Yello Interviews: Dominican Photographer Yuri Jones
by Karen Rollins Feb 1, 2021
Dominican entrepreneur Yuri Jones worked in the financial services sector for several years before he became restless and started looking for new employment.
Yuri enjoyed photography as a hobby but did not think it could become a viable business or sustain the lifestyle that he wanted to maintain.
After delaying his decision for a few years, Yuri finally made the leap into entrepreneurship in 2019 and started his own photography company. Now his only regret is that he didn’t do it sooner!
Yello chatted with Yuri about his life as an entrepreneur in Dominica.
Describe yourself using three words.
Creative, driven and inquisitive.
Please share a bit about your childhood.
I was born and raised in Dominica. I usually say I’m from Roseau, but we’ve lived in different areas around the environs of the capital.
I grew up in a small family with my younger sister and parents.
I’ve always been creative. I played around with a toy keyboard from the age of eight or nine, then I began formal piano lessons when I was 10.
Music is like a refuge for me. Being able to explore my creative side through music eventually made it easier for me to pick up photography as a profession, but photography wasn’t really on my horizon as a child.
My parents did take lots of photos though, and my mother always kept photo albums of myself and my sister from our younger days, so that may have been a latent influence.
Tell us about your career path before you became a photographer.
By the time I was in third or fourth form, I had it set in my mind that I wanted to work in a bank. I was fortunate to be able to that for a couple of years after community college. Then I left Dominica to study finance in Texas for four years.
When I came back, I was lucky to get a job at the same bank I was at before. At some point though, I lost interest in being a banker for different reasons, and about three or four years after coming back from the US, I started to get restless.
However, in terms of opportunities, especially ones that would pay as well as that job, there were very few, so I battled with that for a couple of years before finally deciding to leave the bank.
I joined my family’s company, which is owned by my grandfather, and that was good while it lasted, but it only lasted for a couple of years.
I went back to the financial industries sector as country manager for FastCash. But again, I got kind of restless and started trying to work out how to leave the rat race, but still live comfortably.
Eventually, I decided that I had to put comfort aside for a while and just take the leap, so that’s what I did in 2019.
Why did you choose to launch a photography business?
When I joined FastCash, I had been taking photographs for about four years. I was involved with a small business that sells cupcakes and bought my first professional camera so that I could take pictures of the cakes.
When I stopped working with that company, I kept up taking images, mainly of Dominica’s nature and landscape, but it never occurred to me that I would become a full-time photographer.
Photography was just something I did on the weekends, something I enjoyed doing, especially being around nature with its different sights and smells. I used nature to hone my photography skills, get used to my camera, and build a portfolio.
After a couple of years, I became more serious and started selling prints online and doing small photography jobs.
I became restless in my regular job and began exploring what I wanted to do, what I was good at, and what was in demand in the local market; that’s when it occurred to me that there was a need for photography and photographers in Dominica.
How has your business been developing since 2019?
I started off doing a lot of nature and landscape photography, and I still sell prints of those photographs. I also do a lot of family portraits.
It’s been exciting and interesting, that’s for sure, but in terms of financial reward, it is up and down. Like at the moment, Covid is a big factor and has impacted some of the work I had planned.
Overall, it has been a great experience and something that I wish I’d thought of doing earlier.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
One challenge is convincing others that they have a need for what I can offer and that usually comes down to a dollar figure because you might be able to convince them of the need, but then to get them to pay what I’m asking is another issue.
Another challenge is our economy. Our currency is the EC dollar, which is pegged to the US dollar, but because of that I’m only able to charge so much because the average local client can’t invest a large amount into photography.
It’s very difficult then for me to invest in good equipment when I’m limited by what I can charge clients. Covid has made everything worse as well.
But I’m grateful because business in Dominica is more-or-less happening the same, other than in the tourism sector, and hopefully travel will return to what it was in a few months.
What are your career plans for 2021?
I’ve already made plans to open a boutique portrait photography studio. I have rented a space in Roseau, and I’m currently remodelling it to suit what I’m going to offer.
I want to capture families like we used to back in the day. So, a staged photoshoot where everyone dresses nicely, maybe they are colour coordinated and have three or four change of clothes. It’ll be a high-end offering that will produce what I call “heirloom” quality images that you can print and put on the wall.
I have a couple of personal projects as well, which will take a look at Dominica’s history. I’d like to recreate some scenes for posterity and education purposes and dress up models in a way that would replicate, for instance, the Maroon slaves in different scenarios to tell a modern story of how they looked, what they did and represented.
I’m also hopefully going to work with Dominica’s Tourism Ministry as well. So, that’s what I’m planning over the next 12-18 months.
Which photographers do you admire?
I can’t think of any names right now, but initially, I learned by following international photographers online especially on YouTube. I followed several in the nature, landscape, and portrait genres. They would put up content and quite a few also provided tutorials which were very helpful to me.
Locally there are several guys whose approach to photography sparked an interest in me.
One group in particular, called 365mmp, are two young guys I met when I was working at the bank and they came in to pitch their graphic design services.
I think their approach to photography was fresh and different, and that encouraged me to take photography more seriously.
What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?
One piece of advice I would give is just start.
Even for myself, I always have to remind myself that you can only think about an idea for so long because thinking about it doesn’t get it done. And, trying something and it not working out, is really just part of the process.
So, my advice is to start now because there’s a temptation to keep on mulling it over, or even worse, to submit to negative self-talk that tells you that you’re not good enough. Stop all of that. Just start and learn from your mistakes as you go.
What do you love about Dominica?
I love our nature. You can easily get lost in nature here. You can drive for several minutes and not see another person, but you’ll hear a river in the background or smell the salt from the sea. I appreciate being able to get lost and explore.
I also appreciate our heritage. I don’t think we’ve placed enough emphasis on the Maroon slaves and that aspect of our heritage. I think we should consider them heroes.
Where do you go to relax on a day off?
One place I love to go is Morne Bruce. It’s the site of an old English garrison and looks over the capital city. The sunsets from that vantage point are quite beautiful, and you can see the lights come up in the city after the sun goes down.
What’s your philosophy / approach to life?
Over the last few years, I’ve found that it’s so important to learn yourself, to figure out what you love to do, what you’re good at doing, and to try as best as you can to incorporate it into your daily life.
So many people never have the time to figure it out, but it’s important to put some time into what you love.
Tell us something only a few people know about you.
I love performing on stage.
During high school and at university, I took up playing steel pan, and I was in a band with a group of friends. We would play at different events like calypso shows, and companies would hire us during the Christmas season.
It was fun, and I really enjoyed it.