Ian Jones moved to New York eight years ago for its opportunistic and creative appeal, quickly establishing his name as a fashion model with IMG models. Using his ties with the creative industry, Jones has developed his career as an artist, creating documentary-style work that captures ordinary lives in an impactful way.
Written by Leah Mersky
Jones’ recent project, Street Kids, casts a photographic lens on the street-kid culture of East Village, New York. It began as a collaborative effort between Jones and Grey Magazine’s editor-in-chief Valentina Martin. Both were fascinated by the hardcore resiliency and youthful vibrancy of the “unknown” youth of Tompkins Square. Agreeing from the start that neither one of them would profit, they developed Street Kids with the intention to philanthropically support the kids using fashion photography as a medium. Offering $200 in cash to the kids for one day of photographing, Jones began the process of casting the subjects that would make up his photographs.
Street kids can be hard subjects. Often lacking conventional support systems (from a cell phone to a parent), communication and organization becomes a challenge. Further, the reality of child homelessness, involving abuse, dependence issues, and arrests, is a constant of Street Kids that Jones has to navigate. However, after spending over one year with the kids, looking through soup kitchens, shelters, panhandling and parks, he was able to develop an understanding of his subjects that formed the basis of mutual trust. Jones’s original photographs (view gallery below), which depict the youth in their own surroundings and clothing, capture an authenticity and truth about their lives, whilst providing an outlet of expression for the youth.
The project quickly garnered interest from major creative companies. Diesel became a primary sponsor, offering the kids an additional $200 cash plus a $250 gift certificate to Diesel. In exchange, Jones photographed the kids in Diesel clothing for its editorial. By aligning his project with Diesel, controversy grew over whether or not Street Kids was exploiting its subjects for financial gain. However, Jones reaffirms that he did not make a dime from the project, and that the kids were paid. Further, the editorial puts the kids in magazines such as Teen Vogue, allowing the youth to be acknowledged as equally important as the average fashion model – many of whom don’t even get paid for their editorial work.
The Street Kids project is compelling because its subjects are complex and unknown. Indeed, the Grey Magazine feature of the project includes a narrative about each of the subject’s lives, told in their own words. Recognizing the power of their stories, MTV plans to develop a six part documentary series of the kid’s lives, to be launched this fall. The collaboration, with Jones as director/producer, will open the project to a global audience, giving the kids a powerful voice. Ideally the show will provide the kids with a needed sense of importance, as they realize that they are worth being seen and heard. This perspective of life beyond the streets is vital to a homeless youth.
Jones’s original prints will be on display May 10th-17th in Chelsea, as part of a RE:ArtWorks group show curated by Anne Noel. To RSVP for the opening reception on May 9th from 6 to 9 p.m. email firstname.lastname@example.org. The prints are an important ode to the core of the project – the kids, as they are.