“An Oppositional Black Aesthetic”


I began shooting this project in color on a DSLR. I chose to convert the images to black and white using a digital image editing program.

I used to believe that the benefits of black and white photography was that it inspires a certain feeling of the classic, a timeless act in motion, the spirit suspended. The notes of black and white photography allows for a less distracted aesthetic experience. The shapes, forms, tones, and the ennui of an image step forward forming a timeless space in which the viewer can choose to engage deeper.  Working in grayscale allows for an easier transition into the surreal. This quality made me fall in love with photography, but what sparks my interest in image making also allows for a certain level of disconnection for the image.

Over time, I changed my mind.  I think the suppression of details that the black and white aesthetic provides, one that I’ve subscribed to since the beginning part of this visual essay, may be antithesis to the my goals for the project. I could not shake this question, am I recreating the stereotypes I claim to be fighting against by using the traditional language of documentary reportage? I need my viewers to connect to the people in the photographs, not pull away and label them as “other.”

Color makes the details of life sing. But for me, there is also something political in returning these digital images to color from black in white. I wanted to move at least one-step away from the stereotypical images of minorities in America, to continue the construction of what bell hooks’ calls the “oppositional black aesthetic.”

“Access and mass appeal have historically made photography a powerful location for the construction of an oppositional black aesthetic. In the world before racial integration, there was a constant struggle on the part of black folks to create a counter-hegemonic world of images that would stand as visual resistance, challenging racist images.”   

                –bell hooks, “In Our glory; Photography in Black Life”

One of my stated goals for this project is to confront and challenge the visual stereotypes that shackle African American communities. I began to wonder if color photography would serve the goals of the project in a more direct way.

Reclaiming this historic form of visual resistance motivates me. Concurrently, I want my viewers to see themselves in the lives of the people and communities featured in the pictures. I felt black and white subdues the subtleties of brown skin. Color intensifies it. It breaks the veil of the surreal, reopening a door into to present reality.  It is possible that I projected this worry into my work. Maybe I felt black and white was a less threatening way of confrontation viewers with an uncomfortable message. The more direct approach using the complexity of color is a better way to position the images firmly within the American Dream.


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