black. was on display in the Louise Jones Brown Gallery in Durham, NC from January 15 to February 5, 2018. To learn more about the exhibit, click here.


What does it mean to be black?


In a political climate in which many seek to divide, I used my lens to show how black life is woven into the fabric of our nation’s culture. From intimate portraiture to active protest shots, “black.” provides a visual narrative of the experience of black Americans, from childhood to college, churches, physician’s offices, and everywhere in between.


“black.” emphasizes the beauty and distinction of black life while highlighting the ubiquity of black culture’s influence in everyday spaces. Each portrait tells a different story, showing that black livelihood, while unique, is not a monolith, nor does it differ starkly from the experiences of other races.


On display from January 15 (MLK, Jr. Day) to February 5, 2018 in the Louise Jones Brown Art Gallery in Durham, NC, the project began in 2015 after I watched “Welcome to Durham, USA,” a documentary film which falsely depicted Durham’s black residents as drug-addicted, impoverished, and gang-affiliated. For the next three years, I set out to provide a counter-narrative to this film—a visual representation of the many answers to the question: what does it mean to be black?


The work in this series is divided into two parts. Half of the photos showcase the depth, creativity, beauty, and distinctiveness of blackness, from childhood innocence to artistic and academic traditions. The other half provide a more intimate snapshot of the oxymoron of black life in America: a deep sense of joy and pride that can’t be separated from a painful and dismal history.


I started this project as a first-semester freshman; a girl from Columbia, Maryland with a yearning to use her camera as a weapon for good. I hope that my work offers a glimpse of what it is to be black.

Free Expression Tunnel

A student passes by the free expression tunnel on Duke’s East Campus, adorned with graffiti from Duke students and Durham residents celebrating blackness.

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Continuing the Fight

A protestor at the Fight for $15 National Day of Action stands amongst the crowd, holding a poster of Rosa Parks, whom Congress called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.” Parks was the first woman and second black person to have her casket placed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

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Childhood

Kindergarten students at Y.E. Smith, a Title I elementary school in Durham, express joy and enthusiasm during an outdoor class session.

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A Man and His Barber

A barber gently trims Gerhard Steven’s hair during an appointment at Flashlight barbershop. Steven stressed the importance of a close relationship “between a man and his barber.”

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The Wiz

Student actors portray Dorothy and Scarecrow in Hillside High School’s 2016 production of The Wiz. Under the 30-year tenure of award-winning, Tony-recognized drama teacher, Wendell Tabb, Hillside High School’s drama department has won over 100 awards, certificates, and citations.

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In Service

Jordan Traore, a full-time reservist technician in the U.S. Air Force National Guard, sits in his apartment, below a poster of boxer Muhammad Ali. Ali caused great controversy in the 1960s after refusing to be drafted into the U.S. military, citing opposition to involvement in the Vietnam War.

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In Protest

A man holds a sign as he listens to a speech at Durham’s Fight for $15 National Day of Action rally.

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Holy Spirit

A woman quietly sheds a tear during a praise and worship session at Word of Faith Christian Community Church in Durham, NC.

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Black Jesus

Contrary to mainstream portrayals of a fair-skinned Messiah, a church usher grips a collection of fans depicting a black Jesus.

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Behind the Wheel

Angel, a proud mother of four sons, waits with her goddaughter in the pick-up line outside the boys’ elementary school.

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Recess

A student at Y.E. Smith Elementary School calls to a friend as she awaits her turn to go down the slide.

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Fight for $15

Led by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II [in purple], president of the North Carolina NAACP, Durham activists joined service workers in 340 cities across the country in strike and protest as a part of the Fight For $15 National Day of Action, a nationwide movement that fights for a $15 minimum wage and collective bargaining for low-wage workers. Barber, alongside dozens of others, was arrested for his participation that evening.

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DDS

Dr. Kweku Jangha, DDS, checks his schedule in between seeing patients. Dr. Jangha received both his undergraduate and dental degrees from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

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Oil Sheen

A barber at Flashlight barbershop in Durham’s Northgate Mall puts the finishing touches on his client’s fresh haircut with a spritz of Oil Sheen.

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Pride

An alumnus of North Carolina Central University, a historically black university in Durham, NC, looks onto the field at his alma mater’s homecoming football game.

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Dame's

A cook prepares fried chicken in the kitchen of Dame’s Chicken and Waffles, a black-owned restaurant in downtown Durham, founded by Damion “Dame” Moore and Randy Wadsworth.

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Steppin'

Members of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, one of nine historically black Greek organizations (also known as National Pan-Hellenic Council, NPHC, or Divine 9), compete in a stroll-off on Duke University’s East Campus. Strolling, a combination of choreographed dance and stepping, is a tradition in NPHC fraternities and sororities.

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Dancers

An ensemble of young dancers warms up with stretches and conversation before heading on stage.

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Best Friends

Two high school girls hang out on a bench in downtown Durham during the city’s annual CenterFest Arts Festival.

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Nyla Elise

An onlooker passes by as Rick Moore, a Raleigh-based designer and entrepreneur, sells apparel during North Carolina Central University’s homecoming football game. His clothing line is inspired by its namesake, Moore’s daughter, Nyla Elise.

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Marching On

Poised and focused, a clarinetist in North Carolina Central’s marching band marches off field following a football game.

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When?

Duke students protest the hate speech written on an October 2015 event poster for Patrisse Cullors, a founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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