this photographer developed 10,000 photos from cameras he sent around the world
Jamaal Davies's 'Diary of Disposables' is a shared visual narrative depicting diverse lives, including the Awful Records crew in Atlanta and his aunts in West Africa.
Awful Records, Atlanta.
A mannequin head on a table in Chicago, pink cotton candy in Abu Dhabi, a masked emcee on a London stage – the images shared on Diary of Disposables provide an intimate visual narrative across borders and cultures. The various photo albums on the documentary-style website are portals into the eclectic lives of individual creatives across the world, spanning Sweden, Thailand, England, and Sierra Leone. In 2015 in the basement of his aunt’s Washington D.C. apartment, Jamaal Davies started sending disposable cameras to creative personalities in various pockets of the globe with simple instructions: to document their lives for seven days and return the roll of film to be shared on his website.
“All the stories are pretty special to me,” Davies tells i-D. He works as a photographer and videographer currently based in New York while his creative partner Nosidam, a recording artist and DJ, runs the Chicago office. “I think about how I met these people or how I got in touch with these people. Every set of photos has a different story, it’s beautiful. They’re all unique in their own way.” After developing over 10,000 images in a period of three years, Davies has managed to depict a colorful group of individuals including DJs, musicians, and photographers across ages and cultures — all resilient dreamers sharing snapshots into their lives. Creatives including Ashani, Lloyd Foster, Vicky Grout, and CJ Harvey have contributed to the project, while the likes of Mick Jenkins and Young M.A. have been captured through an ever-changing lens.
How did this project start?
My aunt actually had a gallery in D.C. so I was working there. I had really gotten into photography at that time. A lot of my family was in Guyana. I’m West African so I have family all over the place. I was curious. I wondered what my friends were doing. I was at the gallery, I wasn’t getting paid that much, and I remember getting my first paycheck and buying ten cameras and mailing them out. I wanted to know what people were doing around the world.
Who did you send the first cameras to?
The first ten cameras went to my homey who was DJing and going to NYU, and another homey who was working at an art gallery in Chicago. One went to India, and I sent one back home to Guyana. I would reach out to the people I knew that were kind of moving around. Initially, I wanted it to be like I could move around and go to all of these places, but that wasn’t possible. I gave people instructions. I was like, “If I give people this camera, I don’t know if they’re gonna know what to do.” So I typed up a packet and got a label maker, started labeling these cameras and packaging them out and then nothing. I was like, “Nothing’s happening.” I was living at home at this point and I got home one day and my mother was like, ‘There are 10 cameras on the front step for you.”
When you first developed the film from the disposables, what was it like going through the photos?
I felt awesome. It was one of the happiest things in the world. I’m a photographer so I know how to develop film, I’ve been in a darkroom and that process is so exciting, it’s probably in my top five happiest things in the world. But when I’m developing other people’s film, it’s literally like I’m reliving their story, I’m reliving their journey from the last seven days. Being able to pass along that excitement and return these photos; being the person that publishes them is a great feeling.
I think it’s important to look beyond borders, for connectedness around the world. In terms of this project, how to you feel about its importance in unveiling stories?
I feel like I got a lot of backlash in the beginning because obviously a lot of people do things specifically with disposable cameras. I mean it’s been going on forever but I feel like the organic-ness of it is pretty pure. I’ve given cameras to my aunts who are in their 40s and go back to our home country, and they enjoy it just as much as a 17-year-old at a skate park. People have told me, “I touched this camera and now you’ve inspired me to start photography,” or “this has inspired me to start painting again.”
Have there ever been any images that were too wild or provocative to post or do you share everything?
We’ve never gotten anything offensive but we’ve gotten nudity. We’ve gotten guns back. We’ve gotten pretty weird stuff, but different lifestyles, you know. If that’s what you’re photographing, if that’s what you see on a day to day basis, who am I to monitor that? If Instagram wants to take that down or if a website wants to report that then let it be, but I’m gonna give it to you how you gave it to me — raw and organic.
Each album is like its own chapter. How do you feel about the narrative you’ve put together so far?
It’s about the stories and it’s a platform for people to tell their stories. If I wasn’t giving these cameras out to my little cousins and stuff in Africa and Guyana, no one would be able to know what they’re doing, but they’re important too. They’re doing some cool stuff like building skate parks in East Africa and that’s cool as shit. I think that the world needs to know about it – not because it’s cool, but let’s help them, let’s donate to them, let’s make this a thing, lets lend a helping hand. I want this to be like a networking platform – if you’re interested in this, communicate with that person, we’ll put you in touch. It’s not about how many Instagram followers you have or who you know. Legitimately, if you’re doing something cool and you think the world needs to know about it, let’s publish it, let’s get it out there.