Depression is a hell of a journey. Couple it with PTSD, a divorce, being a single father, and the everyday struggles of successfully “adulting” and you’ve got a ticking time bomb of a human being. Photography has been my sanity through it all. Picking up my camera and wandering through different cities in search of a feeling to counter what’s making me increasingly numb is honestly what keeps me from suicide. Heavy, I know, but there is real power in making pictures.
Some of the world’s greatest art has come from struggle. For me, Hip-Hop has been a huge inspiration in my creative process- The ultimate form of self expression. I remember spending hours writing poetry and short stories as a child. The way stories were told over beats put me in another world and I was able to experience an MC or DJ’s vision with all five senses. Photography has that same power. Pictures can bring the entire world into a classroom, tell love stories, sell products, and even change the course of history. “This city is the beat. The pictures are the lyrics- the parts of the story you’re building.” -something i tell myself everyday while searching for the picture that will put my feelings into perspective.
I remember the day the bridge collapse on I85, here in Atlanta. I was on my way to a gallery opening where a couple of my pictures were hanging- my then six year old daughter in the back seat. The smoke from the fire could be seen for miles and while I didn’t want to be late for the exhibition, I couldn’t pass on the chance to make a good picture. Instinctively, I detoured toward the scene, weaving through traffic in hopes of beating the inevitable road blockage. “Daddy, that is A LOT of smoke!” my daughter said shakily from the back seat. I could see the worry on her face in the rear view mirror. “Are you afraid of the fire?” I asked already knowing what her response would be. She nodded. “…and you’ve got your camera, right?” I said happily, attempting to reassure her with my tone of voice. She nodded with an equally confident “YES SIR!” “Good! point your camera at whatever frightens you!”. I could hear her fumbling with the Olympus OM-10 I had given her for her birthday the year before. Advancing the film and raising the camera to her eye, she leaned toward the back seat window in anticipation. “And if my pictures aren’t good enough, I’m not close enough!” she exclaimed. In that moment, I realized I had just taught my daughter the most important lesson I’d forgotten to apply to my own work; shoot what makes you uncomfortable.
After surviving a marriage from hell with a sex and drug addict, multiple shootouts, tap water in developing countries, alcoholism, and a child hood that echoed themes from horror movies like the exorcist, there were a lot of things that i needed and still need to work through. My camera, a tool I had been carrying daily for most of my life was exactly what I needed in the form of therapy. I found myself approaching couples to discuss ideas about sex and love more often in an effort to reassure myself that love still exists. Gang members and drug dealers became the subject of many of my pictures as I sought to understand their lifestyle from a simply human perspective. White police officers, neo-nazis, and protests have been frequent themes and hangouts for me while I worked through dealing with the racism I’ve experienced as a young black man in the south. Religion has become something of a fascination for me as I explore what may have been going on in the minds of my teachers and peers during my awful time in church and christian school as a child.
“The world is round. The further you run away from a problem, the closer you’ll get right back to it.” I remember my mentor telling me as a child. Running is certainly not in my plans as I continue to tackle the very things that seek to disrupt my peace in life.
“A good picture isn’t about what it looks like. It’s about what it feels like.” I repeat to myself while wandering about the city and attempting to feel the rhythm and pulse of everyone around me. You see, while selfies and social media may cause some to lose hope in the merits and worth of photography as an artistic medium (much in the way “mumble rap” has sparked debates in the hip-hop world), I believe wholeheartedly that there is still a place for true self expression with a camera. Photography is, at its core, Hip-Hop. The camera is like a turn table or beat machine. The lens is my microphone. The way I move, compose, and light a picture is not unlike the way a breaker moves. And the print is my graffiti or the tag on the wall. The gallery is my record- the whole story. Photography is my therapy.