This Q&A series focuses on artists contributing to the #ArtisticVisionPgh project cosponsored by Most Wanted Fine Art and Penn Avenue Eyewear. Today we talk with Njaimeh Njie who is photographing the artists and the project.
Name: Njaimeh Njie
How old were you when you first had to wear glasses? About 9, I believe. I was actually excited about it because my whole family wore glasses, and I was looking forward to being a part of the club. I thought it’d be pretty cool, plus I wouldn’t have to worry about squinting to see the chalkboard anymore to boot.
How old were you when you had to pay for the glasses you wear? I was 22. It was my first year teaching, and my first year having my own health/vision insurance. I got a Groupon for this fancy eyeglass boutique, and I was super excited about getting these frames I thought were so “distinctive” at the time. I just knew I was getting a great deal, and that they looked great! Negative on both. They were broken and replaced within a year, and my pocket and ego took a bit of a hit. I vowed never to drop that much cash on glasses again (no matter how good a sale seemed)!
Have you ever had to “fix” your own glasses with tape, string, glue, etc? Yep. Fourth grade, clumsy phase. I can’t remember if I stepped on them or rolled over them in bed, but somehow my frames came up looking extra crooked. When tape wouldn’t do I turned to super glue…and unfortunately superglued my finger to the frame. Instead of fessing up I decided to turn back to the tape, wear them only in class, and try to cover up the problem area by leaning my head on my hand. That got old and my neck got sore so I gave it up all together.
Tell me about a character in literature, film, television or other pop culture who wore glasses and how that resonated with you for good or for bad. The earliest media personality I remember being famous for glasses was Steve Urkel, and obviously that came with its share of negative (and cheesy) stereotypes. The “nerdy” image has definitely evolved since those days though, and I’ve shallowly gone right along with the trend. John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, random guy at the coffee shop…glasses are a major upgrade these days!
Describe your relationship with your glasses now. Though my script isn’t too strong, my glasses are definitely a security blanket for me. They’re in decent shape for being two years old, but I definitely wake up many mornings terrified that I’ve rolled over them in some fitful sleep the night before. I think we grow and evolve with our glasses though, and I think I’m ready for a different pair to take me into a new phase of my life.
There’s a pervasive stigma about wearing glasses for young and old, but an equally pervasive idea that glasses indicate intelligence (or hipness.) Explain that duality. Tough one. I think a lot of that stems from school and youth culture. Anything that marks you as “different” makes you a target for ridicule, and less than perfect vision has always been one of those markers. But be it reality or stereotype (or a mix of both), the bespectacled class tends to be pretty intelligent. I think kids also ridicule the people they secretly admire, and smarts are always something to aspire to. So, put those together and I guess it makes sense that we’d have those feuding perceptions of eyeglasses.
Can you describe how the cost of vision health services has had a negative impact on your life? Even when I was working a traditional job with legit benefits, the vision insurance was not great. The insurance covered the cost of a basic eye exam, but we were on our own for frames and prescription lenses. The cost of glasses at many places is prohibitively expensive, so I tended to put off the process and keep a little more money in my pocket. Since transitioning into freelance life and getting an individual healthcare plan my benefits are actually quite similar to what they were in my 9-5. I’ve decided that eye health (health in general really) is a priority that I can’t skimp on, but it’s sad that any of us have to choose between going to the doctor and putting food in our mouths.
Tell me about your work for this exhibit. I’m taking portraits of each of the artists for various promo materials surrounding the exhibit.
How can readers learn more about your work? My personal blog is www.mynomadiclens.com, and the website for the film series I recently launched is www.popuppremieres.wordpress.com