“I got a story,” said DonJai (pronounced Don-Jay) 29 year old Photographer and native New Yorker. “To be able to pick up the camera at 9 years old and still be here 20 years later [is rare].” He was unable to put down his camera after developing an inseparable love with photography.
Before selfies were in, DonJai took this picture of himself at age nine.
I knew I was gonna be something artistic. Before, my first love was drawing. My older brother was into music. He would try to have me rhyme and things of that nature. Photography is kinda when I nailed it. Spider-man’s alter ego was a photographer, Peter Parker. Once I seen that, it kinda clicked.”
Donjai grew up in the Bronx. He knew that he was different at a young age because he didn’t fit in. “I wasn’t athletically inclined. I grew up in a house with 7 brothers who played video games.” When the International Center of Photography decided to collaborate with The Point, a well-respected community center in the Bronx, Donjai pounced on the opportunity to learn about photography. “They’re world-renowned. My education stems from them. They had the best teachers. Many people graduated from the program and became very successful.”
Donjai has taken pictures of multiple celebs. Check out this one of Drake.
When he was 20, he went back to take more classes in the program, which was now more developed and organized. Donjai developed film and prints; he created projects that his peers and teachers critiqued. “That was an eye opener for me. People from other walks of life thought they (the pictures) were super-duper amazing. I didn’t think they were all that, but I thought they were strong enough to show people and convey emotion.”
Portraits and profile shots are among his favorites. He explained that images posted on social media can provide a story for strangers. “They might never have met you before, but they know you from a certain medium or platform between you. Somebody’s favorite artist may be J. Cole, [and] you may not know him personally, but you may know something from the image. Those shots kind of connect people.”
The Red Hook Digital Media Program in Red Hook, NY, provides a platform for Donjai to teach and pass on his knowledge to high school students. He and his peers helped launch the program. It highlights all aspects of photography but has a slight focus on digital media. “We let them (students) shoot on their own merit then we double back and teach them about certain camera aesthetics after they shoot or during the shoot,” he said. “While they’re shooting we’ll teach them about composition, depth of field, shutter speed, how to operate your F-stop. After that it goes into how to create a nice work flow for your self.”
There was a time when he felt discouraged. “When I went to high school to learn photography, I went back to my people at International Center of Photography and showed them my portfolio I developed in high school and Vanessa (a trusted mentor) told me ‘This is wack.” That hurt his pride, but motivated him to challenge himself and persevere.
In the future, Donjai plans to create/release his own brand of camera straps and a carrying bag made for photographers. “It’s fashionable, comfortable, and compact,” he explained. He also has a website coming. “Donjaididit.com, It’ll be photos accompanied by quotes/paragraphs. A lot of the work on there will be submitted by my students and they will be able to sell work on there.” He is also prepping a gallery show that will showcase his photos from age 9 to now. “We’re gonna have a 30 is the new 20 kind of exhibition. This is about to be my first exhibition in a couple of years cuz I really want to get back into the gallery gig.”
Donjai wanted to share the following advice with aspiring photographers:
“Keep on shooting. Use your phone. Don’t be bashful. Don’t be afraid to ask anybody. That comes with the territory. Never stop shooting. Keep your camera in hand and keep shooting. You don’t want to wake up trying to replay your youth.”
Here’s a small gallery of some of DonJai’s other work.
Photo credit: Dreamer Loop