On November 13th, Antwaun Sargent brought four of the artists from his book, The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion, to have an unapologetic conversation about photography, art, fashion, telling Black narratives from Black perspectives, and eliminating racial barriers. The discussion, hosted at BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn, NY and powered by Aperture, was a candid look into the experiences of artists Arielle Bobb-Willis, Micaiah Carter, Tyler Mitchell, and Dana Scruggs.
“The New Black Vanguard is contemporary Black fashion photography that is inclusive and reflective of a wider world—in terms of skin color, body type, performativity of gender, and class—and also captures, celebrates, and expands the notions of beauty and agency.” — Antwaun Sargent
Antwaun first spoke with Dana Scruggs who was singing my life with her words – catering to a European aesthetic early in her career, then scraping that to uplift Black imagery and narratives, to self-publishing a magazine, to being vegan and joyous when clients provide the appropriate meals. I appreciated her representing the Black woman photographer perspective in totality. From people assuming that we’re not the photographer at all to second-guessing our methods to generally being 1 in 20+ to having to hold all other Black women photographers on our backs when we break a barrier, Dana spoke our truth. She became the first Black woman to ever photograph the cover of ESPN’s Body Issue in 2018, and, later that year, she became the first Black person to photograph the cover of Rolling Stone in its 50-year history.
Micaiah Carter blessed us with the importance of immortalizing the Black family through photography. He took us on a quick vintage journey that had everyone laughing and reminiscing. He noted the importance of capturing us as we are and how timeless we are. He has photographed the likes of Tracey Ellis Ross, Michael B Jordan, Taraji P. Henson, Ryan Destiny, and Pharell Williams. He spoke on how the industry will try to box you in if you photograph too many Black people. He’s proven he’s boundless though.
Arielle Bobb-Willis got real about the art of photography being a healing tool for mental health. The freedom to conceptualize an image from all aspects and then make it come to life can truly make you feel whole. She spoke on how it helps her work through depression and her intentionally capturing us in all forms, shapes, sizes, and moods. Her use of color and color blocking draws you into her world.
Tyler Mitchell came and took over for a minute. He did a monologue explaining each image from a slide show of his work. His mission was to showcase Black bodies existing, having everyday fun, and he smashed it. After his slide of a Flawless Beyonce, he played a video that hadn’t been premiered in New York. It was Black boys playing in the water, skateboarding, hula hooping, riding bikes, all at half speed so you’re really able to be immersed in their joy.
The panel gathered at the end for a bit of Q&A and then headed to BAMCafé for the book signing and to continue the conversation.
About The New Black Vanguard Panelists
(Photographer) Tyler Mitchell, Untitled (Twins II), New York, 2017, from The New Black Vanguard (Aperture, 2019)
Antwaun Sargent is a writer and critic living and working in New York City. He has contributed essays to museum and gallery publications on Ed Clark, Mickalene Thomas, Arthur Jafa, Deborah Roberts, and Yinka Shonibare, among other artists. Sargent has lectured and participated in public conversations with artists at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Brooklyn Museum, MCA Denver, Art Gallery of Ontario, and Harvard and Yale universities. He has also co-organized a number of exhibitions, including The Way We Live Now at Aperture, Then and Now: Chase Hall and Cameron Welch at Jenkins Johnson Projects, and the traveling exhibition Young, Gifted and Black. His first book The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion released October 2019 and will be accompanied by a traveling exhibition.
Arielle Bobb-Willis was born and raised in New York City, with pit stops in South Carolina and New Orleans. Bobb-Willis has been using the camera for nearly a decade as a tool of empowerment. Battling with depression from an early age, Bobb-Willis found solace behind the lens and has developed a visual language that speaks to the therapeutic benefits of creativity. Her work can be seen in a group show in December 2019 at the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam.
Brooklyn-based photographer Micaiah Carter’s work is a singular alchemy of contemporary youth culture, fine art, and street style combined with his certainty that the simple act of representation can be a force for change. His work contains echoes of the Black Power movement and the work of Carrie Mae Weems, Viviane Sassen, Jamel Shabazz, and Alasdair McLellan. Carter is currently working on his first monograph, 95 48, inspired by photographs of his dad and his friends from the 1970s.
Tyler Mitchell is a photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in British Vogue, American Vogue, i-D, Dazed, and The New York Times. His commercial clients include Calvin Klein, Givenchy, and Converse. His first self-published book, El Paquete (2015), documents the architecture and skateboard scenes in Havana. He was the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue in 2018, and in 2019 he was included on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list.
Dana Scruggs is a New York-based photographer, originally from the South Side of Chicago. In 2016 she launched Scruggs Magazine, a print publication dedicated to her vision of the male form, and in 2018 she had her industry breakthrough shooting ESPN’s Body Issue in 2018, becoming the first Black female photographer to photograph an athlete for the publication. Later that year, she became the first Black person to photograph the cover of Rolling Stone in its 50-year history. Her clients include Apple, Nike, The New York Times, GQ, and Essence.
Get your copy of The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion.