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  • By Merrill Lee Girardeau

Jasmine Archie: Taste and vision. Half the battle, or the whole war?

Photographer Jasmine Archie takes rad pictures. They’re fearless and full of color, and, while personal, seem wrapped in a riddle that’s scribbled across her subjects’ faces.

Carey Mulligan’s character Jenny in the 2009 film An Education is a precocious high-schooler who listens to Juliette Gréco records and smokes cigarettes like they owe her money. Jenny finds herself socializing with a group of older London sophisticates. She says to Dominic Cooper’s character, “I’m still trying to work out what makes good things good—it’s hard, isn’t it?” Cooper says, “Well the thing is, Jenny, you know… without necessarily being able to explain why. You have taste. That’s not half the battle. That’s the whole war.”

One look at her photos, and there's no question - Jasmine Archie is drenched in wild ... good... taste.

Jasmine is coming off a day of running errands around Nashville for an upcoming test shoot. She envisions the model in something like a bridal dress with a “sheer, white, pretty neck. I don’t really have an exact word or style for it, but you know it when you see it, and you’re just like, ‘Aha!’”

“It’s a very Tim Walker inspired shoot,” says Jasmine of the upcoming studio session. “It’s just going to be very, very dreamy. I have a bunch of flowers that I bought at Michael’s… I always do [this] with my wardrobe, but I’m going to get really out there with it.”

Is it something about the model in particular that inspired the styling for the shoot? I ask. Or did the idea come first?

“I don’t have a particular reason why, but I just feel like it’ll fit the way the model is looking, and how I’m going to do her hair and makeup,” Jasmine answers.

With aspirations as a fashion photographer, Jasmine describes her sartorial sensibilities as stored in a “big collection in my head,” full of “inspiration from everything, everywhere.” Her subjects wear clothes culled from local Nashville thrift stores like local favorite Pre to Post Modern and Goodwill, as well as her own extensive wardrobe.

She rattles off designers: “I love Gucci, I love Stella McCartney, I love Adidas.”

Mixing of-the-moment with vintage, Jasmine beautifully juxtaposes sporty with refined (a bright-white hoodie under a gray mohair slip dress), and decadent with dangerous (laceup baby pink mega-platforms, baby pink swing dress, scissors in hand).

Intrigued by her ability to see the future, I continue to prod out of pure fascination. "How did you think of this? Why do you like this and not that?" I ask.

A game interviewee, Jasmine attempts to answer, nonetheless running up against the wall any artist might under this kind of scrutiny. “I don’t know why. I just do it.”

Photo by Jasmine Archie, Model: Marisa Maino

Jasmine Archie has packed plenty of life into her 21 years. The daughter of Crystal, an entrepreneur with Rodan and Fields, and Mike Archie, a former Tennessee Titans running back, Jasmine was an elite gymnast and occasional model at an early age. By fourteen, having traveled to gymnastics competitions on the weekends for years, she was worn out and ready to focus on high school in her hometown of Nashville. She didn’t stumble into photography until her senior year, when she took a photography class as an elective. There she got to experiment with Nikons and Canons, photograph in digital and on film, learn the basics of the craft, and make photographer friends who had more experience. By the time the year was finished, Jasmine had decided not to pursue college and throw her energy into photography instead.

Encouraged by her parents, she quickly found internships with local photographers, many of whom worked weddings, and studied under them as they took “very crisp, very beautiful photos” of first looks, shoes, be-ringed hands, and flowers. She cites wedding photographer Shannon Bankston as a primary mentor, who educated her about how to use light and the magic of a Canon camera, a tool Jasmine says she’ll use for life.

Photo of Jasmine Archie, by Maris

Jasmine’s initial photo style seemed to blossom out of modern wedding photography, since it’s what she was studying at the time. “My pictures were just simple to me,” she says. “And not saying that that style is not artistic or not as hard, but it was just very simple… And how I edited was the main source of my photo. I didn’t put much creativity into it beforehand… I just took pictures of pretty girls twirling.” We talk about how young women—particularly growing up in the South, as we both did—tend to be drawn to this style, how it is its own art form. But Jasmine embraces the changes that have come since, which manifest in her look, her techniques, and her skill set.

A recent trip to Europe marked a major shift in her photography. “That was when my photos started switching up,” she says. “Everything just kind of changed for me. I think it’s always important to evolve. We’re always, always, all evolving, and I just kind of embrace it. I’m still me to the root, but if I’m changing my interests and what I like, that’s fun to me.”

In Paris, she received a major fashion awakening. Watching fabulously dressed people walk down the street, she thought, “Holy shit, I’m doing this all wrong.” In former years, she’d been “fashionably shy,” but now she “love[s] to dress wild, crazy, colorful.”

Photo by Jasmine Archie, Model: Emilie Burgan

In Europe, she and her friends also set up shoots with “Instagram models,” she says. “We tried to do that with every country we went to.” Instagram comes up many times as a source of professional inquiries for her freelance photography, connections in the community, and inspiration for her art. “That’s how I get most of my business now. That’s where I display most of my work,” she says. “Yes I have a website...but the first thing you’re going to see is Instagram, at least in my generation. Everyone’s on it; everyone’s about it. I would say being a photographer is the best profession you can have right now with how our world is going, because I’m literally on a social site for photos.” But she knows how toxic social media can be, saying she’ll take fasts from Instagram when she gets too jaded or overwhelmed.

Photo by Jasmine Archie, Model: Kaitlyn Bristowe

As inspiration, Jasmine cites Petra Collins and Tim Walker as influences, as well as Frank Ocean’s “Nikes” video and photographer Nick Knight. Walker, a frequent Vogue contributor, makes elaborate fantasy-scapes out of celebrities, models, couture, high-ceilinged drawing rooms, and exotic live animals. The reference indicates Jasmine's advances in style - an exploration to higher-concept editorial.

It's not a surprise - Jasmine sounds keen on challenging herself. When I ask her about her use of light, she says she used to photograph her subjects outside almost exclusively and that despite loving how it looked, natural light became boring for her. “I really wanted to challenge myself and start doing studio lighting. You have to create your own lighting, create your own mood. Outside you work with the light that you have, and if it’s toward sunset, you have more of a radiant, orange lighting. It’s definitely a lot more challenging to do studio lighting, and that’s basically why I transitioned over.”

Photo by Jasmine Archie, Model: Savannah Scruggs

I’m drawn particularly to a photograph within her series “The Kohanski Sisters.” It’s taken at night, from below, looking up at one sister whispering in the other’s ear. The brunette sister on the left, the recipient of the secret, wears a button-up yellow cropped blouse and red plaid pants. On the whispering blonde is a red mesh top with a large question mark embroidered on the chest, black jeans with a white tuxedo stripe, and red platforms. Though these pieces might not be vintage, they’re styled with a vintage-shopper’s playful, anything-goes sensibility. And there is, again, that mystery. What are these sisters doing in what looks like an abandoned industrial area at pitch-dark? What is the secret passed from one girl to the other?

Photo by Jasmine Archie, Sophie and Chloe Kohanski

Petra Collins, whom Jasmine mentions as a key influence, exemplifies both the ability for a young photographer to find massive success via social media, and the unending importance of recognizable taste. Collins, the 24-year-old Canadian photographer and model developed a massive fan base via Instagram as a result of a collection of photographs depicting teenage girls shot in a unique style. Collins' photos don't retouch imperfections, but rather celebrate the human body and emotion. Her moody and feminine style caught the attention of brands like Gucci, American Apparel, and Urban Outfitters, as well and celebrities and artists such as Selena Gomez (Collins directed Gomez's "Fetish" music video).

“One day they’re working at McDonalds, the next day making millions of dollars," says Jasmine referencing the power of Instagram. Collins' example proves this can really happen.

Jasmine, like Collins, occasionally makes an appearance in front of the camera (at the hands of photographers she trusts), having recently appeared on the cover of a local Nashville magazine, Awear for their Body Issue. Although Jasmine has a commanding presence as a model, sporting drawn-on neck tattoos and tights like a pro, she says, “I’m definitely keeping it behind the camera for now.”

Her dual experiences as artist and subject does, however, inform how she approaches her models before a shoot. “I just want to be able to—for the model and for me—to be able to produce our best work that we can. It goes a lot smoother when you create a relationship...trying to create some kind of chemistry between us…It translates on camera, and you can definitely tell.” She emphasizes how important it is to make the model or client feel comfortable, whether through long chats or welcoming clients with smells of home-baked goods when they enter her loft/studio.

Jasmine says she’ll stop people with interesting faces and ask if they’ve ever modeled. Most of them novices, they’re eager to get in front of Jasmine’s camera.

Photo by Jasmine Archie, Model: Xavier Cunningham

Her love for faces becomes clear as one inspects her work. When asked how she developed this love of portraiture, Jasmine says, “I will always subconsciously set my frame up to have the person’s it. And that’s something I’m teaching myself to get out of because I am trying to experiment. But I’m always just drawn to people’s faces. Everyone’s so unique in their own way.”

Jasmine has unmistakeable drive, a quality she inherited from her parents. She repeats daily affirmations to herself because, as she puts it, “What you think and what you speak about yourself will become your reality.” I tell her she’s well on her way.

Photo by Jasmine Archie, Model: Chelsey Davis

Then I drop a four-letter word: fame.

When I ask about models, celebrities, or public figures she might want to get in front of her lens one day, she says it’s “not necessarily a certain person” but where the photographs might appear—and what the models are wearing. “If I’m taking photos for Gucci or Stella McCartney or Rick Owens or St. Laurent... that’s when I’ll die happy. Or my photos on the cover of Vogue.”

“I definitely don’t think that about myself whatsoever, but I’m working really hard,” she says. She takes a hard pause. “See, it’s just hard because fame is not something that I necessarily want. As a kid growing up, most people—their aspiration is for whatever they’re passionate about, just to be recognized for it. I just want to reach as many people as possible.” She stops again. “It’s what I love; it’s what gets me excited in the morning.”

Jasmine Archie might have taste—whatever that might mean—but what she really possesses is vision: difficult to acquire and more difficult to maintain.

For my money, that’s not half the battle. That’s the whole war.

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