Photostory by Lawrence Agyei. Featuring Ferrari Sheppard, Ronnie Lee Smith Bey and John Antoine.
Before meeting him myself, Zakkiyyah told me that Lawrence was enormously down-to-earth. True. A breath of fresh air given his talent, which I had been watching, mostly on Instagram, for awhile. With origins in Ghana, roots in Chicago, and his eyes on the skies we knew we had to invite him to be a contributing photographer for BlackGirlInOm. Lawrence's photography is striking and resonates with our interest in the natural environment and our relationship(s) with the Earth, especially as people of color. I picked Lawrence's brain to discover what he was going for and what he was thinking when he captured these shots, and also learned a bit more about what he plans to explore more as a photographic artist.
LAsh: When I first approached you about contributing to our issue focusing on growth, what came to mind?
LAgyei: The first thing that came to my mind was definitely flowers and trees. Growth,...I feel like, flowers grow all the time. I definitely wanted to shoot that.
LAsh: That's interesting. We obviously live in a city. Chicago, compared to where I grew up [the Twin Cities] does not have a lot of green space at all. But you can definitely find it if you're looking for it. What, to you, is important about being in the natural environment? Shooting people, especially black men, in the natural environment...is there anything special about that for you?
LAgyei: To me, I feel like everything is God-made, right? And just being in the natural environment feels....it just feels good. It feels really good there. You know what I mean? And to put black men in that kind of light...the way I was thinking about it: natural, green, flowers, and black men. I feel like I've never seen that before. You know what I mean? When you think of flowers you think of [the fact that] women like flowers. Black men and flowers [don't seem to] go together. But when you really think deeply about it, there's more than just women and flowers. God made everything. When I shot the photos of Ronnie I was thinking of the Garden of Eden. I was like, "yo, what if this was Garden of Eden?" I had these thoughts in my head, but I feel like it's very, very important to always shoot black men but black women, too in the natural environment. It just feels good. I just felt good. It just gives me a whole lot of feelings when I shoot that.
And I'm actually doing some more shoots like it again soon with some Chicago artists. I want to keep doing that.
LAsh: You should. I feel like that's your environment. You were so happy when you walked into the conservatory for our shoot together! I love that you said Garden of Eden. Before you said that, I was thinking that. It feels very much like the original Earth.
LAgyei: Yeah, heavenly. You know what I mean? Peaceful. With all this chaos going on in the world right now, especially toward black men I want to put them in a place where it's peaceful, [where] it's comfortable.
LAsh: That's beautiful and very, very important. That's the power of art, you know? People who don't understand the power of art might just look at this and say "that's a nice picture" and move on. But when you look at it with that layer to it the power speaks for itself, I think. The last question I have for you is in regards to your own growth as a photographic artist. How do you feel you have grown in 2014 and how do you want to grow in 2015?
LAgyei: It's funny that you're talking about growth. Yesterday I was talking with a friend and he said he has seen my growth in my photography. I was going through my old photos from 2010 to now and it was like..."wow." The type of things I am shooting right now, I would have never thought that I would do. At first, I was just shooting anything. I didn't have a specific photo, specific topic, you know what I mean? But now I just want to shoot black people. You know what I mean? I just want to shoot portraits, mainly portraits. I love portraits. I feel like portraits can really tell [a lot] about a person. Whether the person is smiling or sad, when I think of a portrait, it's just like...it's like I'm a part of them. Even though I may not know [my subject] ... when I go through their photos it's like me and this person know each other. It feels like that sometimes. It's weird, but it really does feel like that.
With the project that I want to start [this summer]...once I start, that will be my first project where I will feel like "okay, now I'm growing in photography." I'm growing right now, but with that project I feel like people will see my growth. Right now I'm shooting, I'm doing all these portraits, and I'm doing research. I feel like when my [future] project is out, people will definitely see my growth.