All posts in Portrait Studies

Portrait Studies: The Cloud Of Unknowing

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I was walking down Lower Broadway in Nashville in the sweltering summer heat. Honky tonk music venues adorning gaudy retro signs lined the streets; slow-moving crowds spilled over the sidewalk, faces flushed with heat and a couple of 2pm beers, perhaps. It was my second day in Nashville – the South, as a whole – and I was feeling slightly disoriented by how smiley everyone was, how wide the sidewalks were, the predominance of families and children.

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TheCloudOfUnknowing-18-smThat was when I heard an otherworldly, high-pitched sound amidst the crowd. It was melodic yet utterly bizarre, like an alien humming an ethereal tune. I walked further down the block to find a couple of buskers performing on the sidewalk – one on vocals and banjo, the other on a saw violin. Their friend Rude complimented me on my labaret. I thanked him and asked to take a photo of the performers. After taking a series of horribly lit shots, I proceeded to walk down to the end of the block… only to turn back and ask them if they were willing to do a proper shoot with me after they were done busking. They kindly agreed.

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TheCloudOfUnknowing-4-smAnd boy am I lucky they did. I had the opportunity to spend a couple hours talking with Annalise Lovelace and Mars Odette of The Cloud of Unknowing, a nomadic freakfolk duo that performs across the US and lives out of a van. Annalise and Mars met in New Orleans and have been traveling together since. They picked up Rude – a trumpet player, as it turns out – along the way and were en route to St. Louis. Their friendly and humble dispositions belied their worldliness. Thanks so much for letting me make pictures with you guys. Safe travels to LA!

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Studio Sessions: Loumingou Night

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I had the distinct privilege of photographing Ngonda, Ntangou and Nkoula of Loumingou Night, a three-piece sister band based in Brooklyn. Nearly a year has passed since our last shoot together; for this session, we decided to showcase body painting techniques inspired by the Omo Valley tribes of southern Ethiopia.

DNA analysis suggests that every person now living on this earth is related to a single woman from the Omo Valley. The region is home to eight tribes, each with distinct tongues, livelihoods, and body painting techniques. That said, many members employ light pigments such as dried clay and fresh native plants worn around the crown of the head, both of which are said to provide protection from outside spirits and double as pest repellent. The sisters gracefully recreated their own looks and interpretations of this ancient ritual for this shoot.

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LoumingouNight-204-BLOGThe lower Omo Valley region had remained virtually untouched by modern industry until the Gibe III hydroelectric dam project was implemented in 2006. This has prevented an annual flood – one that was essential to maintain the rich biodiversity of the region – and displaced villagers along the Omo River. An increasing number of these peaceful pastoralists have given up their floral crowns for AK-47s to protect their bodies, land and resources.

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LoumingouNight-306-BLOGA reproduction can only say so much. Still, we wanted to preserve the beauty and quiet empowerment behind this ritual – the adorning of one’s body with native clay and plants for grounding and protection. I could not have asked for a more talented group of women to collaborate on this project with. Enjoy.

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Portrait Studies: Boshia and Fatimat

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Islamaphobia has long plagued western societies. In light of recent events, Muslimahs like Boshia and Fatimat have had to reclaim their faith amidst a narrow-minded, xenophobic culture that is much too eager to attribute one rogue individual’s unforgivable actions onto an entire community. Divide-and-conquer tactics have been used by the elite class for centuries to leverage their power, and sadly the media’s fixation on Omar Mateen’s religious background is yet another example of this crude manipulation. Take two especially vulnerable demographics – LGBTQ individuals and Muslim Americans – and pit them against one another. Certainly it is much easier to demonize a group of people than to implement policy changes that will prevent a mentally unstable man on a terrorist watch list from acquiring a semi-automatic weapon in the first place.

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BoshiaFatimat-494-WEBRESTruth be told, this shoot with Boshia and Fatimat was planned long before the tragedy in Orlando. We simply wanted to coordinate a follow-up shoot to this portrait study depicting the quiet reverence of Muslim sisterhood. Indeed, the kinship between these two women was starkly evident from the moment we met up. Too often female friendships are wrought with nuances of jealousy and competition – these two, however, share a dignified relationship based on healing and intellectual curiosity. They are currently working hard to create a community space for Muslim women to come together and learn about natural remedies and healing techniques. Watch this space for further updates.

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Saturday Sessions: Lucy Adamas

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It’s easy to become jaded in New York City. You are barely a blemish amongst 8 million people crawling in and out of a behemoth subway system lined with asbestos and rat nests. People – myself included – tend to keep to themselves and “stay out of trouble.” Ear buds in, eyes averted carefully beyond the right shoulder of the person sitting in front of you. God forbid we make eye contact with someone and they want to have a chat…

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Enter: the busker. The brave individual who offers his or her talents to the public to penetrate the veil of apathy and convention. Thankfully, New York City is brimming with unbelievably talented buskers who draw people like me out of my lonely headspace. Lucy Adamas is one of them. I encountered Eli and Ryan several weeks back playing on the Union Square L-stop subway platform and fell in love with their sound immediately. They are a psychedelic fusion keyboard-and-percussion duo (yep, you read that right – no guitar!) with heavy downbeats and beautifully saturated melodies. They attract hoards of people regularly; often times the entire platform succumbs to their inimitable wavelength. Needless to say, I was beyond stoked when they kindly agreed to let me shoot them in Bushwick one Saturday afternoon.

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LucyAdamas-14-WEBRESThe name Lucy Adamas is a Latin-derived word and roughly translates to “adamant light.” Through steady sound and radiance, they seek to gently uplift and expand the minds of those around them. The musical chemistry between Eli and Ryan is something to behold – amidst the scattered chaos of the subway platform they are able to improvise and harmonize with acute precision. Passing listeners have commented that their sound is a “little peek into what felt like a deep journey.”

Adamant light, indeed.

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LucyAdamas-199-WEBRESCheck out their music here and follow them here for upcoming shows!

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Saturday Sessions: Ntrs Ra

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Ntrs Ra is a three-piece high existence spiritual hiphop group based in New York. Made up of artists/identical twins Kheper Ka M Heru and Ba n Ra and artist/femcee Boshia Rae Jean, Ntrs Ra is an eclectic blend of classic downbeats and progressive lyrics. I had the pleasure of meeting up with them one Saturday morning in the barren warehouse districts of Bushwick. The music was on, the weather was mild, their spiritual connection was beautifully palpable. Thank you for an amazing shoot, Ntrs Ra!

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.