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  • Writer's picturejsemugaza

A Photo Essay

Over the last several months, my mental state has been rather unstable. I find myself spending hours lost in my thoughts, disassociating as the isolated days melt away. I was frustrated, trying to maneuver these thoughts and emotions with no resources, as I was also unemployed and penny pushing. However, a great way to pass the time (while waiting for companies to call me back) was to observe these negative thoughts. I began having conversations with myself and my close peers that challenged me to look at me and my craft with a finer lens, which, as a black man, is rarely discussed.

Now we are here. The following essay is an attempt to capture the weight of the world that myself and other black men may have experienced, as well as recognizing the vulnerability, passion, and humanity within us that has been put on the back burner. So, without further ado, I would like to thank you in advance for taking the time to read this essay for my mini photo essay,

This project focuses on themes of withdrawal and vulnerability. For this, I decided to edit most of my photos in monochromatic hue, erasing the distraction of colour gradients and matching hues in exchange for a more liberal use of shadows and lighting. Attention was placed on either of my two focal points: the subjects’ eyes and their contrasting white flower crown. By drowning the photo with darker tones and harsh shadows, I was able to effectively capture the theme of withdrawal as the subject slowly ‘drowns’ into their composition.

Our subjects can be found dressed in black clothing in front of a blank skies or crowded forest backgrounds to emphasize the notion of inner conflict. The combination of forestry and foliage allowed for a blurry canopy surrounding our subject, meaning the gaze will be drawn towards the few pieces of familiarity in the form of a human face. The same idea was used to select the blank sky as a second canvas, providing a sense of deafening silence for the audience. The scars we carry can stem from times of both static and active states. The eye of the storm is where one can find solace and clarity from the whirlwind engulfing them. However, if you are not a meteorologist, they are both equally stressful phenomena to experience.

I made a note to capture the front profile of my subjects to bring the audience directly in contact with my subjects, allowing them to directly assess and connect with the face presented in front of them. The use of natural lighting and shadow create a veil of deception within the subject. The audience is made to feel like they are only hearing part of a much larger narrative, encouraging them to deepen their gaze into the subject’s eyes.

The overcast weather created a wonderful backdrop for the latter concept of vulnerability. Shot on an incline facing east provided a much- needed soft light to drape each shot. Unlike the other pieces in the collection, the blank canvas triggers an instinctual reaction to latch on to something familiar, resulting in our subject acting as an anchor to keep the audience from drifting away into the vastness of the canvas. The angle also creates a sense of grandeur, which juxtaposes the closed off body language of the subject seen with his head down, as if to say the burden of this delicate crown is just a little too heavy to support.

My hope was for my photographs curated in this project to showcase notions of isolation, weariness, with a small, silent hope for the morning sun. The crown represents a kink in the armor, the crack in the pavement where new life; free of judgment, fear and expectations emerges and perseveres, much like the ones that came before.

Each subject stood in front of my lens with their own stories, obstacles, triumphs, and tribulations – it was with their help that I was able to produce this collection. I encourage you, if you can, to take some time to step back, breath, and have a conversation with yourself. It might require some time, and it might require some support. But just try; give yourself the chance to be surprised at the beauty that lies within you.

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