GERALD JENKINS IMAGINES ‘AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD’
October 31, 2019
Two years ago I was invited by writer/editor Darius James to contribute a short story to Gerald Jenkins’ forthcoming photography book, It’s After the End of the World. While I’d never heard of Jenkins or seen his work, I figured if the author of the ground-breaking novel, Negrophobia, was involved, it would be a cutting edge project. That week Jenkins sent me a PDF of his photos to use as inspiration for writing the book’s title piece. From jump I was blown away by the work, which was obviously inspired by sources like Sun Ra and George Clinton, by Black power, style and fashion, by Dystopian visions and funky Dystopian philosophies.
Jenkins’ images shook me, because they were so Afro-Everything — haunting, scary, fly and, most of all, inspiring. After studying his work for a week, I was roused enough by the stunning images to complete the first draft of my story by the following week. The other contributors to the book included are Jake-ann Jones, Norman Douglas, Carl Martin and Sun Ra. Over the next two years I was in constant communication with Jenkins, as he shared the progress of the project until it was finally a reality.
Now completed, Gerald Jenkins’ It’s After the End of the World consists of over 300 premier reproductions of his images, and takes the viewer on a soulful rocket ride into the day after tomorrow, with all of its bugged-out possibilities. The book itself is a wondrous achievement, and a production that is as beautiful as it is otherworldly. Earlier this month I interviewed Jenkins via email to find out how it call came to be.
What was your introduction to Sun Ra? Did you ever meet him? What is your relationship with the Arkestra?
No, sadly Sun Ra passed in 1993 when I was developing my photographic practice on the other side of the world. I first met the Arkestra in 2003, at a music festival where they performed for two nights. They were incomparable to other musicians I had met before, no ego or distance, direct communication was in flow. It made me think extensively about how they create music with their breath as opposed to just their hands. In 2009, I met them again at another festival and picked up the conversation from years previous. They were coming back to the UK in a few months and I was asked to help create the stage sets. I also brought some props to their performance and so began my collaboration with them. This involved doing performance and portrait photographs with the intention of reaching a new generation of audience and continuing the legacy within the present moment. The pictures of the Arkestra are in complete parallel with the book and have been shot over the exact same time frame. Many of the props I made are applied in both the masculine version (portraits of Sun Ra Arkestra members) and in the feminine (portraits from my book). I will always continue to work with the Arkestra, it’s not something I would stop doing.
Of course this book is about more than just Sun Ra. It’s inspired by, among other things, Egypt, Afro-Futurism, dub and more. How did you set out to capture these various disciplines visually?
The visual code is critical to breaking through perceptions of reality and something that took a lot of discipline to decipher. The intention from the outset was to create a picture novel, but it took many years to complete, given the nature of what Sun Ra invites: once you accept his challenge to “new possibilities” — or as he states “the possible has been tried and failed, now it’s time to try the impossible” — things get pretty expansive from there. So I set out to find out what was impossible. This book, or certainly its outcome, wasn’t possible when I began the work. I could never imagine it to have been so thorough an examination of the infinite. For that reason it’s more of a Thesaurus than a novel.
How did you come to the decision to include text from various writers in the book? How do the pictures and text complement one another?
Initially I only had poems and quotes by Sun Ra, and I was in discussion with KainThePoet to include handwritten lyrics to his piece “Black Satin Amazon Fire Engine Cry Baby” from the album The Blue Guerrilla. My publisher Art Yard suggested I contact Darius James, which I duly did and from there Darius and I devised the structure to include commissioned prose for all the individual chapters. Darius was initially in direct contact with the various writers instructing them in the chosen themes, and I had created layouts of the individual chapters that the writers were given in order to respond to. The written texts are crucial to the work and have been immeasurable in terms of transforming the message. It was easily the greatest enjoyment, personally, to have these brilliant texts accompany my pictures and transform the perception of content.
Tell me what first drew you to appreciating images: were you a newspaper/magazine junkie growing-up? Does film figure into it?
I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t appreciate images. As a young child I remember a book of wildlife photography in our house, and I was always looking at this full page image of a Praying Mantis or the colors of Amphibians. “The man on the moon” pictures were everywhere, so were pictures of our solar system, and space travel. These had a big impact on my very early years. As a teenager, my bedroom walls were covered in posters of rock “stars” as my stereo pumped and I played a tennis racket guitar. Images and identity are integral throughout our time here.
What are your memories of owning your first camera: where did you buy it? Who were your early teachers/mentors? What print and/or art photographers were on your radar?
As a child, I was in photography studios regularly. My grandfather although not a professional, was an extremely gifted photographer, so I pursued photography in High School. We were required to buy a 35mm SLR with no Auto override settings. My mum bought me a Pentax K1000 from a pawn shop and I still have all the negatives from those very first rolls. Some of the ‘B’ Setting images are pretty good. Straight after High School I moved out of home and went to Film School, there I was influenced heavily by the Spanish Director Luis Bunuel (his subconscious trigger visual language), but dropped out eventually as I wanted to escape institutionalized education and join the workforce so I became a freelance photographic assistant in a new city. My early teachers were the photographers I assisted. My schedule was so random, I used to work with a photographer who shot pictures out of a helicopter, the doors open flying sideways at dawn, the next day I could be working with a fashion photographer or shooting large format still life with someone else in a complex studio lighting set up. I was a freelance photographic assistant for approximately three years before I stepped out on my own and was 22 when I became a professional freelance independent.
In your career, you’ve worked for magazines and shot various subjects. Who were some of your favorite subjects and why?
Magazine work and my work in the cinema saw me travel frequently in an era before the internet and mobile phones blanketed the world and I was often traveling to remote regions. There was nothing more satisfying than doing portraits of local people with my Polaroid cameras. The film stock shot a large format positive and a negative so I was able to share the experience with the participant and reproduce prints in my darkroom. I wasn’t taking pictures – I was also giving them.
The work I did with Indigenous Australian Culture over ten years was the first self commissioned project I undertook and it transformed my entire outlook on how the world turns. It was the catalyst for this book I have just released. Untainted indigenous relationships with the Universe are so intimate and direct that it is almost impossible for western culture to comprehend.
You shot a lot of fashion years back. Why did you decide to walk away?
I had a certain protocol to my fashion aesthetic. It wasn’t about materialism or consumption but more to do with purpose of spirit and narrative content or another tangent would be music as an influence over contemporary tribalism. The advent of the internet had a crippling effect on print media as production budgets evaporated and advertising companies dictated the content. Magazines simply no longer offered the same level of freedom to express creatively due to their own financial duress. The digital age of photography was another aspect that I refused to adapt to. I figure if you can play the violin why would you then want a synthesizer that sounds like a violin but isn’t a violin..stick to the real deal. I need that unknown anticipation when I take my pictures and I don’t take very many – when I was shooting fashion I was using Plate Cameras and I would say if I didn’t get a final picture within five shots I was not fit for purpose.. The marketplace now (fashion industry) expects a digital stream of images to pour out of you and that itself feels like consumption as opposed to being decisive. My book It’s After The End Of The World, incorporates the fashion aesthetic I have practiced throughout as it’s a language of popular culture and an important one to utilize.
I know you were very hands-on during the entire production of It’s After The End of the World. What were some of the joys and nightmares you faced in the process?
I am published through Art Yard who I approached just after they released their book on Sun Ra ‘Omniverse.’ Peter Dennett gave me some good fundamental advice and permissions to the Sun Ra material via The Sun Ra estate. I have however produced the book and overseen every detail and it just felt like a natural progression. You must know your purpose and conviction before undertaking any project and a project of this size is not for the faint hearted.
From conception to compilation, how long did it take to finish It’s After The End of the World?
The cover image and the images around the Foreword (by Norman Douglas) and Introduction (by Darius James) were taken in 1998 and were a direct response to my involvement working with Indigenous Australian cultures. I was beginning to feel the confines of what is State Funded Culture as most Indigenous cultures are Government funded which in its own way dissipates cultures. These early pictures were about metaphysical relationships with our own personal inner space and connection to the natural order. For years I used to stare at those pictures and wonder how I was ever going to apply them and when I came in contact with Sun Ra and realized he was practicing ancient black tradition through capitalist methods and therefore his culture was expansive a cog in my brain turned and I became obsessed. I completed the work only this year, so it has been 21 years in the making.
Gerald Jenkins, “Black Gold”
Gerald Jenkins, “Crack Den”
Gerald Jenkins, “Don’t You Know That Yet”
Gerald Jenkins, “Salvation”
Gerald Jenkins, “More Questions Than Answers (with Jodie Turner Smith)”
Gerald Jenkins, “The Alter Destiny”
Gerald Jenkins, “The Bound Eternity”
Gerald Jenkins, “Think About It”
Gerald Jenkins, “Transfiguration”
Gerald Jenkins, “Under Different Stars”