Style Observer

Shooting The Breeze With Savannah

Sunday, October 22, 2017

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On the phone from Los Angeles, where she's in the middle of moving into new digs with help from her mother, photog Savannah Baker is in Zen mode despite the frenetic pace of unloading boxes and sorting out house matters. We talk creative process, loving Jamrock, and the best spots to entertain vacationers in Portie.

Style Observer (SO): What is it about Portland that excites you?

Savannah Baker (SB): I am blessed to say Port Antonio is my home so I may sound quite biased, but it's my favourite parish. Most Jamaicans who have been there say the same. I love Portland's energy and lush jungle, as we get the most rain on the island. It is super-green with sea, rivers and hills. I find the people super-respectful and supportive. I am definitely my best self there, and truly happy.

SO: What is the allure of your photo subjects in Portland?

SB: I like to find people with individuality who own it, whether by how they dress, their features or even their vibe. Jamaicans are amazing at self-expression and making their own statement, which has inspired global fashion from the 50s, whether customising clothes with tailoring or shocking hair styles.

SO: In your photos, there is a mix of the raw beauty of the parish's environs and stylised fashion, as well as an obvious naturalistic feel to other images. What's your selection process for who appear in front of your camera? And how important is authenticity for you?

SB: I have two facets to my work. I love to portray the natural beauty I see, as well as to show the vibe of the person I am shooting, making them feel comfortable. I do this by speaking to them to make them feel at ease, and capture key moments. This is my more documentary-style work. A lot of my work is about colour and rawness. I find beauty in things that some people on the island may not see, as it's something they are used to. I started my career in fashion, so this is a big part of what I look out for. I often see someone on the street and ask for their number to rent their piece for a shoot. If I am documenting someone, it is usually because of their self-expression and if I am drawn to someone because of their amazing features, then I would style the image to create something fresh and inspiring.

SO: Where are the best places in Portland for shoots?

SB: I couldn't say specifically. I like using coloured textured walls, which you see everywhere on the island, to the clear springs. It depends on what I am looking for. For my photography it's all about natural light, using what was given to us rather then a set-up shoot with false lighting.

SO: If you're entertaining out-of-town visitors, where are the must-do spots in Portie that you bring them to?

SB: The list is endless. That's why I love Portland; there is so much to explore and do. From rivers like Swift River in Hope Bay to the Rio Grande river up in the hills,

Blue Lagoon to the many beaches. My favourite chefs to cater and have their own cook shops like Jason/Ocassa from Drapers, or restaurants like Sid's in Port Antonio and Solider Camp. If you're looking for something more boujie, of course Geejam.

SO: What's your favourite fashion editorial project that you've worked on in Portland, and what made it memorable in your book?

SB: A few shoots stand out for me... Suitcase Magazine's cover shoot, which featured Francine James from Pulse, this received a lot of attention around the world and hugely represents Jamaica with the flag. Secondly, a recent shoot for King Kong magazine featuring a friend Tevin (his family owns a jelly shop near me — you may have seen the fab press on his story). I have shot him over the years and he has now been signed around the world. I'm so excited for his road ahead as he has an incredible look and is very natural. Lastly, the Reggae Gold 2016 artwork. All of these shoots I shot, styled and creative-directed. I could not do any of these without the help of my brothers in Drapers. Big ups.

SO: Where does one run into someone like the eccentric jewellery maker Ninja Star, whom you managed to get a profile of in Vogue?

SB: Ninja Star is one of the most talented people I have ever come across. A true artist. I am so happy I was able to show him to in Vogue. You can't miss him on the road? He has the best style and is a walking showcase for his one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces. He just constantly creates. Whether carving wood/painting on clothes and of course, his one of-a-kind pieces. I met him over 10 years ago and we are friends for life. I am a huge supporter.

SO: What drives your passion to do creative projects here, outside of London and Los Angeles where you also work?

SB: One of my favourite things about creating in Jamaica, of course besides it being the most inspiring place for me and easy to shoot in such beauty, is that I really appreciate the hard work people do and being able to offer a new line of work to people that is not on the list of the main jobs. It's wicked to be able to bring big shoots to the island and support the community and teach them different roles to do, as, without them, the shoots could not go on.

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