Photographer Jacqueline Ashton on Solemnity, Representation, and Storytelling

Though her work is set against the backdrop of a bustling metropolis, Toronto-based photographer Jacqueline Ashton produces images that are undeniably serene. This is perhaps a result of the artist’s penchant for pensiveness. “I prefer to shoot models in a more stoic facial expression,” she says, “more solemn and not as bubbly.” Often shot in outdoor spaces where the urban greys of concrete are confronted by the charming greens of wildlife, her work is wistful but not gloomy. “I’m not trying to put out moody, sad imagery, but to me, there’s something really beautiful and strong about someone who just has a kind of neutral face.” The effect is a beautifully slow-moving body of work that radiates a youthful nostalgia for hot summers in big cities.

Take Me Back, NYC, 2018, 35 mm film: photographed by Jacqueline Ashton. Model: Eugene.

Most of the people Ashton shoots for her personal projects are young BIPOC creatives. “I want to see diversity and representation and things that I can relate to more because, growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood with my white mom, I was always surrounded by these ideas that blonde hair, blue eyes, straight hair is better.” Ashton’s work challenges these ideas by offering honest and intimate portrayals of individuals from communities that, she says, “are not always as visible as others.” She is currently working on a book that will exclusively feature BIPOC.

As a multitalented artist whose interests extend far beyond photography, Ashton has a hard time with labels, though in all of her varied artistic endeavours, she consistently aspires to narrative. “Deep down, I’m just a storyteller,” she says. “I feel like with any kind of hobby or career that I’m actively taking part in, it all has to do with some form of storytelling. I think that’s probably my true calling. That’s what I love.”

La Route Du Chaos, 2020, 35 mm film: photographed by Jacqueline Ashton. Model: Briana Bayliss. Styled by Marina Nedic. Hair by Chanel Croker. Makeup by Lacey Day.