DEAN: Deja, thank you so much for sitting down with us for an interview! I feel like this has been such a rollercoaster of a year and these interviews are always a good opportunity to slow down and reflect, which is a nice break from everything else going on. And we’re entirely grateful that you were willing to spare some time to chat! We’re also grateful as heck to Nicole Rottler Harlow for sharing your work. Great artists seem to gravitate towards one another, and we’re certainly happy about that!
Tell us about what you’re currently working on. This doesn’t necessarily have to be about your artistic endeavors, though you’re welcome to start there! If you’re currently taking time to just meditate or learning woodwork or reading about your Enneagram number, don’t hesitate to share.
DEJA: I’m currently working towards receiving my yoga teacher certification and herbalism certification. I’m prepping for a big move at the end of Summer, so in regard to artistic endeavors, I’m halting all big ideas at the moment and photographing more of the Mississippi I love as a way to pay homage to my countless journeys here.
DEAN: I love to hear that. I feel like Mississippi needs more good vibes, especially from artists willing to show the joy and beauty here. And clearly, the photographs you’ve shared with us speak to that, but you’re also a musician, you have an incredible blog, and a visual EP. Do these projects intersect or do you hope to carve distinct spaces with each?
Whether I’m sharing my story by way of music or some other story by way of visuals, there’s always an underlying perspective of truth and vulnerability that I aim for with everything I do.
DEJA: Thank you. These projects do intentionally intersect in their own way. I’m one of those people who believe everything is connected (seriously, I will connect back pains with a lack of personal power if you let me). Art allows me to not only discover more of my own voice, but to cultivate an entire language of my own. Whether I’m sharing my story by way of music or some other story by way of visuals, there’s always an underlying perspective of truth and vulnerability that I aim for with everything I do.
DEAN: How have these projects played out this year? I know for me, teaching, editing, and everything else has been daunting to say the least. Has this year given you more time to focus on your craft or have you found all of this newfound time at home/in solitude more restrictive?
DEJA: A little bit of both, but for the most part I’ve had more time to focus. On one end, I was able to put more energy towards completing and filming for the EP, revamping the website, and working towards those certifications. On the other end, I couldn’t do much portrait photography.
DEAN: Well, the photographs in this issue are breathtaking, frankly. And this is true of all your work! But there is something genuinely kinetic about each image in this issue, even those subjects that aren’t in motion like the artist sitting on the floor. How do you capture that energy in your photography?
DEJA: Thank you. I’d be lying if I attempted to give a straightforward answer to
that question. Most muses like to give me all of the credit, but I honestly believe
there has to be a sense of trust between both/all of us for someone to show up in
such an authentic way. I capture what I believe to be the most truest aspect about
a person. So there’s almost always a conversation happening during these shoots
that allows whoever I’m photographing to feel safe with me.
DEAN: Whatever is working beneath the surface clearly shines through your images. The subjects in your photographs radiate in divine ways. And there’s something incredibly intimate and inviting about each image, which probably has a lot to do with that trust you talked about. Everyone—especially the person with their back to the camera, the person dancing, and the person sitting in the field of kudzu—glows. What draws you to this kind of portraiture?
DEJA: They radiate in a divine way because they are divine. Humans are one of my biggest inspirations because we all have elements of the divine within us and
we all choose to display that energy in our own unique ways. I love portraiture
because it allows me to dissect those ways and show people the truth of who they
are in such a tender way. I love being able to capture people’s subtle nature. It
burns the bridge of separateness between us. And I’m all about burning that
Humans are one of my biggest inspirations because we all have elements of the divine within us and we all choose to display that energy in our own unique ways . . . I love being able to capture people’s subtle nature. It burns the bridge of separateness between us. And I’m all about burning that particular bridge!
DEAN: Gosh, what a great way to put that! Burn the bridges that separate us. I can't think of anyone who doesn't need to hear that replay. Besides the work featured in Issue 13 of Juke Joint, what are you currently working on/what can we look forward to next?
DEJA: Aside from the personal images of Mississippi I’m currently collecting, I am devoting more time to detailed photography series. There’s one series in particular that I began years ago. It began as a photo series and found its way into the beginning stages of a documentary. It centers women and how we value vulnerability. You can find a few of the earlier images in my website gallery.
DEAN: I want to segue for a second and talk about place and connection to place. How do identity and connection to place take shape in your work? As one Mississippian to another, can you speak to the way (if at all) the South finds its way into your work?
DEJA: As a queer POC born and raised in the South, my perspective has been shaped and solidly reshaped by my experiences here. From the people I choose to photograph, to the stories told in my music, there’s always an aspect of identity at play because these stories are being told from my perspective. Connection to Mississippi mostly takes shape in the people I work with; whether I’m photographing other artists of Mississippi or collaborating with them in other ways.
Although subtle, the South definitely finds its way into my work by way of
cultural aspects. For me, this is something I want to sit with a bit longer, because
it’s never been an intentional aspect of my creative process. I recall only as a
photo journalist for the Daily Mississippian has Southern Culture intentionally
found its way into my work.
DEAN: That's an interesting perspective. I feel like so often it's so inescapable and subliminal how where we are or are from intertwines with what we write and produce, but I like that you're coming to this with a sense of intentionality and meditation.
I love how joyous your photos are. Maya Angelou says it better than I can that, “we need joy as we need air.” And your photographs capture that. This year has been so filled with tragedy in our country, not just COVID, but the countless lives lost to police brutality and violence against black and brown folks in America, and I feel like your photography is such an antidote. Is that something you’re attuned to? Do you feel like seeking joy in the subjects you capture is part of your lens?
DEJA: How my images are perceived isn’t something I’m naturally attuned to, but
to create another kind of beautiful and have that be felt is definitely an intention
with my lens. So yes, seeking joy in the subjects I capture is another way of
creating what I aim to convey.
DEAN: Deja, again, thank you so much for sitting down to chat with us. It has been such a pleasure to learn more about you and your work. Before we let you go, we always like to ask for recommendations: something that you recently read or are currently reading, folks you’re following on social media we might not have caught on to yet, or other artists that you’d like to shout out. Who should we put on our radar?
DEJA: Ahh Yes! I love putting people on.
A book I recommend: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi.
An Artist I’d like to shout out: Vitamin Cea (Jackson based artist) She is a force. Her Instagram is @thevitamincea.
Mississippi based Social Media folks I recommend:
@jonathan_kent_adams + @adriennemeschelle + @znabrwn
My favorite writers: @vicwritesthings + @blckrdaberry + @nabilas_here
My favorite visionary: @thecurlykid