First just tell me a little bit about your new book.
“The New Black Vanguard” is a book that traces the global movement of young black photographers who are making their concerns and fantasies and ideas known in the space of photography. It includes 15 photographers from places like Lagos and L.A., London, and New York, South Africa, who are really thinking about black identity as it relates to beauty and sexuality and things like leisure.
In the book what you get are these beautiful photographs that really – it’s thinking about where we are right now as a society but also look back to the past. In any number of photographs you see influences from photographers such as Malick Sidibé or James Van Der Zee or Roy DeCarava, who came before this generation and who didn’t have as much access or as many platforms because of racism. But you have these photographers following, in some ways, their footsteps to image blacks’ identities and to stake a claim to what it means to represent blackness right now.
"We’re not just seeing blackness as a monolith, but we’re seeing blackness in all these different ways, represented in the photographs." - Antwaun Sargent
Were all the 15 photographers people you knew before or how did you find them?
Some of the photographers I did know just from my work as a critic, and some of them I learned about through research, and then others I learned about on Instagram. I think that’s one of the great things about right now with social media; you can see a lot of work without having to actually be there. And so it started out, me coming up with a list, and then kind of testing some of my assumptions around what it means to be a black photographer today.
really one of the things that I was looking for was a way to show the vast
diversity of concerns and the diversity of the ways that black photographers
are working today. And so in the book you have someone like Awol Erizku, who’s
an L.A.-based photographer who grew up in New York, who is interested in still
life, right; and then you have someone like Nadine Ijewere, who’s a London
based photographer. She’s interested in the ways that landscapes interact with style.
You have photographers with really different kind of ideas about, how you create an image; and I thought that was important, because I think it gets to this question of diversity that we’re seeing. We’re not just seeing blackness as a monolith, but we’re seeing blackness in all these different ways, represented in the photographs. I thought that that was really important to show in the book.
Another thing, again, I thought was really important, is to think about the history. So, in the book, you have these dialogs between older generation photographers and this group of photographers. You have someone like Mickalene Thomas and Quil Lemons who talk about queer desire and how that might show up in their photographs, and what they want their photographs to express about notions of family. You have someone like Tyler Mitchell talking to his mentor, the photographer Deborah Willis, who’s Hank Willis Thomas’ mother, who’s a professor at NYU, who taught Tyler. She has written over 20 books about black photography. They are talking about their relationship and how she was influential in Tyler becoming a fashion photographer.
I think that you see that, say the model Alton Mason, for example. He’s shot in this book maybe four or five different times. And you really see him grow up into the model he is today throughout this book with images by Micaiah Carter and Arielle Bobb-Willis shot him. There are other photographers who have also taken his photograph. And when they were taking his photograph, he wasn’t this kind of model walking for Chanel and Louis Vuitton. It was because they saw something in him.
There are other models like that in the book as well who have gone on to have these great careers right now, but who are from this community of photographers, hair stylists, fashion stylists, fashion designers, who are creating these images that really do speak to different black worlds.
"I joke that Tyler Mitchell is the first and second black photographer to shoot for Vogue, because he shot two covers for American Vogue, and no other black photographers have been allowed the opportunity to do that since." - Antwaun Sargent
Tyler Mitchell’s cover of Vogue obviously made big waves not only in the fashion industry but in the general public, and I don’t think a lot of people actually knew that the cover of the biggest fashion magazine in the world had never been shot by a black photographer. But I always feel like it’s a one step forward, two steps back kind of situation with all minorities. What’s your take on that when it comes to being black in fashion?
think you’re right. I think the only reason why these image makers are shooting
at mainstream publications now is because they went around them to get their
images out. So they didn’t wait on traditional editors to commission them. They
went on Instagram, and they went on Tumblr, and they used social media; and
they created their own buzz. And I think it’s important to remember that,
because what’s happening right now – which gives me hope – is that these
photographers are forcing these fashion and art museums and magazines to
change. But I must say that – and I’m very open about it – I think when Vogue
announced this was the first time a black photographer shot the cover, it was
will also say that we have to also remember that we’re not satisfied with one.
I joke that Tyler Mitchell is the first and second black photographer to shoot
for Vogue, because he shot two covers for American Vogue, and no other black
photographers have been allowed the opportunity to do that since.
That’s so crazy.
would say that this book is just the beginning of a conversation that is long
overdue, and that I’m happy that these photographers have given their images
and their time to have this conversation. I’m equally happy that we just
launched a campaign with Burberry this morning, and three of the photographers
shot a social campaign for Burberry’s new puffer collection.
was an idea, that I came up with with someone on the Burberry team. I said, ‘you
know, being on set and seeing all black creators creating these images for this
major fashion brand, for me, felt like change.’ Because I cannot remember
another time that I’ve been on the set of a fashion shoot, and there were three
black people, let alone all, the whole set being black. I felt confident in
working with them, was because from the beginning, they were like, ‘okay; the
creative control is with this group of photographers.’
"We offered up our ideas, and then to have our ideas taken, and not credited for in any meaningful way." - Antwaun Sargent
What is your take on Kerby from Pyer Moss’ statement that inclusion is just the buzzword of the moment?
think Kerby has been very, very, very clear about the fact that, yes, this is
great, that he’s being included now; but the work still needs to be done;
there’s work that still needs to be done.
I think that the business of fashion situation is a prime example. What
resonated with people with that particular situation was the fact that we have
all felt that way before: We offered up our ideas, and then to have our ideas
taken, and not credited for in any meaningful way; or to have our ideas taken
and then have a white designer be thanked for them, which is part of the
business of fashion situation.
Not at all.
I think that, in those moments, you have to be careful to really listen to what
people are saying and to give them, again, the space to say them and to address
what they are saying. And so, in reading that response, I was like, oh, you
really don’t get it.
always conscious of that, and I think that all of the attention that the book
and the exhibition is getting – I’m really grateful for that, but I’m also
really cognizant of the fact that people have been doing this work for years,
and I’m more interested in partnering with people who have been doing this work
for years and who understand the nuances and the difficulties of this work than
to, say, someone who just sees this as an opportunity to make them look good.
Why did you choose to do this book with Aperture?
of all history: Aperture has been doing really great, high-quality photo books.
I also chose to do this book with Aperture because over the last several years,
Aperture has worked with black photographers to help to try to change the
narrative of photography. And so over the last several years, Aperture has
worked with Mickalene Thomas. They’ve worked with Lyle Ashton Harris. They’ve
worked with Sarah Lewis who did “Vision & Justice.” And also, there were a
few others that I’m not mentioning. Those projects, I think, helped to change
our notions of what is considered valuable in photography, because photography
is, again, overwhelmingly white based. Most of the images that we consumed have
been taken by straight white men.
Oh, for sure.
so I was interested in working with an organization who were committed and who
had a track record of a commitment. Aperture did LaToya Ruby Frazier’s book,
“The Notion of Family,” about her family in Braddock, PA, thinking about what
it means to be working class, changing the notion of what it means to be
working class. What I mean is that black people are also working class, also
helped build this country, also were in mines and all these things.
think that there is still work to be done everywhere. I do think that it says
something that Aperture has done five, six, seven, eight books with black
photographers and black thinkers, that really have helped to shift the
conversation. I see this book as just one more of those projects that further
help to reconsider photography and also reconsider the medium of photography
The New Black Vanguard is available at the shop at The Standard, High Line