Soft Black

photography__dayday studio | new york city__usa; words__casiano r. hamer | new york city__usa

It can be argued that there is a paradigm shift taking place in mass media. A shift in which the cultural image of the oppressed has found real estate in network television, film, music, corporate and commercial channels. The image of black and brown people fluctuates between vindication and criminalisation in a climate in which racism is lauded on political grounds. As an act of restoration cultural icons, musicians and activists have worked to fill the gap; to alleviate and diminish the prescribed victimisation of minority identities.

Artist Daveion Thompson contributes to this ethos from an introspection. In the following series Thompson explores what he describes as a “soft black gaze.”

“I am very much interested in changing how black people and other POC are perceived (with strong focus around the black male identity), by using what I like to call ‘a soft black gaze’ when photographing my subjects,” says Thompson.   

The artist captures portraits of his subjects often complemented with smooth materials and textures to emphasise their softness. Pearls, gloves and brushes are often items associated with femininity and provide the undermining of masculinity Thompson aims for as he strives to showcase a depth in the identity of black men. “ I want to combat the stereotypes that black people are aggressive, and black men are hyper-masculine. So I try to approach things in a way that is very gentle and soft,” says Thompson.  

As a queer black man himself, Thompson uses personal insight to dispel the stereotypes and hyper-masculinity often wrongly attached to his subjects – providing an authentic platform of expression and an unveiled reality of black identity. “This soft black gaze allows me to humanise black people in a way that is rarely portrayed in America, especially when it comes to black men,” he says.       

It is often the misconceptions and limited understandings of black people and other minorities that cause formidable actions against them, perpetuating a dangerous environment. Thompson not only proposes a new look to the black identity, he also acknowledges the conflict within it. Showing subjects with their backs turned, behind curved metallic bars, or with faces covered, his work alludes to the external forces of antagonism so rife within our current existence.                           

Within the frame of each photograph we witness a world Thompson has created, where black identity is beautified and celebrated with the visual grace of a Romanticist painting.. Black bodies blossom under gossamers of natural light and 35mm film grain, seemingly evading the clutter of political inquisition and discrimination. A nurtured vision of black queerness has been extracted from the taboo peripherals of American culture. “Most of my personal work deals with the idea of perspective — how I see myself internally and how the external world views me. Whether that perspective is around masculinity, sexuality, race or ethnicity, my queer black identity is what drives the images I make,” says Thompson.

Further reading

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