All posts in Portrait Studies

Portrait Studies: Imani

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Imani is a dancer who recently made her debut as a theatre actor in Andrew Ondrejcak’s play Elijah Green. “Elijah changed my life,” she told me as we chatted about her dance career, film aspirations and her recent features in Paper Mag and Vogue Italia. A woman of many talents, Imani is currently hatching up plans to direct her first music video while continuing to pursue a thriving dance and acting career here in NYC.

BLOG-Imani-36Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Imani radiates a palpable passion for life and its many incongruencies. She is strong yet compassionate, willful yet remarkably endearing. Imani and I met up several days after my return from Japan and her contagious smile lifted my spirit as I readjusted to life back in NYC. Truly, there’s nothing like meeting a new kindred spirit to quell homesickness. We did a quick test shoot in her apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The pale morning sun filtered in through the window as she savored a bedside smoke (or three).

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Follow Imani on Instagram to learn more about what she’s up to in NYC.

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Portrait Studies: Horitsuki

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Tucked in the damp back streets of Nakano, Tokyo, is a small tattoo shop called Freestyle Tattoo. Around these parts the streets twist and turn into dizzying arrays of dead ends and alleyways. Faded graffiti and weathered signage adorn the walls amid a dark yet strangely nostalgic labyrinth of mom-and-pop izakayas. It seems painfully appropriate that Horitsuki-san chose this “shita-machi” district as the venue for his first Tokyo tattoo studio; his wabori work also conjures up a poignant blue-collar nostalgia, bolstered by stained hachi-maki towels and a crushed pack of smokes.

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Admittedly, I was nervous leading up to this shoot. Horitsuki-san seemed friendly enough over email; however a part of me struggled to get over the hardy yakuza-affiliated horishi stereotype. Needless to say, I was taken aback when Horitsuki-san greeted me with a polite bow as he ushered me into his impeccably clean studio, complete with wall-to-wall sketches of past concepts and the faint aroma of cigarettes and rubbing alcohol permeating the tidy quarters. He offered me a smoke as he sat before his drawing board. Though he was 13 years my senior, he spoke to me in measured keigo, a formal Japanese vernacular dedicated to speaking to someone of seniority or of a higher status. We chatted up to the very last minute before his next sitting and snapped some shots of his studio and concepts, as well as some of his own tattoo pieces.

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Horitsuki-san encountered irezumi in his late teens. “Some say I am mild-mannered for a tattoo artist,” he offers. “But I guess I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak.” In 1999, he began his career as a self-taught tattoo artist, specialising initially in Western tattoos. After several serendipitous encounters at international tattoo conventions, Horitsuki-san developed a renewed interest in traditional Japanese aesthetics. He has been pursuing wabori tattoos since. “My career has been largely shaped by the talented artists and mentors I have had the privilege to meet,” Horitsuki-san says. Perhaps the most endearing quality about this wabori artist is his undeniable humility and emphasis on go-en, or the serendipity of personal encounters, as his primary source of inspiration.

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Check out more of Horitsuki-san’s work here.

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Portrait Studies: Milandou

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Milandou AKA Young Paris is an internationally acclaimed musician and creative director currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. He is known for his eclectic sound – a culturally nuanced blend of rap and electronic dance music layered over traditional African drumbeats. He has been featured alongside Lenny Kravitz and SZA at Afropunk Festival and is the face of their annual Music Fest in Brooklyn.

Milandou is also the founder of #MelaninMonday, a successful and highly relevant visual movement that celebrates men and women of color. Racial pride is a delicate subject as it is often misconstrued as anti-whiteness – too often these conversations fall to the wayside of status quo and political correctness. #MelaninMonday, on the other hand, is a deeply nuanced movement that empowers melanated peoples by writing them back into the social narrative while focusing on healing and cultural inclusivity.

Milandou-38I was initially drawn to the concept of #MelaninMonday, well before I discovered Young Paris or his music. It epitomized a pristine, non-politicized version of self love that I am still very much in the process of learning. The imagery was carefully curated and executed to depict wholeness and integrity – a refreshing departure from the exotic caricatures that people of color are often drawn up to be. Naturally, when I discovered that the founder of #MelaninMonday was the brother of a friend of mine, I was intrigued.

Milandou-29Working with Milandou was a dream. We drew some inspiration from a Jimmy Nelson portrait and sourced styling elements to visualize his Congolese heritage. We spoke acutely about the nuances that we wanted to evoke and the machismo gender characteristics that we wanted to dispell. When Milandou showed up at my apartment to drop off a suitcase full of discarded fur coats to complete the backdrop, I knew that we were both equally stoked about this collaboration. With the talented Ntangou onboard with us to do the face painting and add final styling touches, we were in capable hands.

Milandou-9Milandou has an inimitable grace about him, a natural regality that we seldom see in our age demographic. His confidence permeates the room, yet he is also deeply cognizant of his family, his community, his heritage. In a society that actively fetishizes wealth and individual desires, Milandou and his music serve as an antidote, a much-needed reminder that integrity is found not in external factors but in our cultural origins.

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Portrait Studies: Maggie De La Cruz

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Maggie and I met up early one subzero Saturday morning, a couple weeks after Jonas and some intermittent snow days later. Last stop on the Q train: Coney Island. The streets were abound with week-old salt and slush – but the Wonder Wheel perched along the distant coastline sparkled in all its vaudevillian glory.

As soon as we met up, Maggie and I became easy friends. Having just returned from a 10-day trip in Thailand, she radiated life and exuberance; conversation flowed easily over paper cups of Dunkin’ Donuts hot chocolate and coffee as we recalled past accounts of wandering through Bangkok fresh markets and nursing lukewarm beers on Khao San Road.

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MaggieDeLaCruz-19-smMaggie hails from the Dominican Republic and currently resides in the Bronx. She splits her time between New York, LA, and wherever her travel itinerary takes her. Check out her website here, where she explores a new brand of minimalism – one that focuses less on anti-materialism and more on making room for “passion, contentment, new experiences, happiness…a sense of self.”

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.

Portrait of a Muslimah

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The word Islam – which translates to “surrender” – is closely correlated with Arabic salam, or peace. Pre-Islamic Arabia was wrought with destruction and tribal warfare. Personal vendettas led to counter-vendettas, leaving the region polarized and wildly unstable for multiple generations. In early 7th century A.D., Prophet Muhammad saved early Muslim communities from extermination by the powerful city of Mecca, according to scriptures. After ensuring security for his people, he introduced the Koran to promote a campaign of nonviolence. By 632, Muhammad single-handedly brought peace to war-torn Arabia.

BoshiaHijab-15-smBecause the Koran was conceived and interpreted during a time of violent warfare, many of its scriptures relate to armed struggle. Indeed, wars of self-defense are permissible, and one is called to fight, like Muhammad, to avoid the kind of persecution that the Mecca inflicted upon early Muslim communities. However, extremists often quote these verses exclusively and completely disregard the Koran’s subsequent exhortations to peace. Muslims may not begin hostilities (2: 190). It is meritorious to forgo revenge in a spirit of charity (5: 45). Muslims must respect and remain emphatic toward Jews and Christians because God “formed [humans] into nations and tribes so that [they] may know one another” (49: 13). Muslims are told that “there must be no coercion in matters of faith” (2: 256) – something Christians can learn from, in my humble opinion – and that they must reach out to others with intelligence and understanding.

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BoshiaHijab-30-smIslamaphobia has long plagued Western societies, and is further exacerbated by false assumptions that jihadist organizations somehow represent core values of Islam. Muslims in America have been subject to long-term discrimination and are forced to reclaim their faith in a xenophobic culture that deems them suspect, even after having lived there for multiple generations.

Boshia, a Muslimah from New Jersey, takes us through a visual journey depicting the beauty and dynamism of her faith. Not all Muslims wear niqabs that cover their bodies and faces. Not all Muslims are Islamists, or believe that the Koran endorses an Islamic government. And most importantly, not all Muslimahs are oppressed or disempowered, as Western feminists love to assume.

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Model: Boshia Rae Jean
Stylist: Space

Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.