Photography, which once began as a side hustle, can now officially be added to the the multi-hyphenate Jeremy Pope’s already-stacked résumé. The Tony, Grammy, and Emmy-nominated actor who is primarily recognized for his talents as a thespian and vocalist, appearing on Broadway in Ain’t Too Proud and Choir Boy and on screen in Hollywood and Pose, has spent the better part of a decade becoming a skilled photographer—and in a new photo essay that he shot and creative directed, he reveals his skills as a wardrobe stylist as well.
When he was 17, Pope moved from his hometown in Florida to New York City to study acting; as a broke college student, he became what he playfully refers to as “DIY king,” taking headshots for fellow students in the dorm at $25 a pop. “At one point, it was something I was ashamed to say because not only was I cutting hair in the dorms, I was taking pictures, I was trying to find ways to bring in some money on top of training to be an actor,” he told W over the phone. “But once I started to embrace this creative side and share it with people, I began to love it. That’s when I started to shoot more and that became my bread and butter when I was auditioning right after I graduated.”
Pope then moved on from headshots, even though he enjoyed being introduced to a bevy of creatives at varying points in their professional journeys through shooting. Soon, he was photographing new faces for various casting and modeling agencies, conceptualizing and styling shoots for up-and-coming actors and models. To this day, the actor keeps a camera with him on set. “I always have my camera around, taking pictures and creating moments and memories to look back,” he said. “I like to share them with people and bring them in in a more intimate way.”
Since his early days as a side-hustle photographer, Pope has turned the lens toward his family, whom he visited in Orlando during the Covid-19 pandemic, and made the subject of his latest project. An idea struck him—why not take those photography skills he has honed for 10 years and incorporate them into a project that would capture memories of his parents, grandparents, and family friends? And thus, the following project—a photo essay called “Generations,” in which Pope’s father, Ty, and grandfather, Nathaniel, are featured prominently—was born.
With his friend and creative partner, Silas Vassar III, serving as DP, or “a second pair of eyes” Pope said, he traveled to Florida to capture “to catch the most honest moments, real moments” with his family. In order to reflect that authenticity, Pope didn’t tell his grandfather that he planned to take photos. Instead, he and his father rolled up to his grandfather’s house, clippers in hand to cut his grandfather’s hair (which Pope’s father usually does), and camera in tow. “Why are you wearing that blazer? Why are you all dressed up?,” his grandfather asked, referring to the actor’s checkered Gucci blazer and pants decorated with the label’s signature double-G logo.
Most of the photos in the essay are black and white images, an aesthetic choice that Pope felt would suggest something timeless and classic. “It makes you look at what’s happening in the image, and you don’t have color to distract you,” he explained. “I really wanted to show something very classic and true to me, which is showing Black men who have raised me and pushed me to be the best version of myself, and continue to do that.”
There is a softness captured in Pope’s images included in the collection. Signifiers of masculinity—sneakers, cars, a barbershop chair—are cushioned by the warmth radiating from the smiles on the faces of the Pope family. “My dad was a pastor and a body builder, so the communities he was a part of are rooted in hyper-masculinity,” Pope explained. “Being the artist, creator, and member of the LGBTQIA community that I am, I have a different experience with my dad than what, sadly, a lot of men have, where maybe it’s disconnected. We’ve had our moments, but we’ve really prided ourselves on trying to love and understand each other unconditionally. He was the father that allowed me to play ball, and allowed me to make music and play with Barbies and express myself, so I am fortunate to have someone who is constantly working to further understand me. I realize how valuable that is.”
Pope said he’s always had an affinity for fashion and the story one can tell with their sartorial choices, thanks to his grandmother, who “always made sure I had something to stunt on them with” by dressing him to the nines since he was a toddler. Collaborating with Gucci for this particular project, therefore, was a no-brainer. “In the Black community, we have such a tie to designer things. Black people spend their money at Gucci because it makes us feel good and it makes us look good—whether you’ve got just the Gucci belt or a whole outfit that’s Gucci,” he said. “I wanted to tie that into this Black narrative and experience with these men. That was why I specifically wanted to style us in Gucci as much as I could.”
Styling the photos was fairly easy—save the slight adjustments he made to find some Gucci looks that could fit his dad’s body-builder physique—and reflected the actor’s reverence for Black culture, down to the shoes. “The Air Force Ones are a big nod to the culture,” he said.
As he grew up in the aughts, Pope remembers himself as sometimes cringeworthy but generally stylish for the era. “I was very skinny growing up, and they always called me string bean. Every summer, my dad would compete in a body-building show in New York, and my mom would give me money that month so when I got to New York I would shop on 34th Street at Jimmy Jazz,” he remembered. “I was buying 3XL polos in all the colors. I wanted to have a pair of shoes that matched with every polo. There was a kid in middle school or high school who was like, ‘Yo Jeremy, I’ve never seen you wear the same pair of shoes.’ It was a compliment,” Pope said with a laugh. “My parents and grandparents, especially growing up in the church, are very aware of style, so from an early age I became aware of the power of fashion.”
Pope has ambitions to take this project a step further by photographing and styling his grandmother, and collecting family recipes. The ultimate goal is to produce a coffee table book, a collection of memories he can give to each member of his family. “My dad is and has become my best friend, he’s really ride or die for me. I appreciate him so much, being a leader and guiding me, so this was a thank you for that,” he said. “We’re constantly encouraging each other and saying to just do what the Popes do. It’s all about representing the family name, so hopefully we represent it right,” the creative director said.
Source: W Magazine