Toronto rooftop photographer admires Cartier-Bresson and Klein

Jayscale, AKA Jamal Burger, hopes his photos will last

From humble beginnings, Jayscale, AKA Jamal Burger is now one of the most popular photographers on Instagram. The Toronto native quickly gained a large following after starting his Instagram account in 2015.  With over 200,000 followers, he has come a long way since his days of dangling his sneakers over rooftops.

“I appreciate the progress,” Burger told journalism students in April at Centennial College in Toronto. But he isn’t content to remain at this same skill level. “I pray and I’m optimistic that the way I see things [in the future] is much more elevated than the way I see things today.”

on stage interview
Jamal Burger AKA Jayscale speaking to Centennial Journalism students Giorgio Lee, Tiara Chuktan and Yvano Antonio, March 27, 2017. (Toronto Observer Staff photo)

A Regent Park native, Burger, 23, was raised by a single mother, who he says gave him one of his biggest motivations to succeed. Looking to take care of his mother and family, Burger went to the University of Toronto to study kinesiology, but didn’t like the program. Not seeing school as a priority, he began to try new things to figure out what he wanted to do. When a friend gave him a camera that had been found, Burger swapped out his cellphone camera and began shooting with the new one. Once he had mastered the controls, he upgraded.

“I sold like 10 pairs of sneakers to buy a camera,” Burger said, referring to his fondness for collecting shoes.

He used the new camera for a year before having a sneaker company approach him to work for them. Burger instead offered to work for free, if they bought him a good camera, optimistic that taking this risk would pay off for him in the long run.

Burger first started his Instagram page after seeing another account that was posting black and white photos. His appreciation for the posts and interest in the greyscale theme for photos led him to create his brand name and his own style.

Nowadays, with clients such as Canon, and gigs shooting celebrities such as Drake, and athletes including NBA basketball stars such as Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowrie,  Burger admits he doesn’t have time to pay much attention to his booming social media presence during his daily routine, even going so far as to deleting the apps from his phone after he posts a new photo.

Despite his success, the young photographer is still looking to improve himself. He enjoys leafing through coffee-table books showcasing the work of award-winning photographers he admires such as William Klein and Henri Cartier-Bresson. He says that these men were able to capture images 80 years ago that are still great today, and he wants to take photos that will last, as well.

“A good photo brings something out of the person who looks at it…when they look at the photo there’s this indescribable feeling of ‘Wow I can’t believe they caught that,’” Burger told the journalism students.

Burger says he is now in a place to take risks and shake things up, which is why he is heading to India and then Japan for his latest projects.

“I just try to put myself in a bigger pool as opposed to feeling like I’m a big fish in a small pool,” Burger said.