On behalf of the entire HocTok team, thank you for sharing your thoughts on art and life with us.
Dreams Do Come True – What is the biggest dream you’re working towards?
I’ve always been reluctant to share goals and dreams, unless it’s a safe and small environment of loved ones. Some of it is a desire to only share things, once I’ve accomplished them. However, some dreams and ideas I don't stop talking about. And it becomes a way of visualizing the project and sometimes getting input, while still in a conceptual stage.
I do have some artistic and journalism/documentary endeavors that I’m planning to release in 2018, the tricentennial of New Orleans. That’s my hometown, a place that I dearly love and perpetually captivates me. So, my dream is to kick the damn door down with my work about New Orleans in 2018.
What is the biggest dream that is reality for you now?
I always have more than one big dream at a time. But, my solo exhibition in New York, earlier this year, was a dream. Traveling abroad for an exhibition was a dream that I recently fulfilled. I was in The Brighton Photo Biennial, with The Dandy Lion Project, curated by Shantrelle P. Lewis, and that will be published by Aperture next year.
As a storyteller, it’s great when my writing is recognized independently from my photography and vice versa; I also enjoy when I get to do both for the same project. When I worked at Square Books in Oxford, Miss., I’d read theBest of Feature Writing or Best of Traveling Writingoften and I wanted to be published in one of those. In November, an article I wrote about ya-ka-mein for Edible New Orleans will be published in a book: Best Food Writing 2016.
War on the Benighted – Where did you get the idea for this series?
In 2014, a band in New Orleans, The Honorable South, asked me to come up with a concept and shoot their cover for an album, Faithful Honest & Brave. I imagined this futuristic band of soul rockers as children and that image was unwavering in my mind. The concept and story started coming to me. Then, I heard Adrian Younge on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Younge wrote a script for Twelve Ways to Die, so Ghostface Killah would know the themes of the songs, when he recorded his verses separately. Finally, on Valentine’s Day with my girlfriend, we sat in silence at a bar, after an argument, and I started storyboarding War on the Benighted. Before I submitted the idea, the band decided they wanted to play off of Clint Eastwood’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
How do you see the role of fashion in a community?
It’s a form of expression and for black men, it’s an act of resistance. Actually, when black folks in general dress up, it is a refusal to blend in for being black and a perpetual target of police brutality and various daily microaggressions.
What translates as good fashion sense?
One who knows the rules and breaks them. Those who take risks and they’re aware of proper fits. Who are the artists whose photographs have inspired your own series of Portraits?
When I played trumpet, I’d tried to totally emulate various artists. I don’t do that, knowingly, as a photographer. But I consume a lot of images and I’m really into Roy DeCarava, Gordon Parks, Melodie McDaniel, Annie Leibovitz's work and Francis Wolff, Ruddy Roye and W. Eugene Smith and Caravaggio and Barkley Hendricks and Dawoud Bey to name a few.
How do you pick the characters included in this same series?
I was related to four of them and my sister, Rahsaana Ison, is a teacher and has worked as a casting director. So, she casted some of her students.
Where do you go in New Orleans for the best art, the best food, the best company in the words of a New Orleans native?
I live near Upperline, a restaurant with great food and art. And JoAnn Clevenger, the restaurateur, is very welcoming and knowledgeable about the art she collects. I grew up going to Dooky Chase’s just as my mother, who was 73, did as a child. And Leah Chase has amassed a lot of fine art. For drinks, my regular haunts are Cure, Cane & Table and Victory. I love drinking at my home and the homes of friends. Sometimes my girlfriend and I invite people over and have drinks and cigars on the back porch, where the best conversations seem to happen. What story lines do you witness in New Orleans that cannot be found anywhere else?
Our living culture and culture bearers--it’s not merely ceremonial, it’s a way of life.
What are the most endearing aspects of life in The Crescent City for natives and newcomers as well?
The people. And our traditions and the food, music and culture. To see Indians and a second-line are things that still command my attention.
Who are some of the local artists with whom you hang out who never cease to amaze you and encourage you to continue on your journey?
Vitus Shell, Gus Bennett Jr., Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, Frank Relle, Jamey Hatley, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah, Delfeayo Marsalis, John Barnes and Ron Bechet and curators Gia Hamilton and Shantrelle P. Lewis.
For me, any time you can go from idea, to execution, to sharing and it being well-received is an awesome feeling. And to have that experience in New York was humbling, empowering and motivating at the same time. Humbling because there are other deserving artists who have not been afforded that opportunity. Empowering, because New York is the pinnacle for almost everything and A Blackness Continuum and the entire show resonated with people and continued conversations about police brutality. The opening was really well attended, I was happy about that. The curator, Kamau Ware, also scheduled an artist talk during the opening weekend and it was also really well attended with an extremely engaged audience. And it was motivating because I don’t want that to be my one and only show in New York. Most importantly, the questions and the feedback the attendees gave, made me more nervous afterwards than before the event began. I needed a moment and went to the bathroom and asked myself if I could get to the next levels that the audience saw my work going. I answered yes. I see my work going to other levels, but to hear a room full of people say the same things, so strongly, shook me up. But, in a positive way.
What is the next step from there?
To expand that project, it’s been almost a year and I’ve grown as an artist and the new lynching of blacks continues to happen. So, I’ll bring those experiences into the next iteration of A Blackness Continuum.
What are the most crucial experiences that have pushed you to find your path and your voice?
Failure and the birth of my son, Grayson in 2012. I didn’t pick up a camera with the sole intention of telling stories until after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When he was born, I was a dude who had two degrees, multiple skill sets and I was still underemployed. I was willing to work any legal job, but I was unwilling to put my dreams on hold. I felt that was an injustice to him, me and everyone who had invested in me. So, I bet on myself and bet that I could change my circumstances and that made me relentless for the pursuit of storytelling and my art.
As far as my voice, it’s shaped by curiosity, fascination and the desire to tell stories the way I like to hear them and women. I have a lot of women friends who are writers and early on, they always gave great feedback, scolding and encouragement. And I think the crux of my voice is based in my ability to report, something I learned as a journalist. And visually, I want to show things in a way they haven’t been seen before.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Working internationally often. Not having to worry about the business side of creation and negotiating. I just want to show up and work. (Although I do have a degree in entrepreneurship.) Having major funding to execute ideas and stories that have significant impact on people’s lives. A published author. Teaching others how to tell stories. In PTA meetings. Telling stories in a variety of mediums.
What motivates you to keep going forward despite any obstacles met along the way?
As a teenager, I was a budding professional trumpet player and I started to face a lot of adversity in that endeavor: I didn’t feel good enough, fast enough. So, I quit. Now, I know the value of perseverance and being patient with myself. I don’t dread creating, it’s something I love to do. I want to be one of the best storytellers ever and I know it won’t be easy, but I refuse to stop trying.