In the age of social media, the word ‘photographer’ has been culturally redefined in a way that can warrant a soft eyeroll when scrolling through your phone before bed. What is it that makes titling oneself this way so off-putting? Why are we so quick to discredit someone’s online portfolio by proclaiming, “well, I could do that”? I think the answer is fairly obvious: everyone has a camera in their back pocket. The nature of taking a photo has changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years, and nowadays anyone with the right device can create a technically high-quality image in seconds. The work of Chicago-based photographer Jordyn Belli, however, challenges this cultural shift in its ability to transcend all of the visual noise online.
Jordyn moved to Chicago in June of 2016 with plans to attend the School at the Art Institute. Those plans didn’t pan out, and their determination to stay in the city and pursue photography professionally fueled the coming years of intense portfolio-building and networking. Having grown up in small town Ohio, Jordyn was known well in their local community as a photographer, but after moving to Chicago quickly felt like a small fish in a big pond. By taking advantage of the intersection of art and commerce on Instagram, Jordyn was able to gain a large following fairly quickly, resulting in DMs that built them a steady flow of paid freelance shoots. Now, juggling several shoots over the course of a week is Jordyn’s new normal and the majority of their free time is used for planning and shooting personal projects. They told me over a cup of coffee that just a few years ago this is exactly where they had hoped to be.
But what separates Jordyn from the pack of other social media savvy photographers managing their businesses online is the artistic merit of their work. It slows your frantic scrolling, makes you question your relationship to the human body, and blurs the lines between documentary, editorial, fine art, and portrait photography. It is as intimate as it is distant, often depicting nude models posed strategically in natural environments, daring us to reevaluate the ways we think about touch, privacy, and exposure. It reminds us that nudity is not inherently sexual, and that while we are not defined by our bodies, we are grounded in life through them.
Photographs by Jordyn Belli. Click images to enlarge.
Much of Jordyn’s success can be attributed to the queerness of their perspective. Without having tapped into the deep well of creative talent in Chicago’s ultra-connected LGBTQ+ community, their business would not be what is today. Perhaps their success is also attributable to Jordyn’s determination to share their photos online, fully aware that they are likely to be removed for their ‘inappropriate’ content and will have to be re-cropped or censored further than Instagram’s guidelines even require. Queer culture is so rapidly appropriated by the mainstream that photography that doesn’t follow the rules feels inherently queer. Moreover, their work so gently de-genders and de-sexualizes the human body in a visual culture where gendering and sexualizing can turn someone a quick profit, especially when it comes to the trans, non-binary, queer, and POC bodies that Jordyn often includes in their work.
It’s exciting to watch a talented, self-made, 22-year-old artist earn the recognition that they’ve worked so hard for. Jordyn’s humility speaks volumes about their success so far, and sheds some light on the comfort their models must feel when disrobing for a shoot. And in a time when every photo we publish online is criticized by strangers, monitored by robots for nipples and pubic hair, and compared to the work of everyone else with a camera, it’s their portfolio’s unassuming nature that makes it feel so unique. Jordyn’s willingness to gracefully grapple with the challenges of a mainstream platform and our often misunderstanding culture gives their photography an added layer of beauty that I certainly ‘fux with.’
You can see some of Jordyn’s work at The Empty Bottle until April 4th, and in the WOMANISH Exhibit on April 22nd.
Written by: Tom Monforti