to worthiness. At the same time, I know I can excel in these worlds in wonderful ways. Anyway…we shall see. Lol.

  • How do you balance between what you see and making it as dramatic and beautiful as a standalone artwork?

Hmm. I make a sincere effort to approach any creative craft I am doing in the same way I approach my life, which is with a strong leaning on and towards small truth. Why small truth? Because for me attempting to perfect capital truth as a human is a road filled with folly. Aiming towards small truth allows me to simply aim to be better at what I am doing. That I can strive to do in a real way that can lead to a result I can actually see myself accomplishing. So, in my journey as a photographer I aim to keep my images, as much as possible, the way they were when I pressed down the shutter button. That is how I try to hold on to some notion of truth as it relates to photography. Having said that, I do and will use lightroom to make minimal adjustments to help my photography be more like I imagined in my mind.

  • What do you want to capture in your photographs? 

I try to pay attention to how I feel about what I am seeing and what my subject seems to be feeling. Then, I aim to capture a moment that in some way captures the emotion of what we both possibly are feeling. For me, the desire is to always capture a moment that will make the viewer of my work have an emotional response to it. The emotional response though is up to them obviously.

  • Are you always keeping an eye out for what’s new on the camera market?

I do not spend a lot of time keeping an eye out for what’s new on the market as it relates to cameras. To me, trying to constantly keep up with the latest camera (or photography gear accessories) is like trying to keep up with the latest cell phone (iphone or android). I am focusing on increasing my photography skills and learning as much as I can about the history of photography. Shooting and studying photography is far more important than the equipment.

  • What’s the post-production process like?

I am a firm believer of doing most of your work as a photographer in the shot and not post production. Having said that, I definitely use Lightroom and photoshop to help accentuate colors in my photos at times. Not to mention I use it to straighten out images.

  • Where do you want to take your photography career?

Ideally, I want to use my photography skills in all areas from commercial, portraits, conceptual and documentary photography. Overall, I think documentary photography and conceptual will be my go to areas. Those two areas allow me to use some of my other skills and areas of study to focus on what I want out of an image.

  • What’s the most difficult part of what you do and what advice would you give to up-and-coming photographers?

One of the many difficulties in any creative field is that unlike being in a field with a profession as a doctor, lawyer, etc. there is no clear path to success, which is another way of saying employment. Partially this happens because creative fields such as photography can be very subjective. So, as a photographer, I need my images to be liked, but often due to its subjective nature many people will not like my images. This is the challenge for a photographer who is seeking to practice the craft on a professional level and get paid to do so. With this in mind, my advice to an up and coming photographer would be to continue studying the history and craft of photography and to keep taking pictures. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. Taking pictures is all you have control over and it is a major part of the craft. Taking pictures is the main way to grow as a photographer, so regardless of who is looking at your images or buying your images the aim should be to focus on your skills as a photographer and get better. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.

  • Where can our readers find you online?

Currently, I can be found on Instagram. I just started using this page to post photographs of things that interest me. Also, I am in the process of reorganizing my website, which will be a one stop location for all my artistic endeavors as a photographer, filmmaker, writer and actor. It will be at once completed in early summer of 2023.