An Empowering New Gaze in Commercial Photography

Photographer Jass Durhal uses electric, colorful hues, and deep, eye-locking connection to empower the people in front of her lens.

Whether she’s photographing a campaign for Nike or making personal portraits like “Soul – Gangsta Grandma,” Durhal elevates her sitters with passion, strength, empathy, and spirituality.

The self-taught, Detroit born, LA-based photographer began her career ten years ago and quickly learned on the go. She excelled through DIY ethos and with the help of generous mentors who inspired her, refining her impeccable use of lighting and nuanced attention to how color can impact psychology and mood. Enamored by these qualities, we invited Durhal to join our community.

The Luupe speaks with Durhal about her exciting career, her influences, and her belief in photography-as-celebration.

The Luupe in conversation with Jass Durhal

A Real Sisterhood © Jass Durhal

The Luupe: Why is color theory so important to your work and process?

Jasmine Durhal: Color like many things in photography and light has a spectrum of dark & light colors. These elements can also play into the emotions of how an individual will digest the art. I love bold bright colors because they really wake up your senses when you view it, making my work more of an experience.

The Luupe: On your blog, you talk a lot about the importance of Chakra. How does this influence how you think about photography?

Durhal: The Chakras play a big part in my personal work; they normally represent the feeling I’m trying to portray in an image. For example, if I’m using a bold red I normally am bringing a sense of stability and strength to the image.

The Luupe: How does that play out in your commercial work?

Durhal: If a client is looking to go in a specific mood I do reference the chakra colors, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. That’s the thing about color I love most once you get to know it it’s almost like its own language the body and mind understands.

Throat Chakra © Jass Durhal

The Luupe: Much of your practice celebrate Black women and their stories. 

Durhal: My career started photographing Black women, they were my support and still are in life and in this industry. It’s important for me to amplify the Black woman right now and forever because we really are the least thought of not only in America but on the planet. Women with darker complexions are often expected to deal with or considered to be the stronger amongst all women when we are just as human, just as real as every other woman walking the earth. Me focusing my lens on Black women is me seeing the Black woman and me seeing myself.

The Luupe: As a self-taught photographer, what was your experience like early on?

Durhal: I’ve been shooting since about 18, so early on my focus was learning as much as I could. I started shooting in the studio around the age of 19, and have been learning and growing since. When you’re self-taught, you realize the learning doesn’t stop, there’s always something new to learn that I didn’t know about.

Personal work © Jass Durhal

The Luupe: How did you learn what you needed to?

Durhal: YouTube was my University when I was younger – I would refer to how photographers were shooting what tools they were using. I also just made things work, I started young and didn’t have much of a budget with equipment so working with what I had helped me learn the way light works and how to make an image interesting without the things we think we need.

The Luupe: Did you have any mentors to help guide you along?

Durhal: I have and I’m super thankful for them both are black women. Oriana Koren (photographer and co-founder of the authority Collective /photo rights) Was and still is a huge help when I moved here to LA she helped with me organizing my work for commercial bookings. Then there’s Dana Scruggs – the super talented NYC photographer. I’ve known her and her work for years and I’ve assisted her on a few of her sets.

The Luupe: We’ve been following their careers for a while now and pretty much everything they do inspires us. What was the biggest learning experience/piece of knowledge etc that helped get you where you are today?

Durhal: I remember going to photo reviews and getting feedback from different producers. The last one I went to I received some solid advice about making color my focus. At the time my book was colorful but it also had pieces of my work from the past which did not have color. That advice didn’t get me a job or a lead but it led me into a world for my work. I was able to really get a vision for where I wanted to go.

© Jasmine Durhal for Adidas

The Luupe: What was your first commercial shoot?

Durhal: My first commercial shoot was 4 years ago for Nike through VSCO. This was a pivotal point in my career.

The Luupe: How did it come about? What was your experience like?

Durhal: I was using the VSCO app daily just uploading my work. To start off the year of 2017 they decided to collaborate with Nike for the Force is Female Campaign. I was able to shoot friends in the sneakers and women that were a force from my perspective. It’s really been a journey since then and I’m super thankful for it mostly because of the relationships grown through that one opportunity.

2018 Braduase Portraits at JDI HQ for Nike © Jass Durhal

The Luupe: Your “Gangsta Grandma” photo is amazing. What’s the story behind it?

Durhal: Haha! So gangsta grandma is a Cuban woman. I went to Cuba in 2017 and was documenting a friend, she was posing for many people on the street so I also decided to take her portrait ( I considered her gangsta because she had a fee per portrait.) She was wise, as you can see in her eyes. The original name was actually “Soul” I feel looking at this portrait you can see her spirit. I changed the name inspired by a friend to “gangsta grandma” because of her almost judgmental stare as if she’s going to tell you to eat everything off your plate lol.

Cuba “gangsta grandma” © Jass Durhal

The Luupe: On the subject of getting paid what you’re due, in an Instagram post, you mention how when you were first starting out, one of your biggest insecurities was pricing and negotiating your rates. How did you get more confident doing this?

Durhal: This is something I feel you have to do over and over again until it feels fluid. Asking for what your worth is a growing process that I believe starts with your mindset. You have to know what it takes to produce what you need to creatively and sometimes even that takes time to figure out. The biggest thing for me was the thought of missing an opportunity because my rates were too high or too low.. Talking with your community and fellow women that do what you do really helped guide me in the direction of finding my rate and being comfortable talking about it.

The Luupe: You recently created a tip sheet for photographers – this is so necessary right now! How are photographers responding so far?

Durhal: So far people have felt this really gave them an idea of where to start and sometimes that’s all you need. This is what I needed at one point and I’m driven to make this
kind of information more accessible and not a secret. I know what it’s like to feel lost in the numbers game I believe it’s a healthier industry when people talk more about
getting paid openly.

Adidas Original Superstar Lookbook © Jass Durhal

The Luupe: Do you prefer working in the studio or on location? 

Durhal: Honestly, if I’m able to do both for a shoot I prefer both. LA has such amazing landscapes and scenery. But I also love the controlled lighting you have in a studio, it’s more consistent and works better if you’re shooting with a large team.

The Luupe: Congrats on your work with SeeInBlack! Does participating in the collective change how you think about your work and photography in general? 

Durhal: Thank You!! SeeinBlack is such a strong movement. I really am honored to know so many of these creatives and have met them and also walk this bold journey together. Unity
is such a strong force and it really made me realize how much talent we have united and individually.

The Luupe: What excites you most in photography and the photo industry right now? What do you hope or wish would change?

Durhal: I’m excited to see more Black creatives getting booked and busy! I’ve been watching so many of us for years work and stay committed despite the lack of opportunities given to us. So I’m really just excited to see dreams and visions come to fruition. What I would like to see even more of, is women photographers (Black women) shooting the big campaigns and magazine covers more often, not just every once in a while.

The Luupe: What do you hope will change?

Durhal: I want to see Black photographers with contracts with brands like Canon and Nikon. I want Black people to be seen in the industry-standard as talented photographers not just Black photographers.