I got an email on July 9, 2018, and the subject was pretty interesting "photo shoot in ATL for HIV criminalization efforts for cover of TPAN?." I saw the email, but was so incredibly busy that Monday afternoon I didn't get to read it right away. Then, life got in the way, so I didn't actually read this email until July 11th. (Lesson, keep everything, even email reminders, on your task list. I haven't perfected this yet, but I am actively working on it.)
In the wake of #BlackLivesMatter, the Black community has taken the opportunity to invite our happiness and joy into the discussion about our humanity. #BlackGirlMagic, #BlackGayJoy and, most famously #BlackBoyJoy, allow for a more inclusive dialog about the full range of emotions that we all, including Black folks, experience.
Remixing is an important technique in artistic compositions. We see it in all forms of art from musical to visual art. The idea is simple - take a concept, extract something, then make something different from it. In most cases that something different becomes it's own artistic creation that can stand on it's own.
In December, 2016, I visited Jackson, Mississippi for the first time. In 2014, the Human Rights Campaign reported that Jackson had the fourth highest rate of HIV infections in the country. I wanted to learn more about the city and HIV activism there. I also wanted to learn ways we could assist and possibly participate in activities. I had several meetings while visiting including an inspired conversation about what a National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) weekend of events could look like with My Brother’s Keeper, Inc. (MBK). I was grateful to get the call for Counter Narrative Project to thought partner and come in to participate in a weekend of events for NBHAAD.
It’s late, and I’m up doing laundry for a business trip that I leave for tomorrow afternoon. There’s been a revolving thought since seeing Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight that I knew I’d need to get out. I wasn’t sure when, but I guess it’s tonight.
This is a stream of consciousness ....
I often talk about the influence of the Black men who raised me. I was fortunate to have an attentive father in my house. I didn’t realize how important that was until my high school years began. Growing up queer, you learn the intricacies and nuances of Black manhood attentively. You understand early that you’re different, and how to navigate that path accordingly.
Sometimes my cynicism shows. I admit it. I don’t like to acknowledge it’s existence, but yes, especially when it comes to pop culture, I am naturally inclined to eschew popular thought and “form my own opinion.” Never admitting that my opinion is filled with bias.
Which brings me to my initial reaction to Blonde, the new album by Frank Ocean.
I have news for you, cell phone cameras at concerts, and people taking random pictures on the dance floor at parties is distracting. Maybe no one’s ever mentioned it, but it just interrupts the flow of things.
For the men that were there, any mention of the space immediately takes them to a time and place where the dance floor provided refuge from the grim realities outside its walls. In its early incarnation, The Warehouse catered to a membership-only clientele made up primarily of Black gay men. The man who people came to see, DJ Frankie Knuckles, was the master conductor of many a legendary night. Knuckles once described the Warehouse as “a church for people who have fallen from grace.” Knuckles, a Black, gay native New Yorker, established himself as a tastemaker in Chicago. A pioneer who manually created extensions of rare groove records with a blade, he laid the foundation for an entirely new genre of music: House.
In 1997 I began the very personal journey of fully accepting my sexuality. In my case, at that time, bisexuality was transitional. I knew it, but I couldn't say "gay" yet to anyone. We were in the car. I had finally gotten up the nerve to tell him. Holding a big revelation like that in was beginning to take a mental toll on me. I'm strong, but something had to give, and soon. In that car, at that moment I said it - "Dad, I'm bisexual." That was a lie.
I was learning how to be myself and how to interact with other men who were like me. It’s one of the fondest memories I have of those early years of accepting my sexuality. That space, that experience is sacred. It was the first time I was myself.
20 years ago The Fugees The Score achieved what their debut Blunted On Reality couldn't. The album’s organic sound was crafted by Wyclef Jean, and was anchored by a talented MC/singer, Lauryn Hill, who was ripping mics left and right on guest spots in between albums. It was the kind of record we didn't want to end, and a career we wanted to see flourish. That career didn’t. By 1997 all three members were working on solo efforts, and the group essentially broke up.
In 1980, Prince released his third album Dirty Mind. As the story was told, Prince, who had a full band, emerged from a frantic recording session one night where he’d recorded the much of the record including playing every instrument himself. The record is spectacularly messy, completely erotic and has a demo-like quality. It is considered his first masterpiece.
As a photographer, there’s always a moment, right? That moment when you go to grab a battery or when you’re chatting with a client, and it happens! There’s an honest and true moment that you wish you’d captured with your camera. The moment passes quickly. You want to kick yourself for it.
On July 25, 1985, film legend, Rock Hudson became the public face of AIDS after releasing a statement confirming that he had the disease after a lot of speculation about his health. He died on October 2nd of that year. Ten years later both Eric “Eazy-E” Wright and Bobby Debarge died of AIDS related causes. Both men left important marks on black music and the music business overall during their lifetimes, but in 1995 we were having discussions about HIV and stigma, particularly in the black community.