I was born in the 70's and was a child in the 80's and throughout my developmental years blackness was celebrated. We had Gordon Parks shooting for Vogue and Life magazine (still waiting for the day when a black photographer shoots the cover of the American Vogue). He opened the flood gates capturing black life on the silver screen with gems like The Learning Tree and Shaft. Other films followed like Oscar nominated Lady Sings the Blues and Claudine which introduced the world to the beauty of Diana Ross and Diahann Carroll. Every little girl in my neighborhood wanted to be Tracy Chambers aka Mahogany and all the lil dudes wanted to be Superfly.
Every black family I knew had stacks of Ebony, Jet, and Essence magazines on their living room tables. All my friends had tearsheets from Vibe and Source ( and lets not forget the jet beauty of the week, lol) covering our bedroom walls.
On curtain weeknights our entire house was on lock down for Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, The Cosby Show and A Different World - I smile when I think of the days when BET did us proud with Donnie Simpson and Video Soul, Teen Summit on Saturdays, and Cita the cyber-host.
Every Saturday night me and my brother glued ourselves to the tv to watch ....SOUL TRAIN. It had the coolest fashion, the best music, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. They made being black cool ( like the Gwendolyn Brooks poet WE REAL COOL)
above: model Pierre Woods @ NY Models sitting in front of the italian version of the movie poster for Gordon Park's film A Learning tree
One a fashion standpoint, we had Willie Wear/ Willie Smith who was the first black designer to win a bunch of awards before his death. We also had Patrick Kelly who was both the first American and the first person of color to be admitted as a member of the Chambre Syndicale in Paris. He was an exciting designer who continues to influence fashion today.
I grew up in the middle of the supermodel craze - and a few black ones emerged - Naomi, Veronica, Beverly Peele, Tyra. Tyson Beckford totally redefined what a black male model is suppose to look like to the point where most of the black male models today look like they could be his little brothers. Their presence made me feel like the fashion world was open to someone like me.
Today I think black people have lost that sense of pride and dignity they had back in those days. I grew up feeling really good about being black and felt happy about my life. I embraced the music, art, culture, fashion and food that made my life different from the "white life" I saw on television.
I think imagery is powerful. When you don't see a representation of yourself reflected in a positive way, It send a very powerful message. It was powerful enough for me to want to use art as a tool to celebrate the beauty I see in everyone who steps in front of my lens.
I merge all the elements that influenced me from my life growing up as a young, southern, black man and present them in the images I create. The generation I grew up in inspired me to want to see blackness as beautiful. It is disappointing that Today's generation is mostly about fitting in, making money, and being apart of the system and expressing its point of view instead of using your resources to express and celebrate your own point of view.
I SAY IT LOUD..... I'M BLACK, AND I AM PROUD!