Photography and Video
Photography and Video
LJ Glanton is a multi-media artist based in New York City. As a young Black creative, LJ aims to use the medium of film and photography to restructure how the society typically views black bodies in media and placing black bodies in atypical spaces that are generally whitewashed. LJ aspires to use his creative language to fuse both protest and aesthetic stimulation to create “Visual Activism.”
Western art canon can be seen as a white dominating principle that does not necessarily highlight the Black experience. Your work, on the contrary, is all about the glory of Black bodies and the beauty of Blackness. Can I say that you use your own body as an instrument for making art? As a queer artist of color, why is it so important to emphasize the body?
After many years of struggling to find my confidence within my Blackness I realized the Black body in and of itself is art. The resilience of existence and consistency of excellence is sublime and needs to be seen as a work of art. I incorporate my own body into my work to show where and how Blackness over generations has arrived and continues to pioneer mainstream trends. As a queer Black individual, it’s important to emphasize the body because flesh in general should be relatable from race to race… but it’s not… and it’s because of a lack of knowledge and consistency of proper representation.
Black Lives Matter is considered as one of the largest movements in American history. It is not only domestic; the movement is also international. We are seeing changes happening in all industries, especially in the arts. What is your take on this movement? How does this movement inspire you as an artist?
I have been invigorated by this moment through being pressure cooked in the depression of it all. It’s been both devastating and inspiring to see such an influence worldwide. I feel that through these exposing times there’s a lot of self liberating happening especially with young Black creatives. We are no longer desiring to uphold our work within the rubrics of success from white institutions, rather, we are creating our own spaces and collaborating with other Black artists to prove to the world that we need nobody but ourselves. I am the most passionate, confident and grounded with my art right now.
I understand that besides photography, you also focus on videography/art film. You have an upcoming short film coming up, would you like to talk a little bit about this new project?
I am in the process of writing a docu-series to continue to educate and illuminate Black beauty. It will essentially delve into the very diverse and complex mindsets of young Black creatives and how we exceed the margins that society has put us in. It is the biggest project I have spearheaded, and I will be working with so many gifted artists to bring it to fruition. I want to diversify this series by rooting it in beauty. I plan to have it be part interview (group setting and one on one) as well as it being part performance. I want to shoot it almost in the way music videos are shot with elaborate sets and colorful lights to beautifully frame the beauty of these individuals. I plan to begin filming within the next two months.
We are seeing an unstoppable force for globalization, and it manifests significantly in its transculturalism. What is your take on the globalization of cultures? Do you have any thoughts on the concept of cultural appropriation?
I personally believe cultural crossover is an inevitable force. However, I believe that while cultures merge there needs to be boundaries set to maintain respect and eliminate stealing. We must remain rooted and educated in where things come from and put the people of those cultures front and center when we showcase these things instead of only showing whitewashed versions of things that are sacred to someone’s identity. Integrity.
Rongkai Li was born in Daliang mountains, near Shangri-la. He took photography as a career and worked more than a decade in Shanghai. He is interested in primitive mysticism and has endeavoured to use a surrealist approach for telling Chinese stories.
Does your Zen series reveal anything about borders, such as class, race, gender and religion?
First of all, the Zen series is based on traditional Chinese Buddhist philosophy, and it blended the surrealist technique as the formalist approach. Regarding the border of ideas, Zen cares more about the realm of personal life, reflecting the time lapses and disappearing life, rather than class, race, and gender. Buddhists hope to understand life and death, with which one can escape pains and sorrows. Zen tries to understand how to harmonised the relationship between the world and the individual from an innermost way. I hope to fuse borders to achieve new ways of expression.
Even though Zen series initiated before the occurrence of the pandemic, perhaps you had already sensed the world was reshaping, does it affect you in art-making?
I think humans can benefit from scientific advancement, however, we cannot rely on science as the only way to understand this world. We need to return to the beginning and remain pure to refresh our cognition. Adjusting our subjective way of thinking, with adapted attitude to the new world, we can gain new revelations, and this is the fundamental cause that drives me creating Zen series. I meditate that time means much more to human life than to inorganic substance, and the pandemic makes us clearer about the fragility of life and self. We should respect the world and its living beings more. This kind of respect is the highest value of humans, and that is what Zen is about.
What are the possibilities in photography? Which area that you want to make a breakthrough?
Photography is still full of possibilities. At present, so-called fashion photography did not progress much compared with the ones in the past few decades. I wish to rethink about it from its origin. Photography is an art that is based on an objective world, then expressed through the subjective view of the photographer. Conversely, creativity is limited by the medium, and artists are required to comply with the rules and then release the potential. Therefore a good photographer needs to have good taste. I think it can be a breakthrough if the methods of expression are highly compatible with the subjective ideal. Methods require good practice and good thinking requires artists’ taste. If the two can blend well, then the artwork can be ineffable and everlasting.
After the second world war, Pop art made mass-produced images parallel with the high art, and photography has been challenged by multi-media, easel painting and sculpture. Now short videos have gain popularity, do you think there are some traits photography should insist and some aspects need to adapt?
Admittedly, Pop art contributed to promoting photography, and it overthrew the hegemony of painting, unlimited the ways of expressing, essentially it is synthetic. However, as for me, form matters little insofar as the balance is concerned. By balance I mean art should not just about the surface, I am after the balance of the visual, considering the reception of the audience, not just artists’ catharsis. Indeed short videos are popular because humans can be satisfied by direct and simple delight. Short videos can fill human desires at a rapid speed. But I think photography will not be affected by it that much, because photography extends beyond the surface, it should be more insightful.
How has the pandemic affected you? Any wishful thinking about future art-making and exhibition?
The most influential aspect of the pandemic to me is that it made me humbler and respect life more. Art-making is a way for artists to express their feelings, and it is sublimated by the talent and understanding the society. It becomes apparent that online exhibition will be very popular, because it can address some issues in exhibiting art, such as rent for the actual space and fees. However, it would undermine the sense of the presence of art. As for still photographs, maybe complimentary videos and documents can help. I think to sum up the 5 interview questions, art-making primarily needs to move artists themselves, then to seek empathy of the audience, therefore we need to show respect and understanding about the individual as well as the other.
请问在创作 禅•悟 摄影系列的时候，你对世界上各种边界，比如阶级、种族、性别、信仰、民族等有没有什么个人的看法？
The Queens of Babi
18×24 in / 24 x 36 in
Ngadi Smart is a Sierra Leonean Photographer based in London, whose focus is on documenting Cultures, Subcultures and Intimacy. Her photographic work has long been focused on how people self-identify and choose to present themselves in front of the lens. As of late, her interest has been documenting Black sensuality and culture through an African lens and point of view. She aims to show as many representations of African people, and what it means to be African, as she can.
You are originally from Sierra Leone, but now living and working in between London and Abidjan. How does this transcultural and transnational lifestyle affect you as an artist?
In terms of how living in both places have affected my work, I would say it has definitely made me more open to different cultures, lifestyles, and most importantly, people: I think you can see the interest I have for others in my photography, particularly in the topics I choose for my documentary photography, which is mainly portraiture. I have an avid interest in learning about cultures, what they represent and mean to people, people’s identities and habits.
As an artist, it is important to be open, as you never know what could speak directly to you, challenge you, and inspire you, but also, it is important for me to show the identity of the person who I am photographing through.
It is also important to note that because my experience as a Sierra Leonean and resident of Côte d’ivoire was fragmented, (by living abroad for extended amounts of time)I try to be as careful as I can to not to make my own views as the standard depiction for West Africa. In my work. I want it to be clear that it is my own portion of the big story that I am telling. My own unique perception, along with other creatives’ work from the continent and diaspora, will forge an authentic story.
Your most recent work, The Queens of Babi(2020), portrays Abidjan’s drag community. Can you explain the significance of shedding lights on queer communities like this in Africa? What are your motivations and goals in doing so?
Of the 76 countries that still criminalise same-sex relationships and behaviour, 38 are African. Recent surveys also show that the overwhelming majority of people who live in Africa strongly disapprove of homosexuality.
The reporting of LGBTQ communities in Franco-African societies is not readily and commonly published. One of the particularities in West Africa is that LGBTQ mobilizing at the community level is relatively new. In Abidjan, there are no real LGBTQ organisations and the members I photographed told me they were often unable to go into certain neighbourhoods for fear of being assaulted or losing their life. Through my photography, I want to change Africans’ perception of the community by sharing their stories, as they reflect true human rights issues. I self-funded the first photoshoot, as this is a cause that is important to me, but I plan to photograph more members of this community, in different environments, including their daily life and more intimate shots of their daily life. I knew that their story had to be shared, but due to the fact I funded it all personally, only one shoot was able to be done. For this shoot, we had a team of eight including the girls and their two makeup artists. With costumes, which are expensive to make, make-up artists, transport, security and a shoot assistant, we went over the budget. I want to be able to share their story well and support them in their endeavours to better their life, including things such as setting up an LGBTQ association for them.
Your work highlights Black bodies. How do you understand the importance of inserting blackness into a white dominating western art canon?
I think representation is extremely important, and often artists should have work that reflects the times. Which is why it is ludicrous that the western art world can not be completely inclusive of work of all gender, races, sexual identities, etc.
It will only keep enriching the content in the art world, normalise things that should be seen as normal and not “the other” and start to end things like the exoticism and dehumanisation of the black body, as it has been continually portrayed in the past, and continues to be, to this day.
In the wake of Gorge Floyd’s death, America faces a new wave of civil rights movement. All industries are having necessary reevaluations and reflections in racial injustice. As an artist of color, what is your take on this movement? How does it affect you artistically?
This is a question that needs so much to answer properly, as systemic racism and racial injustice are things that have affected black people, me included, our whole lives, at times daily. My take on this movement is that it is long overdue, but it must not lose its steam.
I welcome the important conversations that are going on all over the world right now. I also think there is massive pressure and expectations on artists of colour to create work according to this topic, and to be the spokespersons for the movement, when we are not the originators of systemic racism. It’s a pressure that is not always expected of white artists, or people, and these discussions need to be broached by everyone.
Artistically, it affects me and can play on one’s mental health. But in terms of inspiration, I am so inspired by the strength and support all over the world, and the current sense of connection that is being experienced right now, despite the sadness and injustice of the situation.