Bio. Offer us a short, snappy (not-copied-from-your-website or any publication), fun biography. Who are you?
As Erykah Badu said, “I don’t want to time travel no more. I wanna be here.” I do a lot of time traveling. Sometimes my spirit travels faster than I want it to, but I’m embracing the reasons why it currently needs such travel. I believe that the past, present, and future all co-exist. I re-imagine archives. I’ve started calling myself an “experimental documentary filmmaker.” I’m an LA native but I’m falling in love with the spirits and ancestral memories of the south.
Beginning. Do you remember the first time you picked up a camera? The first picture you took or video you made? Tell us a story about your beginning.
Ha! They weren’t good. I started taking photos and making short films about eight years ago, but I didn’t really hit my stride until about three or four years ago. I found some of my old images a while ago and just had to laugh and appreciate the growth and the journey ... fake cigarettes, high contrast, photos of absolutely nothing. I was trying to emulate what I saw rather than interrogating my own voice and vision. I remember being really intimidated and insecure by the other students in my undergrad and by the young folks in the field: they were really pretentious. We all start somewhere, so never make anyone feel like shit or cast them aside because of their lack of experience: it’s ugly behavior, and they’ll probably end up being better than you anyway.
Being. What are you working on now ? Where? How? Why?
I’m working on a short documentary, A Love Song For Latasha; I started it last March and should be wrapping this June. Too often I’ve seen the stories of black girls exploited, the same narrative repeated, or misinformation shared. I want to correct that and visualize the fullness of our stories, especially this amazing girl in particular. Excuse the brevity but I’m really protective of this story and of those who’ve shared their beauty with me to make it possible. I’m also working on a new documentary project called Dreaming Gave Us Wings, which reimagines the archives and documents what’s missing from historical records. I’m currently working on a research paper about reimagining the archives, so this, too, I’ll keep brief: I’m rethinking the archival process from an experimental documentary approach. I just received a residency with The Center for Photography at Woodstock, so I’ll continue this project and this research while there.
Borrowing. Tell us a little about your artistic lineage. Who are the artists and/or works that influence you? Who or what inspires you and why?
Borrowing is very interesting. I used to be very open about my influences and loved sharing them, but I’ve started becoming protective of them. I think we live in a culture that takes, takes, takes, and that craves and values instant gratification over longevity. I used to get messages asking what inspires me: it started making me feel really uncomfortable. I couldn't separate the history of black women contributing so much to society while being erased from many of the conversations. People have and continue to steal a lot from black women and black culture. I’ve stopped posting my work on social media because I needed that space—and to protect my own process. Maybe I’ll get back on one day, but, at the moment, my processes and inspirations remain very spiritual and very private.
Blown-away. Show us the last image that completely took your breath away (contemporary or historical—depending on where you’ve been looking). What do you love about it?
I love exploring different forms of visual storytelling. This artist Tyanna J. Buie has such a brilliant and spiritual way of engaging with history and memories. The image above, “Class Portrait,” is haunting for me personally because I so vividly remember taking class portraits that look just like this as a kid at Baldwin Hills Elementary in South Central LA. Some of their faces and names I’ve forgotten and the memory a bit blurred. I also think about my mom and what her photos as a child in school looked like. I think about all the unknown black children who have been erased from the archives but who still exist. Buie is excavating her past, and in so doing she asks us to excavate our own. I've been spending a lot of time in archives and this piece resonates with me so deeply.
Blown-away 2. Show us an image by you that takes your breath away. What makes this image great?
This is one of my newest images from Dreaming Gave Us Wings, titled “Seven Years.” The conjuring took about three months. I would talk with my dear friend J about it and we would have such fruitful conversations about the process of activating ancestral memories and activating spaces. Activating spaces brings to life the memory and energy of a particular environment. When I found this attic space, I began thinking about the importance of confinement in relation to liberation and flight. After meditating on this space for a while and after thorough research, I discovered Harriet Jacobs: a runaway slave who hid in a small attic space for seven years before escaping North to freedom. The attic space Harriet hid in was also in North Carolina about two and a half hours from the place in this photo. I almost didn’t think this image would be possible, but it happened when I was ready to visit that other dimension.
Between. Discuss the relationship between you and your subjects (whether people, objects, land). What is the nature of your relationship with the things you photograph or film?
I can speak about conjuring. My project Dreaming Gave Us Wings is a self-portrait series. Outside of A Love Song For Latasha, I decided to take a break from telling other people’s stories. I needed to unlearn some problematic habits passed down within the culture of documentary and journalism: extractive storytelling, exploiting and capitalizing on blackness, excess over substance, etc. So I decided to interrogate and excavate my own sense of self and use my body as a place of memory. I felt that if I couldn't do that with—and for—myself , then I had no business asking anyone else to open up. I still consider this work documentary: Dreaming Gave Us Wings is absolutely real. Conjuring is a collaborative process that takes time and requires your spirit to be open. Ancestors will speak to you—the universe will give you direction and answers. But you have to be willing to reject everything that you’ve been taught about the storytelling process.
Better. How do you work towards continuous improvement, on honing your craft?
Sometimes I do everything but touch my camera. I’m currently reading a lot of Zora Neale Hurston and black feminist discourse. I have conversations about dreaming (both figurative and literal). I pick the leaves off of trees. I cry. This helps me connect more deeply with my craft; this helps me improve as a person and a storyteller.
Balance. When you are not photographing, what are you doing that keeps you grounded? What (else) do you do for fun?
I’ve been binge-watching Living Single on Hulu. I’m obsessed with Black 90’s pop culture. I love to exercise: it helps me to breathe and to think clearly. I love a good glass (or two or three) of wine. To keep myself grounded, I stay away from social media and I dream. I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood memories, especially my mom’s work as a storyteller in Leimert Park and how deeply ingrained her stories are in me.
Beyond. Tell us about a future project or challenge that you hope to tackle.
To continue to build my own path, reject capitalism (or to unlearn capitalistic ideology), embrace failure, trust the process, tune out the noise; to continue to reimagine the archives and to experiment, especially in relation to challenging conventional documentary methods.