I first met my dear friend Jaja Hargreaves online about ten years ago, when we both had fashion blogs. We formed an online friendship and would email each other about our lives, connecting over imagery and the creative worlds that inspired us. When we finally met in person a couple of years ago, we developed a close friendship, and lucky for me I get to see her twice a year on my visits to London. Jaja is one of the most influential and creative people on Instagram, always sharing her passion and love for art and fashion by posting images that are both captivating and profoundly unique. Most of her images come from her own personal library, filled with rare and out-of-print titles that she collects. She has the most incredible eye and exquisite taste, and her feed always gives me a fresh and imaginative perspective. I interviewed Jaja about her thoughts on social media and her favorite photographs and book titles.
1. As I’m sure most active social media users would agree, you have one of the best (if not THE best) Instagram feeds filled with inspiring visual imagery. It is both meticulous in selection and well researched, and more often than not I see an image that is new to me. I know you have been collecting different genres of books for many years, but can you talk about how your interest in books and photography came about?
I grew up in a house packed with the most exciting array of books! Both my parents are avid readers and collect innumerable publications. From photography, art, travel writing, fiction, biographies and rare first editions or out of print books. I remember being a kid and having a very strong sensation that this was special. My mum recently told me that as a child I would never go anywhere without a book. I have a wealth of childhood memories associated with certain titles or images from art and photography books. In a society that has somewhat lost the ability to read or even research images, collecting books seems somewhat obsolete to a lot of people but continues to be one of my most cherished activities! My husband is an art director and artist who shares my obsession with photography books. His aesthetics are more pop than mine but we are both enthralled by surrealism!
2. When we first met online (ha ha) ten years ago, it was sort of the beginning of blogging and social media wasn’t a huge industry like it is today. Sharing images online felt incredibly special and personal, and they weren’t regurgitated over and over as they are now on Instagram and Pinterest. Do you feel the need to post images on your Instagram feed that are less commonly seen and not so ubiquitous?
I started using Instagram in 2011 and used to play around with the filters a lot! I liked it as a tool to record all manner of life and personal experiences but this phase didn’t last long. It quite quickly developed into a powerful platform to share images from my photography book collection. For me, Instagram is all about engaging with people who share my aesthetics and curating my own visual world. I don’t really have a methodology when I post but I always focus on visual quality. I do try to avoid images that have been over-shared and I tend to like posting less identifiable visuals. I always hope that my feed and some of its less familiar images can maybe act as a catalyst for curiosity.
3. You have an incredible library that I am in awe of, which includes every issue of Self-Service except for Issue One! I love that you are constantly on the lookout for it, which brings me to my next question: Are you constantly seeking out new publications, and/or do you have dealers who contact you when they’ve acquired a special collection that they think you might be interested in?
I now have issue 1 so my collection of Self Service is complete at long last! I keep a secret list of all my favourite second-hand and antique bookshops in London and Paris. I also regularly use abe books. I love the thrill of the chase and acquisition. I always have an ongoing list of publications I want to buy but having already filled an entire room in our flat with books, my husband and I have decided to try and be more judicious when making purchases. I don’t buy doubles or triples anymore!
4. Your knowledge of fashion, art, and photography has helped to establish your work as a visual researcher. You are mostly interested in these three subjects, with a heavy focus on the seventies and eighties. What is it about imagery from the past that you’re attracted to?
Oh la la, that’s such a complex question! I genuinely believe that photographers like Irving Penn, Guy Bourdin, Horst. P. Horst, Serge Lutens, Turbeville, Helmut Newton, Erwin Blumenfeld and Richard Avedon revolutionized the world of fashion photography. They played a decisive role in the history of photography and paved the way for many of today’s greats. Imagery today is not very innovative and appropriates from the past all the time. I often find current fashion photography dull and uninspiring.
5. Please share five of your favorite photographs:
Art by Sanja Ivekovic from the “Sweet Violence” series, 1970s. Ivekovic’s earliest pieces used fashion magazines, ads and personal photographs to dissect the particular role the media and consumerism play in subjugating and manipulating women. This was in the seventies and she was responding to life under a dictatorship in Yugoslavia. She is a crucial figure in post-war Eastern art, yet remains still relatively unknown. I find her fascinating…
Man Ray – Torso, 1936. A perfect surrealist commentary on the classical ideals of beauty.
Manuel Álvarez Bravo – La Buena Fama Durmiendo, 1938. I love the way the photographer taunts conventional ideas of how women should be represented (in those days) by hiding the thighs and waist but leaving the pubic region exposed. The setting is serene but the plants with horns indicate potential danger. The title “The Good Reputation Sleeping” is amazing!
Irving Penn regards the works of Issey Miyake. I’m literally obsessed with this book. Irving Penn engages with textures, surfaces, cloths, forms. There’s something almost tribal about this image.
Guy Bourdin at his best! This is a photograph created for Paris Vogue in 1979 to advertise the luxury linen company D. Porthault. You could never publish an image like this one in a fashion magazine today…