Christopher John Rogers, Quil Lemons, and More as Seen by Designer Bernard James

Photos by César Buitrago

There was nothing like the isolation of the early days of the pandemic to make the importance of friends and family fully sink in. Bernard James was among the many who came to the realization, and for him, vowing to prioritize those relationships wasn’t enough. The Brooklyn-based designer, whose mission is to diversify the fine jewelry industry, wanted to create a safe, intimate space for his loved ones to enjoy each other’s company. And while he was at it, he wanted to capture them all on film. So, with a little help from the photographer César Buitrago, he started what’s become his annual Family Portraits Series, a photographic showcase of the closest and most inspiring creatives in his community. (Naturally, with a bit of his jewelry sprinkled in.)

“Everyone that has been in the series has a strong energy that I’m naturally drawn to,” James says. This year, they have another thing in common: All of the subjects could be considered “the talent behind the talent,” meaning the ones who all too often get overlooked. Still, a few recognizable names made it in there—the designer Christopher John Rogers chief among them. Here, James shares how Rogers and four more of those who’ve shaped and inspired him first came into his life.

Christopher John Rogers, designer

Photo by César Buitrago

“We officially met at Telsha Anderson-Boone’s dinner for the first-year anniversary of her store, t.a. But funnily enough, I knew we were in the same circle; a friend mistook him for me at one of Antwaun Sargent’s gallery openings.”

Becky Akinyode, stylist and creative consultant

Photo by César Buitrago

“I met Becky years ago at Cafe Erzulie [in Brooklyn] around the time of our birthdays. (She’s July 6th and I’m July 7th.) When we were introduced, we both mentioned how we felt like we met in a past life. Becky honestly has the absolute best personal style, in my opinion. You’ll never catch her slipping.”

Quil Lemons, photographer

Photo by César Buitrago

“Quil and I had a lot of mutual friends and always admired each other’s work from afar. We struck up a conversation on Instagram, and I soon after invited him into the studio. It was such a natural and easy conversation because Quil is authentically and unapologetically himself. It’s one of the things I love about him most.”

Aisling Camps, designer

Photo by César Buitrago

“I discovered Aisling’s work on Instagram and was immediately drawn to her knitwear. I DM’ed her inquiring about a piece, so she invited me to her gorgeous studio in Dumbo. I greatly appreciated how her energy was so soothing and calming, and I’ve been bothering her ever since.”

Matthew Henson, stylist

Photo by César Buitrago

“I met Matt through one of my best friends, Corey Stokes, who was in the first family portrait series. I’ve always been attracted to his ability to shoot straight and tell it how it is—and, of course, his incredible style and taste.”